The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), with the support of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) is pushing for a cordial working relationship with the media for the benefit of the public, particularly when handling issues that have national security implications.
At a two – day training which commenced Monday, 10 December at the Defense Ministry in Monrovia, journalists were told of the many chains of command that military personnel have to follow in executing their tasks, which also cover giving out information to the public through the press.
These channels would practically not allow low level servicemen to answer media enquiry unless approved by authorities, according to the training.
Further, it was indicated that the mission of the AFL is not that officers are just trained to kill, but professionals have been built in different units of the army including engineers, lawyers and others that are contributing to national development
Defense Ministry authorities including Deputy Minister for Administration Olandrus Dickson, Deputy Defense Minister for Operations Ernest Vafee and Assistant Defense Minister for Public Affairs Sam Collins spoke at the training on building cordial relationship between the military and the media to protect confidential security issues.
Also senior military officials made presentations, including Major Nathaniel Waka on Understanding the Military Environment in the Armed Forces of Liberia and Major Alfred Robison who presented on the Leadership Structure of the AFL.
Army Chief of Staff Major General Prince C. Johnson underscored the crucial role the press play in informing the population, saying that building relationship with the media is not intended to deny them needed information.
He says when defense correspondents understand the workings of the military, it would also benefit the public in return when proper information is disseminated by the media and when confidential issues are not disclosed to the public.
“There are lot of issues that are sensitive and in reporting it, it is better that we sit and talk,” he notes.
He recalls how in February 2017, a journalist called him and indicated that Liberian peacekeeping troop was going by road to be deployed to Mali because government did not have money to airlift them.
Opposed to the, Gen. Johnson says the advantage of going by road allowed the Liberian troop to carry lot of equipment that could not have been conveyed on flight.
However he says the journalist accepted his plead to withhold the story and the security of the troop was not compromised.
Unlike this experience here, General Johnson narrates how a state security surveillance against a planned terrorist attack in London was compromised as a result of a newspaper report without getting any clearance, and prompted authorities to pull out an undercover agent immediately.
He says the article concerning the London issue indicated that the terrorists planned to use chemical weapons on the door handles of very expensive cars because celebrities, senior government officials and top individuals were using those cars.
But when the entire operation was exposed by the article, he says the authorities could not find who was planning that attack.
Given these situations, Gen. Johnson recommends that journalists, including talk show host should consider inviting security experts whenever there are security issues that they warn to be addressed.
He discourages the use of politicians that have no security expertise to give analysis on security issues because a lot of them would simply present issues to the public in a way that would win some political points for them.
By Winston W. Parley