Last week the public witnessed a mysterious incident on 24th Street in Sinkor — the breaking down of the news booth of Daily Talk, an act which the Daily Observer condemns unequivocally.
This informal news booth is operated by journalist Alfred Sirleaf (no relation with former President Sirleaf), and it has been a source of entertainment and information for mainly pedestrians and residents of Sinkor, especially those unable to purchase newspapers.
Mr. Sirleaf, whose account about the incident suggests that he was not on the scene, quoted eye witnesses who said they observed a black jeep with tinted windows and without a license plate speeding away from the scene almost immediately after the incident.
Strangely enough, there are no vehicle tread or skid marks near the booth to convince anyone that it was an accident, and the whereabouts of the vehicle remain unknown. Police intervention is reported to be minimal if any at all.
Further, since the incident occurred a little over a week ago, last week the government is yet to issue a statement distancing itself from suggestions or speculations that it may have had a hand in this. A democratic government that respects free speech ought to register its disdain over such an act by issuing a statement, condemning those behind such a cowardly and dastardly act, lest it be construed as a deliberate assault on the media with approval from above.
Truth be told, recent financial scandals in government have claimed the attention of both national and international media. The Daily Talk had published on its faceboard, “Hard times Overshadows Liberia’s 171 Independence Celebration as Embattled Country Giant Tells Citizenry to Hope.”
It is also inscribed, “Country Giant: 0 and Hard times & Falling Economy: 2,” scores which indicate that President George Weah was faltering and failing to address the socio-economic needs of the country while hardship appeared to be overcoming the people.
This inscription and other critical issues published on the newsboard may have led to such action taken by zealots or perhaps state security functionaries. The incident was passed off by Police as a hit and run accident with the perpetrators remaining at large and unidentified.
But the incident has left many asking whether such display of intolerance is but a foretaste of what is to come. It appears as a virtual declaration of a state of siege against the media. And much of such intolerance is being fed by comments and suggestions from certain quarters that the media should either exercise self-censorship or stand to be censored.
Be it as it may, it is incumbent on the media to flag this incident and have it serve as a wakeup call and reminder to journalists and other media stakeholders that the dark days of media repression appears to be inching its way back. The murder of journalist Tyron Brown still rings a bell in the ears of many people, although the court is yet to render its verdict in the case.
Today, the operator of the Daily Talk, Alfred Sirleaf, is feeling unsecured having experienced an unusual incident which never happened during the past administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, which is the deliberate act of vandalism committed against his news billboard.
We recall that from the very inception of this government, that some officials of this administration have engaged in bitter exchanges with the media simply because journalists have reported the news as it has unfolded. There was a time, for example, when Monrovia City Mayor, Jefferson Koijee took to the airwaves to lambast the Managing Editor of the Frontpage Africa Newspaper, Rodney Sieh, and heap insults on him for no justifiable reasons. We have also borne witness, in the past, to the shutting down of this same media entity and the arrest of its staffers on spurious charges.
The case of Alfred Sirleaf and his Daily Talk incident, we presume, could likely befall any journalist or media institution at any time. But as the situation has not yet degenerated to what it was under previous presidents, particularly, Presidents Doe and Taylor, journalists and media institutions should not drop their guard. They should instead draw public attention to these unfolding developments as a way of forestalling a possible descent into tyranny.
The media is indeed in trouble. Like all other institutions, the media does have its fair share of problems. Most media institutions, for example, are hovering on the brink of closure due to inadequate financing.
A constricted economic environment means that adverts on which media institutions rely to survive are hard to come by. This is compounded by the huge backlog of receivables due from government ministries and agencies for adverts which have long since remained unpaid. Further, it is no secret that most journalists are underpaid simply because their institutions cannot afford to pay attractive salaries.
However, despite such seemingly intractable problems, the media remains an indispensable facet of life in this information age, especially as a partner in national development. In view of all the above, this newspaper strongly condemns the act of vandalism perpetrated against the Daily Talk and we call on government to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice.