By Gideon Nma Scott, Jr.
With the runoff presidential election slated for November 14 just a stone throw away, there are increasing calls on the media, from all sectors of the political rail in Liberia, including the public, opposition political parties, and the ruling establishment, to maintain its credibility, citing its importance during and after the process.
In one of his memoirs in 2017, the then Managing Editor of the Inquirer Newspaper, the late Atty. Philip Wesseh warned media practitioners in the country not to allow themselves be used by politicians for their selfish benefits when he spoke on the theme: “The Role of the Media in the Current State of Affairs and How the Youths Should Conduct Themselves in Maintaining the Peace” at the Center for the Exchange of Intellectual Opinions (CEIO) on Carey Street.
He said the media’s role is to create and report succinctly, and observed that the function of the media is to inform, educate, and entertain.
Mr. Wesseh also noted that because of the free press, some politicians who own media institutions used them to push their party manifestos or agenda and also for propaganda purposes, something he said was difficult to be controlled by the Press Union of Liberia. He too doubted the credibility of such media institutions, as they would not be objective, and placed the ball in the laps of the listening population to decide not to listen to those radio stations or read their papers, as they would always publish fake and unbalanced stories.
The concern for a credible media cannot be understated, as many persons are looking up to use all of our professional tools to provide credible and balanced coverage of the ensuing November 14 election.
President Thomas Jefferson of the United States of America once said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspaper (journalists) or newspapers (journalists) without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter, (journalists).”
The statement by President Jefferson speaks to the huge responsibility and respect we have as journalists.
But on the contrary, many of us, like Mr. Wesseh would say, “carry our bellies in the wheel barrow” and sell our integrity for little or nothing.
“Whether you are a political commentator or a journalist using the media space, there is journalism ethics that you should follow,” Mr. Wesseh noted.
Yet, with most of us putting our bellies in the wheel barrow and misusing the media space for our selfish benefits, media managers and politicians are taking advantage of our noble profession too, to promulgate their agenda and propaganda.
It is no secret that of recent and coming up to these elections, pro-government and opposition media institutions put their journalistic credibility in the political mud and used their platforms to denigrate each other in the name of politics. Some were heard using diatribes, while others openly insulted each other.
Some of these politicians, even if it caused them to pay huge sums for such information, would go all out, to the darkest past of their opponents, to dig out dirt about them and spill it out in the public. Some journalist too would do the same to blackmail their targets.
These acts make me to question the credibility and media ethics that have always been spoken of by most media gurus, including the likes of Stanton Peabody, Philip Wesseh, and Kenneth Best, just to name a few. All these say to me that there is a huge credibility gap in the media that needs to be filled.
According to the Merriam Webster College Dictionary, credibility gap is the lack of trust; the lack of believability.
To be credible, the content of your information has to be balanced, objective, taking into account all sides of the story; satisfying the ABC of journalism: Accurate, Balanced, Credible.
But my argument here today is that some folks in politics are now calling on the media to be credible when, in fact, they are the ones who have a negative influence on the media.
While I maintain that the media should hold high its standards, and avoid accepting peanuts to dash its essence to politicians and other egotistic individuals, they too should stop crying wolf in the process. It is like dressing the “Sanniclus” (Santa Claus) and, at the same time, attempting to undress it in the street; the highest form of trickery and uncalled for reproach.
Just imagine the amount of damage that is done when one politician owns a radio that is noted for insulting others and instigating violence and same being relayed on five to six community radio stations; imagine the population that has listened and the impact that message have on them.
Is it now that politicians want the media to be credible, when their opponents have stepped up their game in countering the falsehood and fake news that had been broadcasted on the political manager’s media platform or have been published in a paper from a politically supported fund?
Or is it because the local authorities have realized that these political managers or politicians have used their air space to splurge out lies and cautioned their local radio stations not to relay such damaging and inciteful program?
The media have always been credible, thanks to its local and international partners, including Internews, OHCHR, INCHR, UNDP, Carter Center and others who have spent millions of dollars in donor funding to train the media on many international media standards and principles.
I believe that the credibility gap that we all feel in the media stems from which angle the listeners, readers or public are looking at it.
But from where I sit, the media used its ethics and credibility, as well as professionalism, to cover and report on the just ended October 10 elections, though paid agents attempted and are bent on daunting the credibility of the media.
As I conclude this piece, permit me to consciously say to politicians and ham-fisted media managers, that if you stop hiring thugs, unprofessional and unethical individuals, in the name of journalists, you and I will work to ensure the credibility of the media for a better Liberia and to us, journalists, let us not use our hands to scatter their hot charcoals because our gullible society is unlearnable and posterity has a way of judging humans.
*The thoughts of the son of a professional Kru woman