By all accounts, the turnout of journalists in Ganta last weekend for the Congress of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) was impressive. There were nearly 300 in attendance. But there were also serious problems.
Most of the journalists who turned out were interested in and committed to ONE thing only—the election for president. Other matters on the Congress agenda were treated as totally secondary or non-essential. It was observed that very many of those who turned out remained outside talking politics and “electioneering”. They had little or no time for anything else.
They were unconcerned about the PUL’s finances; about how to grow and consolidate the membership; about the PUL’s stance on the forthcoming 2017 elections and how the Union and its print and electronic member institutions could effectively cover them.
More importantly, what did the PUL think were some of the salient issues in the coming presidential and general elections and how the PUL’s member institutions would deal with them? How could PUL take the lead in ensuring that the entire Liberian electorate remained FOCUSED on the most important ISSUES that should dominate the discussions in the coming elections?
What role should we in the Liberian media play in the debates among presidential candidates, and which media institutions should take the lead in facilitating the presidential and other debates?
Are these not some of the important issues the PUL Congress should have been concerned about? We think they very definitely were, but the PUL members in Ganta did not think so. They were concerned primarily about who would be the next president.
How disturbingly unfortunate!
But the successive PUL administrations, especially in the past two decades, have themselves to blame for this lack of interest in the discussion of issues at PUL congresses.
Why do we say that? Because successive PUL administrations have failed to hold regular meetings, as was done in the 1980s and previously. There were regular monthly meetings at the YMCA where important national issues were discussed.
Such meetings have in recent times taken place once in a blue moon and only where there is a crisis and PUL members are called only to vote on press releases issued to address a crisis.
No, an organization like the PUL, if it wants to be taken seriously in the nation, should take the lead in the discussion of national issues. But to be reduced to petty political rivalry within the Union, as was displayed in Ganta and heretofore, is very sad and tends to make the PUL irrelevant in national affairs.
The other matter of concern is how the PUL is being supported – surely not by the members themselves and the member media institutions, but mainly by donors. Where, then, does the Union stand on the critical issue of National Self Reliance, when the PUL is itself so seriously dependent on foreign donors?
Finally, the winner of the presidential election in Ganta last week, Charles B. Coffey, is an employee of the Liberian government, working for the state broadcaster, the Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS). But we understand he had earlier pledged that if elected, he would resign his post and once again become an independent journalist.
We await that resignation and his assumption of personal independence. That would give the PUL the hope of unfettered leadership.