There is no question that the Media is Liberia’s Fourth Estate. What that means amongst other things is that it a stakeholder in the nation’s quest for stability, democracy, and progress. The Media must therefore do the things that serve as catalyst to the achievement of these pillars of nationhood, if it must uphold and make sacrosanct its “Fourth Estate” status. As a crucial member of the Fourth Estate, The Analyst is dedicated to this responsibility; and it has adapted it as its creed. At its 20th year of analytical circumspect reporting – of upholding and making sacrosanct the tenets of the Fourth Estate, The Analyst Staff Writer has been looking forward into the future and then back into the depth from which the paper has come.
The Analyst newspaper observes its 20th Natal Day today with the renewed vow to extol tendencies toward democracy, peace, and progress and to revile the slightest tendency towards the days of the rule of powerful men and women or of the rule of armed bandits presenting as “freedom fighters”.
The Analyst is especially wary of the nation’s current cross-roads posture, the change of guards at the highest echelon of government respecting the rising onto the Liberian political and leadership scenes of the Administration of President George Manneh Weah. And it comes away with ample reasons to be guardedly upbeat about the future of this country.
“We may be assailed year-round with ever-increasing costs of production, personnel, and utility, but that will not subtract from our ethical and patriotic standing – as a media house that pledges to work only with those who strive for a better Liberia. We will be an active watchdog,” said The Analyst’s Managing Editor Stanley Seakor.
He was responding, yesterday, to a reporter’s question about the future of The Analyst vis-à-vis balanced and analytical reporting in a country where it seems good journalism to simply report the news and worry not about its accuracy and impact on society.
Looking forward: on being an active, not listless watchdog
For most newsmakers and politicians, the best newspaper or radio station is one which is simply an extended mouthpiece and which goes an extra mile to promote their exploits.
In their view, the closer the media house comes to being a sluggish watchdog or a mirror reflecting what comes into view, the better it is worthy of the journalism profession and the responsibility of the Liberian Media as the Fourth Estate of governance.
But Mr. Seakor said while that view of the media may have its place, it does not fit the Media as the Fourth Estate of governance with the responsibility of ensuring the proper function of society – as a stakeholder in the nation’s quest for stability, democracy, and progress.
“So, we will continue to carry out the dream of The Analyst, which is to help government promote growth tendencies, remind government of its responsibility to the nation and citizens, and remind the citizens of their responsibilities to the government, and the nation,” he said.
He said besides opening the three-way information flow and monitoring responses for the benefit of the people and policymakers, the paper would continue to make it its responsibility to remind all stakeholders about the essence of unity and about agreement on the need for basic reforms in order to spur growth and development.
“This is the active watchdog role that we have been playing and that we will continue to play in the years ahead,” he said.
Management, he said, was not unaware of the fact that some Liberians, for whatever reasons, were not very comfortable with the editorial policies of the paper; but he noted that those policies were the closest any professional media house would come to being relevant to the present day realities of Liberia.
With the country’s troubled economy being passed over to a new administration, which with controlled jitters is itself looking upon the enormity of the problems of reviving the economy, the management believes self-effacement at the moment in order to allow for transitional adjustment is to fail the government and people of Liberia in the nation-building efforts.
The management is aware that some administration insiders and sympathetic observers would prefer a sympathetic media that will amplify gains and overlook commissions and omissions that run counter to law and the call for nation building. But it said such approach, while reasonable and attractive, was dangerous as far as hindsight could tell.
But Mr. Seakor, flanked by his editorial staff, noted that the steadfast and ever-vigilant stance of The Analyst did not mean that the paper would be unreasonably iron-fisted.
“We are opened to new suggestions; but we may have problem with suggestions that will make us enemy of the status quo or any group in society. Or that will make us political lackeys for the incumbency or those seeking the Executive Mansion as trophy for being jobless for so long or for making sacrifices of a sort sometime in the past,” he said.
Like in its founding days back in 1998, he said, it would not be the business of The Analyst to shy from its responsibility to the nation and its international partners in order to avoid making enemies or being entangled in brawls about law and principles.
“We will continue to serve our people even in difficulties other than we have already known. We will analyze issues and leave it with our people to make decisions. We will not be in the business of throwing complicated issues at them for fear of presenting as partial,” he said.
The Analyst managing editor said as a professional organization, The Analyst holds impartiality as the foundation of the journalistic code of ethics and that therefore it would endeavor at all times to ensure that its stories and editorial comments subscribe to impartiality as a creed.
But it noted that while it recognized ethical dissemination of information as the cardinal goal, it will need the cooperation of all Liberians and the international community to sustain it professionally.
“There are a number of things that militate against ethical dissemination of information in Liberia – in this age of fast media. One important one is the right to demand and access public information; the other is being blacklisted for what you report. Sometimes commercial printers refuse to print newspapers because they were warned by invisible hands not to print them,” he said.
Part of this problem, he said, was solved with the passing of the Freedom of Information Law under the watch of the Sirleaf administration. “We believe the Weah administration will uphold this Act, which gives free reins to the media to assess public information. This will discourage or make inexcusable superficial reporting,” Mr. Seakor noted.
That aside, Mr. Seakor said the next likely hurdle in media-government cooperation that the Weah administration will do well to clear at this early stage is respect for the National Code of Conduct. He fears that without clearing this hurdle, as did the Sirleaf administration that ironically inaugurated it, the current aura of vain honorability will continue to be a flashpoint of contention.
Added to the hurdles of openness in government that the Weah administration inherited, he noted, is the issue of corruption. “Given the cloud of pervasion that corruption has placed over national recovery, The Analyst Managing Editor said, the paper would work closely with the civil society organizations of Liberia, the government, the international community, and all well-meaning institutions to ensure the passage of the acts and to fight corruption.
“We will support basic reform efforts in all aspects of national life where there is need so that the nation’s progress will be accelerated. In order to achieve this, our cooperation will be based on principles and the efforts to achieve reform, not on personalities and what they dream,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Seakor has praised the roles subscribers, fans, and advertisers played in The Analyst’s growth over the past 20 years and he bid them continue.
“I salute our many readers, fans, and advertisers for being with us in difficult and good times. We encourage them to continue because there is much to be mutually gained in our friendship. By your effort, by just buying a copy of The Analyst or placing an advertisement – you might not know it – the nation is guaranteed continued information: the government is guaranteed information from the people, the people are guaranteed information from the government and both are edified to make the proper decisions for growth of society,” he said.
He added, “Well, welcome new conscientious business partners who subscribe to our dreams to join us in the forward march toward lifting Liberia up to greater heights.”
He said because of the importance of what the nation stands to gain, “The Analyst will remain steadfast, resolute, and ever vigilant in pursuit of its professional duties and national responsibility”.
Reflection: the depths conquered
Today, August 13, 2018 makes it 20 years since this paper first appeared on the newsstand. It appeared as light in semi-darkness, bringing with it a new approach to news dissemination: news analysis to point to possible departures from the path of progress, peace, and democracy – to the rule law.
It came as a festive daybreak “For those who strive for a better Liberia” – for the patriots, the nationalists, and those who toil for survival, but against those who make it their obsession to dictate the affairs of others even to their detriment.
The Analyst’s goal may be noble; but its path was rocky and thorny. This was because for some it was sacrilegious for a Media house to make it its duty to point the way of the law and to basic reform needs rather than dancing to the tune of powerful men as the media came to be known at the time.
Here is the summary of The Analyst’s story, of which some readers may already be attuned:
By August 8, 1998, the stage was set for the publication of The Analyst newspaper. The Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism (MICAT) had granted The Analyst Management the permit to operate as a legal entity in Liberia.
That was one cause for celebration, but there was an even greater cause out there: the first National Reconciliation Conference under the NPP-led government was ongoing.
The atmosphere was charged. The speeches were sincere; the remarks were from the recesses of the traumatized Liberian heart that desperately sought repentance before reconciliation, and the attendance was overwhelming. Hopes were radiant that a new day was dawning over the nation’s immediate gloomy past.
Why, the new political messiah, Charles MacArthur Ghankay Taylor, during his inauguration address a little over a year earlier on August 2, 1997, had emphasized: “I am the president for all Liberians. I will not be a wicked president. But I will also not be a weak president. This country will be a country of laws and not of men.”
He had predicted reconciliation for the nation and the present conference was the actualization of that prediction. So the public was anticipating a great day and the media was somewhat nonplussed about what to report as the gulf between promises and actual occurrences on the ground remained unbridgeable.
Then, bang! The nation began a long slide down the hill of arbitrariness and political arrogance borne of the “they are against us” mentality.
Not only did the flowery and pageantry conference end with the communiqué not reflecting the views of the conferees, but it also highlighted the aspiration of the NPP’s anticipated 24-year rule that so far failed to see the need for genuine dialogue based on trust and equality.
Meanwhile, news of insurgency in the North was overshadowing the charge of the political and social atmospheres in Monrovia.
The government needed the National Legislature to convene to answer to the emerging national emergency. But it would not be in the business of heeding traditions, legislative norms, and the law. The Legislature was prepared to resist. So early! That was August 10, 1998. The Analyst saw the too early divergence from the spirit of the inaugural speech and the reconciliation conference whose embers were yet to die.
It highlighted the contradiction in its debut edition thus, quoting a legislative committee:
“No Proclamation, No Session – Says the Legislature.” That was August 13, 1998, exactly 20 years ago.
That headline struck as “odd” with the House Committee itself, the Executive Mansion, and the public that had been acclimatized to the notion of marriage of convenience between the Liberian presidency and the legislators under the guise of peace and harmony.
And almost immediately the battle line between the teething Analyst newspaper and the notorious security forces of the Taylor administration was drawn.
In the mind of Taylor’s propaganda machinery and spitfire loyalist security forces, a new voice of the “detractors” was born. And they were determined to nip it in the bud. There and then began the baseless speculations about The Analyst’s mission and the fruitless searches for clues about conspiracy to undermine the so-called nascent “democracy.”
Speculations ran wild within government security circles that some former warlords were sponsoring The Analyst to pull down the government. When most of the warlords scurried into exile and The Analyst did not die, there was immediate review of speculation and it was agreed that The Analyst’s support came from Liberia’s exiled opposition based in the Diaspora, mainly the U.S.
But what to do about the suspected mold in the media without being seen as stifling the free press became intense headache for both the administration’s security details and its propaganda machinery. It was especially frustrating that clues of complicity were painstakingly hard to come by.
Then they hit a bingo jackpot: They will go around direct banning of The Analyst. The first action they chose was to warn the commercial printers against printing The Analyst. The printers were also instructed to censor The Analyst’s contents for so-called subversive or inciting materials.
As a backup plan, they instructed major businesses in the country not to advertise with The Analyst. Yes, advertisement is the chief source of income for newspapers in Liberia and stopping advertisement transactions was to strangulate the paper strategically without taking the blame or being seen as stifling freedom of the press.
Boom! That was to seal the doom of the paper without smearing the image of the government as abhorrent to the freedom of the press.
But with innocence, obsession with the existence of the rule of law, and force of mission as its weapons, The Analyst pressed on pleading truce and the return to good governance and democracy for the sake of the Liberian masses whose lives had then been shattered by seven years of useless civil warfare. The Analyst was originally set to appear on the newsstand thrice a week.
That it did until 1999 when the witch-hunting started. By this time, the newsstand time has shrunk to a hard one-time a week. Hard one-time a week because many times the paper could not come on the newsstand on the appointed day. One week it would come on the newsstand on Monday; another week, it would come on Wednesday or even Friday. As the newsstand day became increasingly irregular and printing cost-driven, so also the income base shrunk. The Analyst, despite its noble goals, was dying and the Liberian people and opposition in and out of the country were losing their voices.
The government was contented for removing the “loud-mouthed Analyst” from the newsstand, congratulating itself for such a major coup. As far as it was concerned, the battle was won and as a matter of course, The Analyst will be one of the newspapers that once were.
By 2001 following three years of irregular appearances on the newsstand, The Analyst hit a cul-de-sac. With poor sales in the wake of rising cost of printing, only Providence knew what would become of The Analyst. But what Management knew was that with the paper making its marks on the intellectual class, the political liberals, and conservatives in the Taylor administration, and most on the hopes of the downtrodden, there was no turning back, come what may.
There was a glimmer of hope that The Analyst was truly getting down to the hearts of policymakers, which is its mission objective, and that it was a matter of time before a new class of Liberians dubbed “those who strive for a better Liberia” was born.
Meanwhile, the silent repression continued without let; but so, unfortunately (The Analyst had wished the insurgency would somehow be turned into a national dialogue for peace.), was the rebellion in the North.
The government craved for sympathy, but it found none in The Analyst, which insisted in its reportage and editorials that conquest of the government or the rebellion was a coup not accomplishable.
As far as The Analyst was concerned, events of the country dictated that the Liberian conflict would be reversed if the incumbency put into place a responsible security force that reflects ethnic and geographic balance, allows genuine dialogue amongst Liberians to thrash out longstanding discontents, liberalizes employment, and replaces the patronage politics with meritorious politics.
But these seemed the least Taylor, who wanted to be the only “rooster” in the country, wanted. Having conquered the opposition (military and political), he wanted total submission to his whims and caprices, not a treaty with groups he fought for seven years and “defeated”.
So by March 2002, the taciturn battle between right and expediency spilled as the government became desperate and less tolerant of criticisms about its handling of the war in the North, which was then being felt near the capital by the government and people, by the timber and diamond industries, and the political opposition.
As before, The Analyst was the perfect target for suspicion – the sitting lame duck that took all the punches. That was when the real hunt began.
The government declared a state of emergency that banned public assembly, restricted travels without exit visas, and put the security forces on the alert in the capital. The Analyst called that “counterproductive” in the face of call by the international community for immediate dialogue and early elections.
Charges flew from “communication with detractors” to being “agent provocateur” and intimately to charges that a senior staffer of The Analyst was running “terrorist cells” in Monrovia.
The rest is a well-told story. But just to recap, the equipment of The Analyst were twice seized on suspicion of running of Internet links with “enemies”, the staffs were summarily detained on more than three occasions for reasons never stated or not deemed necessary by the police to be stated. And when that seemed not to deter or intimidate The Analyst, its editor-in-chief was picked up while on duty and charged with espionage and dubbed “illegal combatant” in mock justification of similar charges leveled by the Americans against al-Qaida operatives captured in combat in Afghanistan.
The persecution continued until Taylor met his nemesis and has to exit the scene bowing, it is supposed, in regret. And like every professional institution elsewhere across the country, The Analyst has been picking up the pieces, keeping focus on its mission which is to work with those who strive for a better Liberia to help the government and people of Liberia cultivate a middle ground for progress.
No sooner had the repression subsided than The Analyst bounced back, normalizing and increasing it production to three times a week and expending the distribution of its publications to the counties. It also recruited correspondents from the counties to change the flow of news from Monrovia-based to cross-country. That paid off. Not only that, The Analyst broke fresh grounds in the media business by establishing the first ever website to be owned by a Liberian newspaper.
By the beginning of 2005, The Analyst increased its productions from three to five times. Four months later in April the number of production was increased to six times, thereby going over the Monday to Friday production barrier of the Liberian media. A month later, The Analyst broke another barrier by being the first Liberian newspaper to permanently run a post-war twelve-page newspaper.
The Press Union of Liberia overwhelmingly voted The Analyst Liberia’s “Best Analytical Newspaper of the Year 2008/2009”.
Today, August 13, 2018, The Analyst is proud to remain alive and stand up to be counted as the first Liberian newspaper that possesses its own website (the website is currently being expanded to handle increasing data volume), that goes beyond the headlines to analyze the news, and that runs editorial comments purely against the backdrop of the rule of law and respect for human and people’s rights.