The Inquirer is a leading independent daily newspaper published in Liberia, based in Monrovia. It is privately owned with a "good reputation".

The Other Side Of Mainstream Journalism: My Experience In Nearly 40 Years

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

For the last few days, I have been running an article entitled,” 30 Years Of Existence In Turbulent Times: Indeed To God Be The Glory,” to commemorate the 30th anniversary of THE INQUIRER Newspaper, Liberia’s first post-war independent newspaper. In that piece, I highlighted some of the difficulties and strives of the newspaper over the years.

Besides, I also pointed out some of those who associated with the paper and today have obtained higher degrees, even to doctorate level as a result of the opportunity provided by the institution as it relates to HIGHER EDUCASTION. Gratifyingly, some of these individuals are playing key roles in the public and private sectors of the Liberian society.

Noticeably, since then, many person admired the phrase, “TO GOD BE THE GLORY” because of the difficulties the paper experienced during those turbulent years of the civil conflict. Today, I am doing a follow-up of how my activities in the profession made me to befriend many persons, especially politicians over the nearly 40 years.

Undisputedly, if a journalist was asked about the cardinal or basic functions of journalism, that person would rightly outline three things—to inform, to educate and to entertain. Likewise if a lawmaker was asked similar question that person would name three traditional functions- to represent, to make law and to have oversight on national issues.

Unarguably, this might be the same to people of other professions. But one of the things I have experienced and continue to experience since I joined mainstream journalism in May 1983, two years after graduating from D. Twe High School in New Kru Town, is a journalist’s countless interactions with many people in society as a result of that journalist’s activities. That is, the journalist meets people of all categories, whether in the public or private sectors; whether in the low or high echelon of society.

Before joining the Daily Observer in 1983 as a cub reporter (trainee) I heard the names of certain high-profile names who I later met. Prominent among them was the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews of the then United People’s Party (UPP) formerly of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), a group that is credited for today’s multiparty democracy in Liberia. Others like the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) then headed by Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, also joined the “struggle” for multipartism.

These leaders who were referred to as “progressives,” by their die-hard and uncompromising admirers and supporters. Because stories from Baccus were like hot cake, I was regular at the party’s Old Road office in that every journalist wants stories that would be of great public interest.

By the time I joined the profession, it was the time of the military government led by the late then Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, during which time I was mainly focused in the Borough of Kru Town and did not really venture into serious political issues. By the time of the 1985 general and presidential elections, the government closed down the Daily Observer, thus preventing it from covering the elections.

As a result of that arbitrary action against the Daily Observer, a group of us joined the DAILY STAR Newspaper formed by a former editor of the Daily Observer, with the help of two Lebanese, who had ties with some protégés of the late Doe. It was while at the DAILY STAR that the 1985 abortive invasion led by the late Thomas Gonkanue Quiwonkpa took place.Don’t ask me what transpired when the invasion failed. To say it the Liberian colloquial way, “e fue in my mouth.”

Interestingly after the 1985 electoral process, the opposition parties cried foul on grounds that the process was rigged by the late Doe of the now living dead National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL). The defeated parties then formed what was known as the “Grand Coalition,” to solidify their protest.

The aftermath of that process provided an opportunity for some of us to meet some of the strong political leaders of this country. They included the late Jackson F. Doe of the Liberian Action Party (LAP); Teacher Gabriel Kpolleh of the Liberian Unification Party (LUP); Dr. Edward Kesselly of the Unity Party (UP); G. Baccus Matthews of the UPP. Besides, we also met some political stalwarts like Peter B. Jallah, Wesley Johnson, the late Dr. Jabaru Carlon and Michael George.

I am talking about journalists’ interaction with people in society because I continue to experience this over the years, made lots of friends, some of whom, are presently in the pinnacle of the government. They are President George Weah, whose first story about politics I did many years ago; Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, from the St. Mary’s Alumni Association activities; Speaker Bhofal Chambers from the National Fire Service and Pro-temp Albert Chie, when he was at the then Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy. Today, I still consider them my friends, despite their busy schedules.

For me, I only make contact with them when there is a need to do so to “get their side” of a story when necessary. Disappointingly, sometimes, some do not respond. Notwithstanding, I do not hold it against them because of the jobs they do. However, if there is anything concerning their offices, I would make sure that such story is balanced, even without their input because of their busy schedule.

Frankly, my interactions with these politicians made me to develop deep and keen interest in political stories, as they were of strong appeal to the reading public at the time of the controversial election, as many persons were interested in political stories, as such all attention was on that.

Let me also say that when I leapfrogged from a cub reporter to a senior reporter and later News Editor at the Daily Observer, the Executive Mansion was one of my beats (beat in journalism means place of assignment). There, I was highly respected by the Press Secretary Patrick Kugmeh because I could write more than one stories for a single event, especially during state visits by foreign presidents. Those were some of the difficult times because many times we left the Mansion in the evening hours to produce the story for the next morning.

For this, I was the only reporter who had a special seat next to the Press Secretary during events soldier-turned civilian President Regime. Even during the Charles Taylor’s presidency I did not have a special seat, but President Taylor held me in high esteem, which I noted during press conferences. Even if I did not plan to ask any question, he would make me to ask a question. Foreseeably, I believe if President Weah would hold his debut press conference, I would be there.

Furthermore, let me say Taylor’s respect for me made him to include me on the delegation of the press team to travel to the United States to cover events organized by a group headed by Jesse Jackson in collaboration with the Taylor’s Government.

Additionally, I was also made a part of the media team to cover the peace meeting in Accra, Ghana in June 2003 among the warring factions at the M-Plaza in that country. That meting produced the interim government headed by the late Gyude Bryant as chairman and Wesley Johnson as vice chairman. It was that government that was replaced by the democratically elected administration headed by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005.

Under President Sirleaf, that respect did not diminish, as it grew more, as she took me on some of her foreign trips. They included the dedication of the African Union new headquarters built by the Chinese in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and her last meeting at the UN General Assembly in the United States. The other media people were Jonathan Paye-Leyleh of the BBC and Rodney Sieh of FrontPage Africa.

More importantly, during her administration, I was decorated with one of the country’s highest awards. Today, I stand as the youngest Liberian journalist to have received such award. To God be the glory.

One important benefit I have observed in mainstream journalism is what is known as “SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY,” where a journalist commands the respect of the public for that media practitioners’ level of professionalism. It is the opposite of mediocrity and introvert. This, I would urge every journalist to strive for since the profession is all about the upliftment of the people from backwater to prosperity, their welfare and wellbeing.

I Rest My Case.

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