For a government beleaguered on all sides by a host of seemingly intractable problems, one would think that a war with the press would be the last thing on its laundry list of things to do.
This is because experience has shown that government invariably loses the fight, although it may succeed in shutting down radio stations, banning journalists or even physically attacking or killing them, in the end the government always loses the propaganda war.
But just why would the Minister of Information, absent any semblance of due process order media institutions to ban the airing or publication of material produced by its strident critic, Henry Costa. Costa’s radio station has since been shut over a year ago but critics claim that the action by the GoL was illegal because of the lack of “Due Process” attending its closure. And they have cited Constitutional provisions, Article 15, specifically.
Article 15 (a): Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution.
(b) The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to Knowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.
(c) In pursuance of this right, there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries.
(d) Access to state owned media shall not be denied because of any disagreement with or dislike of the ideas express. Denial of such access may be challenged in a court of competent jurisdiction.
(e) This freedom may be limited only by judicial action in proceedings grounded in defamation or invasion of the rights of privacy and publicity or in the commercial aspect of expression in deception, false advertising and copyright infringement.
From what it appears, the banning orders issued by the Ministry of Information borders on illegality although, it posits however wrongly, that due process requirements had been fully complied with. But just why would a government, constantly flailed by human rights issues, preoccupy itself needlessly with stifling voices of dissent, in this case, Henry Costa and D-15 Radio?
This is even more baffling because such action will only serve to attract ever more enemies for government and more besides, it will serve to encourage an active rumor mill peddling gossips and whatever to discredit the government and undermine its legitimacy.
Recalling history, Master Sergeant Samuel Doe made vigorous attempt to muzzle free speech. Arrest and imprisonment of journalists, arson attacks on media houses and physical assaults against journalists were commonplace.
Eventually Doe succeeded in muzzling a free press but there were pushbacks. An underground publication styled “REACT” soon emerged with scathing attacks on the government which were popularly acclaimed.
The point being made here is that if this government continues to muzzle mainstream media, an underground media will emerge over which this government will have no control. The rise of social media and citizen journalists have opened a very wide range of platforms available to ordinary people to get their ideas across.
This is of worrying concern because there are no indications that the currently dismal economic situation will see a sudden change in fortunes. And as we know it, deteriorating economic conditions can lead to a rise of fascism.
Such were the conditions that created the likes of European despots Adolf Hitler, Franciso Franco and Benito Mussolini, Doe, and Taylor, bringing the matter to home. And now this latest development, according to analysts, strongly suggests that Liberia could once more be headed down this path.
But it appears that most government officials, President Weah included, do not seem to recognize the potential danger in treading this path. Now whether President Weah personally approves/endorses the action by Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie that has seemingly cast the government immediately into an adversarial posture with the media, remains unclear.
Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon was right, analysts say, and his view that this government, President Weah’s government, is hated to the core although the Liberian people love him is resonating even more strongly with the people.
In the view of a longtime Public Relations consultant, Costa’s popularity is likely to surge as a result of this banning order against him while the reputation and standing of this government appears more likely than not to wane considerably.
Be it as it may, President Weah should remain mindful of the implications for his government. He probably ought to be reminded that Liberia is a signatory to the Table Mountain Declaration. More importantly, it was he who signed the Kamara Kamara Press Freedom Act into law and cannot afford, therefore, to be seen in violation of provisions of the Declaration.
In view of this, the Daily Observer would urge President Weah to instruct/order his Information Minister to rein in his horses because his action tends to cast President Weah in a negative light as a budding autocrat with greedy appetites difficult to whet. For the good of your government, rein in Information Minister Rennie’s horses Mr. President!