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“I was manipulated and deceived”

What Does this Say About Sinking Broadcast Standards?

Let me begin this piece with a useful disclaimer. I associate with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning as former Executive Director of the African Peer Review Mechanism and I still do support the reform agenda of Minister Amara Konneh. Nonetheless, the views expressed herein are those of the author and the author alone.

I have known Henry Costa for a while now and we have had our fair share of disagreements but I love the Costa show. We traded jibes over my impression of his brand of “monetized talking” versus the standard for conducting credible and professional two-way radio communication.

When I say I love the Costa show, it should not be viewed or seen as sarcasm. While it has been mismanaged and the level of one-way dialogue and arrogance makes it difficult to follow and enjoy, it has shown much can be achieved when broadcasting is done properly. The recent case where a security official misused his authority, crossed the line and the brutalized an innocent woman, illustrates how well positioned the show has been. Costa raised the necessary awareness and we saw swift Executive action taken against the culprit as he awaits trial today. This shows that when media is harness properly, the results can be profound.

But broadcasting doesn’t stop there; it presents a two-way responsibility of trust and professionalism. In broadcasting, the credibility of the voice behind the microphone matters. When people’s faith and their hope are placed in a voice, they investing a good value of their trust and by doing that, the authorities whether public or private, find it more compelling to listen and act. It is this level of public trust that translates into a powerful tool to influence policy.

In this light, I must of course express how profoundly embarrassed and disappointed I have been since the morning of September 24, 2015 when I listened to Costa rant about monies he received and manipulation he underwent.

While we disagree, I was stunned hearing him make those very damaging comments. True be told, it was my very first experience to hear a radio talkshow host, of such sizeable following, claim he was being used, deceived, manipulated and made to cooperate on attacking individuals and entities by and through a public official.

Was he making an innocent inference or was this sarcasm? I was actually confused. Still tuned in for a good length of the show, I realized he was in effect shooting himself in both legs in a desperate attempt to make the case that the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amara Konneh was a “bad apple” in the regime of President Sirleaf and has been the one instigating fights and undermining the cabinet.

But saying he was bribed and had been used was both confounding and unexpected. How would a serious radio personality of such influence, no matter how divisive he can be, make this extreme revelation to the effect he was bribe. He also alleged to have been given proprietary documents, some of which he published, but were found to be routine communication already shared with host of outlets months ago. It was a sensational testimony, the ones reserve for the upper room.

By and large, Costa suggested that his decision to go public on the bribery emanated from a statement Konneh had made a day earlier-comments we all now well familiar with and pertaining to criminals and buffoons not being elected. Though it is my considered opinion that Konneh’s statement is factual and rightly placed.

Judging by the turn of events, I think Costa hit the accelerator into overdrive and probably will have already driven himself into damage control mood. He might have underestimated the intelligence level of his faithful audience (many of whom are gutted as I am) or might have tempered too much with their faith, unreservedly reposed in him.

Being a former Talkshow Host myself, I see it strange you would admit to being “manipulated and used”. These are very grave allegations to levy against anyone, least oneself. Two thoughts flow through my mind. Either, Costa meant something else but wrongly utter those words and went very deep and had to maintain his position not to expose his ignorance of the error he made.

On the other hand, it appeared though, he calculated that in response to comments made by Amara Konneh, if he made an allegation as grave as such, it would lend it the required credibility, insulating it from contestation.

I am not sure this was an effective strategy. The timing has shown that the allegation presents significant doubt, as knowing Costa for who he is, this would have been a tea and breakfast tirade, given how sour his relationship with Konneh has been.

Unfortunately, Costa has rather compromised the integrity of a platform so many listeners trust, in spite of its one-sided posturing. To admit, that a public official who has been consistently considered “corrupt” and someone you charged of “mismanaging” the economy, has bankrolled your radio station shows how dangerous you mingle with the very “public criminals” you seek to expose. This takes away from the core of public trust and is the heart of the current credibility crisis he has created.

Still on the subject of manipulation, this demonstrates a worrying pattern of extortion, blackmail and fraud. It is disappointing that so many persons have placed faith in a medium that only sought the largess of deeper pockets and special interest. The message this sends is loud and clear: we can exchange silence for the highest bidder.

I am not sure Costa is aware that the broadcast space, unlike newspaper isn’t privately owned. It is a public asset and the abuse of which, could complicate the self-regulatory structure the Press Union has in place, no matter the challenges it faces.

By his overt political leaning, he has effectively compromised not only his integrity but those of Voice FM and has brought into further disrepute broadcast journalism.

At this stage, it is a matter of when and not if, the Press Union of Liberia take a stand on these issues, while at same time fighting to protect freedom of the speech and the press. No matter its current challenges, the PUL has demonstrated that it has the wherewithal to deal with such blatant show of unprofessionalism and that leadership is required now as no ever.

The way Voice FM has carried itself only brings into further urgency the need for an independent regulator and the Union might need to drive this quickly, else it will lose the legitimacy to fight back when regulation is imposed on the sector by the authorities.

About the author
Lawrence Randall is a development practitioner, media expert, lawyer and writer. He studies Public Policy at Georgetown University. (pellrandall@gmail.com)

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