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Media Empowerment: Gov’t Attitude Contradicts Public Statements (Pt-1)

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The media industry around the world is one of the most viable types of investments. In Liberia, it is regarded as a non-performing sector of the economy, a symbol of poverty, an industry run by men and women who have chosen poverty over prosperity or people who lack innovative investment ideas and good marketing strategies.

Thus, it has become very difficult, if not impossible, for a media institution to obtain a loan from a local bank, accept a media institution’s head has a very strong tie with said banking institution. Hence, the industry has continued to suffer the lack of injection of huge capital investment over the last two decades because of its non-performance.

The sector, though described as the “Fourth Estate of the Realm,” is one that has witnessed the highest amount of brain drain in post-war Liberia, with many of the well-trained and experienced journalists seeking greener pastures within non-governmental cycles or within public institutions. The exodus of trained and experienced practitioners has led the industry captive into the hands of many inexperienced practitioners.

The Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf-led administration, which inherited a broken system and has tried to restore other sectors, seems to be stifling this sector of the economy directly or indirectly. Although the Government has continued to claim publicly that its desire is to build a strong partnership with the media, the partnership is seen in words, not deeds.

Within the Government, the Liberian Senate is the most delinquent when it comes to paying for advertisement spots placed in the media. The Executive branch, which is a major advertiser, comes second.

The New Dawn, which has been on the media landscape for barely two years, is one of the institutions heavily feeling the pinch of the government’s delinquency in ensuring that it (Government) meets up with its advertisement commitments on a regular basis. Here are a few examples, starting with the Ministry of State, a Ministry hosting the Office of the President of the Republic of Liberia:

Through the offices of the former Press Secretary to the President Mr. Cyrus Badio, the said ministry is indebted to this paper to the tune of over US$4,000. This amount covers the period from July to around September 2011. Efforts to get this amount have been dodgy.  Mr. Badio would have this paper believe that the Ministry of State has made such transfer payment to the account of this paper, when there has been no such transfer.

Until his removal from the post recently by the President, Cyrus had always promised to do a follow-up with the finance section of the Ministry of State, but never gave a feedback. The Ministry of Gender, with a total amount of US$4, 600.00, covering the period from December 2010 to date has made no effort in meeting up with its financial obligation to this paper.

In December 2011, the New Dawn management wrote Minister Varbah Gayflor, now Labor Minister- designate, to bring to her attention her ministry’s indebtedness to the paper. When the ministry decided to make payment, it selected two media institutions it considered as favorites and effected their payments, leaving this paper out. When a follow-up was made yesterday, Gender officials are now waiting for the ministry’s third quarter allotment before payment to the New Dawn can be made.

The Ministry of Education is another ministry also heavily indebted to this paper to the tune of over US$ 7,000.00 and still counting. There has been no effort in recent time to make any payment towards this amount. The Ministry of Finance is indebted to the tune of US$8, 250.00 for the last quarter of 2011 from October to December. It has only begun to make allotment for payment.

The Liberia Institute for Geo-Information and Statistical Services or LIGISS is also indebted to this institution to the tune of over US$6,000 total. There is yet no definite status on payment despite constant follow-ups. The list of other government ministries and donor funded institutions with huge obligations to this paper, among others, will be made public in subsequent editions. But remember what we said that banking system considers the media as a non-performing sector.

This paper borrowed a loan of US$60, 000 from the International Bank of Liberia IBL (Ltd) to purchase its printing equipment. As per the loan agreement, payment should be made at the end of every month at least US$5,300. An obligation this paper must meet and has been meeting. This is in addition to staff monthly salaries and printing materials to continue publications. At the center of these obligations is also a lease agreement that must be met.

Now, with all of these outstanding figures above and the ones to be mentioned in the next editions, this business cannot meet its obligations and therefore, is termed as a non-performing institution and rightly so. This is where the Sirleaf-led government media empowerment scheme has become a charade, failing to meet up with its obligations with media institutions.

Now, how can one speak of empowerment, when it fails to meet up with its debt-monies that would help strengthen their operational capacities? The government’s attitude is a deliberate attempt to stifle the media; it doesn’t matter which side of the coin you belong, and it is a hard truth that must be told. If a government, which claims it is bent on reducing poverty fails to pay media institutions, a sector that is the reflection of the greater society, what impact can it actually make out there?

In our opinion, this government is not interested in promoting the media; it is rather interested in restricting free speech as is evident by its huge obligations. Simply put, when media institutions cannot be paid their due earnings, they will not meet up with their operational costs and thereby end-up folding up from the market, leaving behind a huge bad debt.

The banks will therefore not be in the position to lend to any of these institutions because of said risk factor.

To be continued.

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