The Ministry of Information is the GoL’s regulatory arm for all media institutions in the country. In keeping with its functions, it requires all media institutions to register with the Ministry lest they risk closure. On several occasions in the past, the Ministry has ordered the abrupt closure of media institutions that have run afoul of the government in some shape or form.
The Ministry of Information has however shifted responsibility for accrediting journalists to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). But aside from accrediting journalists, there is little else that the Union does that would suggest in any shape or form that it has leverage over what a particular radio or TV station may broadcast or what content a particular newspaper may publish.
In a number of cases, some media houses have actually transgressed the boundaries of good and responsible journalism about which the PUL could do virtually little or nothing. There are recorded instances where the PUL unanimously voted to place a media blackout on GoL activities but the cooperation of publishers/media owners failed to materialize and the protest action against the GoL petered out.
History also recalls that some years ago some local journalists formed a group styled as Media Against Conflict (MAC), whose purpose was to campaign against the use of news headlines and the coverage of stories in ways that were promotive of conflict. For a time the consensus reached to abide by those self-imposed restrictions held but did not last, primarily due to the disposition of media owners to honor their side of the bargain and, before long, media outlets began publishing and broadcasting sensational stories and materials.
This was during the 1990s, however the issues remain germane today, especially in view of the political violence the nation has borne witness to, which were fueled mainly by very inflammatory rhetoric spewed by all sides, especially on social media. Today, the media landscape appears much different from what it was years back with the proliferation of newspapers radio and TV stations.
A number of these media outlets, particularly some radio stations, are engaged in the propagation of hate messages which is contributing to the current poisonous political atmosphere. This is a dangerous development with grave implications for a post-conflict country which still has yet to come to terms with its violent and bloody past. And it is a development which must be stopped dead in its tracks.
Admittedly, this is indeed a tough challenge requiring enormous amounts of political will on the part of all actors, especially those in national leadership. In this regard, the Ministry of Information should seek to engage all stakeholders meaningfully, and not in its usual devil-may-care attitude, but with the view to cooling down tempers and easing the tension which appears to be fast enveloping the nation.
As a nation we must learn from the mistakes of others, else we end up making those same mistakes. In Rwanda, base ethnic sentiments fanned by inflammatory rhetoric produced a result which led to a horrendous bloodbath that left thousands dead in what is described as Africa’s largest bloodbath to date.
This is an eventuality which we must never allow to unfold in Liberia, being guided by the lessons of 14 years of bloody conflict. Hate messages and inflammatory rhetoric carried on our airwaves and news pages must stop forthwith. The PUL and the Ministry of Information are urged to take note accordingly.