By Lekpele M. Nyamalon
Monrovia- The 40th anniversary of the Daily Observer Newspaper is a huge milestone along the path to press freedom in Liberia. Birthed one year after the military coup of 1980, the Observer was the poster child of press freedom and the forebearer to media pluralism in Liberia. Pseudo-Democratic governments are overly sensitive in dealing with an Independent press, thus the Observer bore the brunt of intimidation, constant harassment and in the worst scenario, arson.
I was born two years after the establishment of the Daily Observer and 6 years after, the nation Liberia was blown into a full scale civil war. My faint recollection of memories of the events during the period of conflict, as captured in my anthology of poetry “Scary Dreams” , point to a News Headline of headless men, apparently beheaded by government death squads in the early part of 1990. Another headline showed a pictorial of the relics of the Observer building, burnt to ashes, perhaps a warning of what to expect from a government that grew increasingly paranoid.
No doubt, it has been a long time coming on the journey to Political Pluralism in Liberia and the rise of the digital age, when access to information is beyond the pages of newspaper and television screens. Anyone with a Smartphone and access to internet can easily become a newsman and any one sitting in his living room can convert same to a TV studio and vent invectives and attract thousands of followers, all in a split of time. What role can the Pioneers of Press Freedom and Information dissemination play in upholding the sanctity of a profession that cost the blood, sweat and tears of many of our compatriots? What is the role of the 21st century media in today’s Liberia, Africa and the global sphere in mitigating the intrusion of opportunists, cyber demagogues and misfits from a scared entity revered as the fourth estate to stand as the fourth pillar of Democracy?
As Fanon noted, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” The Daily Observer turns the curve when the baton has been passed unto a new generation of leadership. The venerated Liberian journalist Kenneth Y. Best has turned the helm to a new generation, Bai Best as its Managing Director, at a time of unprecedented challenges of the rise of the Internet and the Digital Age, the advent of amateurs with microphones and loud voices and a decline in the reading population. This is an era when the primary source of information is social media- a destination prone to misinformation, fake news and conspiracy theories, usually propagated by interest groups whose agendas remain unknown. This is the challenge of the Daily Observer in its 40th year.
Like Joshua in the words of scripture, who led the children of Israel towards the Promised Land in the times of monumental uncertainty, the Daily Observer finds itself on the path towards that journey.
The legacy of the Observer will find its cue from the footnotes of history to persevere in the era of neo suppression of the media through systemic strangulation, rise of unqualified media practitioners and a fluid interpretation of ethics and morals. Hopefully, this era would rejuvenate the spirit of the 1980s when Liberia was testing its feet in the waters of the Independent Press. Hopefully the Observer remains a voice that is not suffocated by cash, political patronage, mediocrity or bowing in the face of gross injustices. This is the task of the new generation, one that enters the stage after the chapter of a charismatic leader like Moses has exited. And, like Fanon said, hope they discover their mission and fulfill it. We’re cheering them on!
About the Author
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Poet, Writer Speaker and the Author of Scary Dreams: An Anthology of the Liberian Civil War. He is an OSIWA Poetry Fellow and a Mandela Washington Fellow and can be reached at [email protected] and website: www.lekpele.com .