IN MOST PARTS of the world, the media commands great deal of influence on societies far and wide. It is for this reason that they are regarded as the Fourth Estate, a term derived from traditional European concept of the three estates of realm: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners – in reference to the separation of powers in government – the Legislative, Executive and the Judiciary.
IN LIBERIA, the body responsible since September 30, 1964, has been the Press Union of Liberia, the umbrella organization serving Liberian media professionals and institutions with oversight responsibility for addressing problems arising from journalists’ reportage and conduct in the face of the ever-growing demand for quality and good taste.
ESTABLISHED as a means of advocating for press freedom and the protection of journalists, the PUL today is gradually failing to live up to the expectations of its membership and slowly losing its relevancy with one misstep after the other, drawing condemnation from its members and dissent amongst its key media partners.
THE MOST RECENT involves a September 6, 2017 letter under the signature of Mr. Octavin Williams, Vice President of the Press Union of Liberia in which Mr. Williams informed Cllr. Lamin Kpargoi of his dismissal as Officer-in-Charge of the Liberian Media Center(LMC).
THE LMC is one of several media and civil society organizations that are part of the Deepening Democracy Coalition (DDC) which recently successfully hosted the first Presidential Debate ahead of next month’s Presidential elections in Liberia.
IN HIS LETTER, Mr. Williams writes:
With compliments of the highest esteem we hereby present our sincere greetings to the entire hierarchy of the Liberian Media Center(LMC). Kindly be informed that the leadership of the PUL has, with immediate effect, relieved you of your post as Acting Officer in charge of the LMC.
The PUL says the decision is in the best interest of the LMC aimed at moving the institution forward.
Against this background, the PUL has appointed Mr. Clonious Blamo as Acting Officer in charge of the LMC pending the appointment of a permanent Executive Director.
Meanwhile, the PUL has officially pulled out of the Deepening Democracy Coalition (DDC), organizer of the 2017 Presidential debates. The PUL considers the October 10 elections as critical to the stability of the country and its democracy and therefore wants to maintain its place as the moral conscious of the society
WE FEEL TROUBLED, firstly, that on the surface, it appears that the letter to Mr. Kpargoi was not written with the consent of the entire leadership and membership of the PUL.
SECONDLY, it also appears that Mr. Williams or those behind the decision to wrongfully dismiss Cllr. Kpargoi acted out of ignorance of the PUL’s own guidelines and regulations as well as within the confines of the Articles of Incorporation establishing the LMC where the PUL serves as a member of the board.
DANIEL NYAKONAH, Jr., Secretary General of the PUL confirmed to FrontPageAfrica Monday that while the Union is awaiting the return from the US of its President, Mr. Charles Coffey to rescind the action of Mr. Williams. “We have not come out with a decision but we are waiting for the President and waiting to rescind that decision and return to status quo and undo what has been done,” Mr. Nyakonah said Monday.
THE INCIDENT, FrontPageAfrica has learned has already generated concerns from the United Nations Mission in Liberia and the European Union, amid fears that Mr. Williams’ action has the propensity to disrupt the political atmosphere leading to the 2017 Presidential and legislative elections.
MALCOLM JOSEPH, Executive Director at Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP) - CEMESP, a leading Media development NGO in Liberia and one of the partners of the DDC, told FrontPageAfrica Monday that Mr. Williams has no right as an individual to unilaterally take a decision to dismiss the officer-in-charge of the LMC.
“I know for sure, that the LMC is incorporated body and one person does not have the authority to dismiss the head of the LMC because the body is governed by a board and only the board can take such a decision; not one member of the board, least one vice President. Mr. Williams does not have the authority to dismiss the officer in charge. This just goes to show the extent of an irresponsible leadership in place.”
JOSEPH LAMENTED that Mr. Williams failed to read the rules establishing the LMC and simply lacks the authority, particularly in the absence of the union’s head. “It doesn’t hold, it cannot hold, he does not have the authority to do it.”
REGARDING MR. WILLIAM’S unilateral decision to pull the PUL out of the DDC, Mr. Joseph said: “The DDC signed a Memorandum of Understanding which clearly states that any partner wishing to pull out of the DDC must give a sixty-day notice prior to doing so. “People have to be responsible; I am an incorporator, it clearly spells out who takes decision to hire and fire; PUL is a member of the board but one member cannot unilaterally fire the officer in charge, especially without a reason.”
FRONTPAGEAFRICA HAS ALSO learned the Secretary General of the PUL, refused to sign off on Mr. Williams’ dismissal letter over similar concerns and fears now being expressed.
IT IS IN THIS LIGHT, which we urge the Union’s President, the executive committee and the entire membership to read the riot act on Mr. Williams and reprimand him for bringing the body into disrepute and embarrassment.
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE PUL is clear: The Vice President has no right to take any unilateral action on behalf of the body.
THE CONSTITUTION STATES: The Vice President shall Act as President whenever the President is absent from the country; He/she shall assume the presidency in case of resignation, incapacitation impeachment or death of the President, pending by-election; Assist the President in overseeing the effective, active and smooth functioning of constituent/affiliate associations such as the Editors Association, Reporters Association, Photo Journalists Association, Sports Writer Association of Liberia (SWAL), Media NGOs, Foreign Stringers Association, and other media-related organizations under the umbrella of the Union as shall from time to time be established, including media workers associations in the various media houses intended to give voice to workers and shall perform such other lawfully appropriate duties as may be assigned him by the President.
NO WHERE DOES IT STATE that the Vice President can take a unilateral decision on behalf of the entire membership.
WILLIAMS clearly crossed the line and acted not only unilaterally, but inappropriately. He has brought shame and embarrassment to the body and deserves no place in the hierarchy of the PUL.
IT IS FOR THIS reason we feel strongly that Mr. Williams be impeached from his position and made to apologize for the embarrassment he has brought on the union.
Section 3 of the Constitution is clear: “Any elected official of the Union may be impeached by two-third (2/3) of the full membership of the Union for conflict of interests, failure to perform his/her constitutional duties and /or engaging in acts or conducts incompatible with the aims and objectives of the Union.”
WILLIAMS HAS failed to perform and has conducted himself in acts incompatible with the aims and objectives of the union. The Executive Committee and the leadership must muster the courage and political will to boot him out.
THE MEDIA cannot present itself as the watchdog of the society, pressing on the national government to exercise political will on matters of national concerns, when its own leadership has its feet cemented deep in a quicksand of bad governance, bad leadership and the lack of political will to weed out the poison in its midst.
A Hint To The Wise!