Inquirers’ first Managing Editor, Gabriel Williams, has urged the paper, and other independent media to remain vigilant in covering the plight of the Liberian people.He said the national economy faces collapse as reflected by the chronic shortage of cash in the country, and also at a time, when the government has proven unable to provide security and protection for the Liberian people.
Williams’s comments were contained in a statement issued as the paper celebrated its 30th anniversary on Friday, January 15, 2021. He said the recent mysterious killings of four government auditors and the disappearance of three young men, for which there have been no conclusive investigations speak to that.
He said let Inquirer continue to report the sentiments of the Liberian people, such as complaints by a growing number of Liberians during the recent senatorial elections that tribalism is raising its ugly heads again in Liberia, with people from Weah’s tribal group and from south-eastern Liberia dominating the government.
“We will continue the fight for press freedom under Weah’s government. Inquirer has weathered the storm of violence and economic hardship for 30 long years,” he noted.
Williams said on January 15, 1991, a group of journalists, mostly in their 20s and 30s, launched the first independent newspaper one year after the outbreak of the 14-year Liberian civil war.
“Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebels were driven back from Monrovia and its surroundings by the Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping force called ECOMOG, and an atmosphere of normalcy was being restored to the ruined Liberian capital,” he recalled.
Williams recounted how the offices of the Daily Observer, then one of West Africa’s leading daily newspapers, where almost all of them worked before the outbreak of violence, was destroyed and the paper’s editor, Kenneth Y. Best, left the country with his family to seek refuge in The Gambia.
“Equipment at the state radio and television station, Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) was massively looted by the NPFL forces, which set up their own LBS in the NPFL-occupied Territory,” he reflected.
Recognizing the need for a media outlet in Monrovia, Williams continued: “General Prince Johnson, leader of the break-away Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) faction, now a member of the Liberian Senate, established the Torchlight newspaper under the editorship of legendary journalist the late Rufus M. Darpoh.”
He said many displaced journalists from the Daily Observer and other pre-war media entities constituted the staff of Torchlight.
However, Williams noted the constant harassment of Darpoh and the editorial staff by Johnson, as well as interference in editorial matters by ECOMG officers, led to the decision by a group of journalists at Torchlight at the time to establish an independent news outlet in order to create a balance in the dissemination of information to the public.
“The concept was led by the late T-Max Teah, a longtime editor at the Daily Observer, who trained and mentored most of us from the Observer,” he intimated.
That was how The Inquirer newspaper was established, and he (Williams) was unanimously selected by his colleagues to lead this extraordinary effort. He (Gabriel) was proposed by the late T-Max, even though he and several other colleagues were older and more professionally experienced than he was.
“I initially turned down the offer, fearing that such an undertaking during that time could get me killed. I was the Secretary General of the National Journalists Association, Press Union of Liberia (PUL), and I had narrowly escaped death a few months earlier when armed men arrested me, placed a gun to my head and almost executed me broad day in Monrovia for my role as a journalist,” Williams explained.
Over the years following its establishment, The Inquirer and its staff survived numerous threats to remain on the newsstands to provide credible information to the Liberian people and the world at large about developments in Liberia.
The paper’s offices were once burnt to the ground, while journalists, including yours truly, faced harassment and death threats. Today, Inquirer, as well as other media outlets and journalists, are facing yet another wave of attacks against the media by the Weah government.
The government has been seeking to suppress freedom of speech and of the press in order to cover its colossal failure to provide competent and credible leadership for sustainable peace and progress in Liberia.
After the Weah government came to power, Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah announced that the government was going to “weaponize the media,” in order to suppress dissent.
Shortly after that, tens of thousands of government money was used to get many of the editorial staff at The Inquirer to break away in order for the newspaper to collapse.
As has been the case since the civil war, even when the paper’s offices were scorched by fire set by those in power, the sinister attempts by government functionaries to use public funds to destroy this historic institution failed.
The attempts to silence an independent voice like The Inquirer newspaper, which endured as the most credible and reliable source of information during the years of our civil carnage, shows the level of desperation to avoid public scrutiny by those in power, who are culpable of rampant corruption and gross abuse of power.
The issue of an institution owing salary arrears to its staff is reflective of the very poor economic situation prevailing in Liberia, of which The Inquirer is no exception.
However, it is unacceptable for the government to dole out tens of thousands of dollars to unpaid and dissatisfied workers of a private media institution with the intent to destroy said institution, as Weah’s government did in the case of The Inquirer.
For those employees who left, The Inquirer Board and Management have been engaged with them and efforts have been ongoing to complete payment of their salary arrears.
The CDC-led government is using every means, including financial manipulations and acts of brutality to strangulate the Liberian media and subjugate the people into silence. For example, on March 12, 2020, the PUL petitioned President Weah to “commission a transparent and
broad-based investigation” regarding allegations of harassment and violence meted out against journalists by the state security apparatus.
The PUL petition states: “In recent months, attacks, detentions, intimidations, and brutality meted against media practitioners have become unprecedented, with seven journalists being attacked in just two weeks and ten attacked in three months across the country.”
The petition recounted numerous acts of violence journalists have suffered since President Weah came to power. History bears witness that no amount of terror will make the Liberian media surrender to dictatorial control.
Accordingly, the Liberian media will survive this dreadful chapter under Mr. Weah as it did during the bloody military rule of Samuel K. Doe, the barbaric civil war, and the murderous Charles Taylor era.
As Chairman of the Board of The Inquirer, I wish to assure the management and staff of The Inquirer, led by Attorney Philip N. Wesseh, one of Liberia’s prominent and well-respected journalists, that our cause to ensure press freedom in Liberia is unwavering.
My abiding commitment towards freedom of speech and of the press in Liberia was also exemplified by my stewardship as Assistant Minister and Deputy Minister, respectively, at the Ministry of Information during the tenure of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Through programs and policies that were implemented, the government was able to create an enabling environment for free speech to thrive in Liberia. We resisted attempts within the government to violate press freedom.
I once sought an audience with President Sirleaf to express my objection over the arbitrary closure of an independent newspaper by the Minister of Information during that time, arguing that the action was unconstitutional.
Madam President ordered the reversal of the arbitrary ban based on the merits of my argument. I wish to express profound appreciation to Managing Editor Wesseh and the staff of The Inquirer as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of this historic media entity.
Let The Inquirer continue to report the sentiments of the Liberian people, such as complaints by a growing number of Liberians during the recent senatorial elections that tribalism is raising its ugly heads again in Liberia, with people from Weah’s tribal group and from south-eastern Liberia dominating the government.
The Inquirer and the rest of the independent media must remain vigilant in covering the plight of the Liberian people as the national economy faces collapse as reflected by the chronic shortage of cash in the country.
This is also at a time when the government has proven unable to provide security and protection to the Liberian people, as exemplified by the recent mysterious killings of four government auditors and the disappearance of three young men, for which there have been no conclusive investigations.