By Tamba Jean-Matthew III
The tension among politicians contesting Liberia’s 2023 legislative and presidential elections has resonated and placed a wedge among media innovators in the country.
Liberian media companies were pulled into confusion when opposition political party leaders scolded the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) party government for failing to publish the results of the national population and housing census.
The opposition political party leaders claim that the census results were being upheld to add to the plot to give the ruling CDC party a resounding victory at the polls come October 10, 2023.
Opposition media then joined the fray by castigating pro-government media groups for “defending wrongdoings that undermine national unity”.
The ruling political party media retorted by rubbishing the allegations and challenged the opposition media and their political leadership, to seek arbitration from the National Election Commission (NEC) or head to the courts which the opposition ostensibly had no confidence in.
But the opposition media still fired back at the ruling CDC party media groups for backing the “mischievous act” that the ruling party had undertaken by launching electoral campaigns long before the national election commission declared the event open.
An accusation that CDC media groups again rebutted, and disassociated the party from the “early bird” politicians, claiming that the latter had done so as independent candidates and not as CDC party stalwarts.
But down the line, these “early birds” were seen rallying with the ruling CDC when the campaign was officially declared open by NEC.
Pre-campaign posters of these “early birds” only carried scant information, without pictures but with a visible penchant towards the CDC, and were posted randomly across the country.
It is worth noting that opposition media comprises veteran journalists including hardcore editorialists, former information ministers and editors of state-owned innovations as well as former journalism professors who do not own any known media companies besides the leading opposition Unity Party campaign newspaper.
Conversely, the pro-government media comprises a corp of young, less professional and relatively unknown practitioners but omnipresent on virtually every medium.
Confrontation between the two opposing sides has largely been mitigated by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), the country’s media watchdog which also checks and balances the NEC.
A recent case in point was obtained in late September when PUL expressed dismay over NEC’s delay in releasing the final voter registration roll and challenged the election watchdog to “urgently resolve the issue and avoid confusion”.
On 10 October, Liberians will head to the polls in a 2017 repeat episode to vote for either incumbent President George Weah, 57, or former Vice President Joseph Boakai, 78, to lead the country for the next six years.
Liberia is single-handedly organising the plebiscite for the first time in 38 years and without the presence of UN peacekeepers.
Even though Liberian media have long been taking sides with politicians, especially during electoral periods, the phenomenon has been particularly spectacular this year.
Nearly ten months ahead of polling day, cross-carpeting by media groups from either side of the political divide has been frequent and conspicuous.
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Broadcaster George Kiadii raised the curtain earlier this year when he jumped from the state-run ELBS radio, to manage the phenomenal Original Country Man (OCM FM) radio, and to the utter surprise of the general public.
Given George’s hard support for the CDC government policies, it was unthinkable a year ago that he could dissect the national media for any reason.
Paul Noring, a longstanding former journalist at the Liberia News Agency and an unflinching supporter of official media companies, described Kiadii’s action as “an act of sabotage”.
In a similar and tacit reaction, Peter Kahler, the deputy director general of the Liberia News Agency who rose within the outfit from a cub reporter to the position he now holds, said: “A good name is better than riches”.
Critics have been unanimous in believing that George landed at the OCM radio “simply for the love of money”.
In a kickback support of George, a social commentator who begged for anonymity, said: “Only a fool can sit still in the rain or sun!”
OCM FM is among the latest companies in the broadcast media landscape in Liberian and is owned by Dr. Thomas Tweh, one of Liberia’s richest politicians and a medical doctor who runs a chain of businesses in the United States.
But unfortunately, Original Country Man as Tweh is affectionately called, was recently sidelined from the race for a legislative seat. He was accused of holding a dual (Liberian/American) nationality which allegedly contravenes the electoral laws of Liberia.
As the confusion persists among media groups over the electoral process, Patrick Okai, a popular innovator at the state-run LBS radio tendered his resignation from the outlet days ahead of the plebiscite over an alleged threat from his boss.
Okai explained that Tetee Gebro, the deputy director of the radio had been on his nerves to pull out his support for the opposition leader and presidential candidate Joseph Nyuma Boakai.
“I have no regrets over my resignation,” Okai said, adding that “some decisions are best taken when they hurt while being taken and especially when they border around one’s safety”.
In Liberia, journalists are among the least paid both within government employment and in the private sector, with reporters usually earning a negligible $100 or even far less per month.
“This is political campaign season is one of our best times to make money from the little we know,” said Kemoh Sesay, a freelance reporter who has been shuttling from one media outlet to another pitching story ideas for to media groups.
Kemoh says, he was now earning over a hundred dollars a week from pitches and background information he provides to party propaganda groups.
“Let the so-called experienced and better-off journalists lock themselves in arguments, confusion, and bout over who to write for and who not to write for… as far as I’m concerned, I’m a piper, let anyone pay for the tune,” Kemoh concluded, smiling.