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PUL AT 51: When noble institutions behave like carpenters

Jacob N.B. Parley
PUL President, A. Kamara
PUL President, A. Kamara

The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) Members, Wednesday, September 30, 2015, converged at the University of Liberia’s main campus auditorium in Monrovia for an indoor program.

The program was in commemoration of the Union’s 51st Anniversary.

BACKGROUND

The PUL was established September 30, 1964 in Monrovia as the umbrella organization to serve Liberian media professionals and institutions.

The PUL, with a membership-base of more than 500 journalists, has oversight responsibility of its members for addressing problems arising from journalists’ reportage and from their conduct in the face of the ever-growing demand for quality and good taste.

Additionally, the Union was set up to advocate press freedom and journalists’ protection, but since its founding, the Union has grown to a vibrant pro-democracy group.

As a pro-democracy group, the PUL has championed not only media matters, but issues affecting the democratic governance of the state, encompassing social justice and human rights.

BACK TO THE INDOOR PROGRAM

Prior to the commencement of the indoor program, members of the Union paraded from the headquarters of the Press Union on Clay Street at about 10:30 AM, instead of the initially announced and approved time (9:00 Am).

Chronologically, the group paraded from the PUL headquarters   through the intersection of Broad and Michelin Streets and later through Buchanan Street to Benson Street near the old Defense Ministry.

Through Camp Johnson Road,   we also took the parade through Liberia National Police Headquarters and later joined the main road that landed us at the premises of the University of Liberia’s main campus. 

As we entered the UL campus, the band unit smartly changed musical gear to pave the way for a dance that kept us busy up to the entrance of the University’s auditorium.

POOR ATTENDANCE

Before the parade could start, I sat with PUL President, Abdullai Kamara, in his office for a while. As we shared frankly notes on a number of issues, he ensured that nothing was left untouched.

One of the issues that I initiated had to do with the usual failure of our members to always be available and on time to commence the parade.

He concurred with me and the both of us hoped that such practice would be improved in the future to avoid sending out the wrong signal that members of the PUL are not interested in their own organization.

But let me admit that members of the PUL, not being actively involved in most activities of the Union, are not distinctive to the Kamara-led PUL administration.

My argument is based on experience as a former official of the PUL, including accounts of other former and non-officials of the PUL. However, those who may disagree with me on this point have the right to their individual opinions.

THE CARPENTER SITUATION

Let me note that I was also disappointed with the way the parade and the indoor program were poorly attended. On the other hand, we failed to highlight our own program as we usually do to other institutions’.

I can’t really believe  that an occasion marking the 51st Anniversary of a  noble institution like the Press Union of Liberia,   established at the sweat and blood of some of our predecessors,  could be treated in such  style and manner.

DIVERGENT OPINIONS

Right after the indoor program, I did an exclusive interview with a number of colleagues and some tried to lay accusing fingers at the doors of the current PUL leadership for the poor nature of the program.

Well, they may be correct, but for me, I keep seeing things from a two-way approach.  In this light, I believe all of us should share the blame.
I remember seeing a release from the Union concerning our 51st Anniversary program, but how many of us ever used same?

I am neither in the position to indict any individual journalist, nor any local media institution, but I also believe that we need to highlight our own activities. This is so, because, if we don’t do it for ourselves, nobody else would do it for us.

The way we sometimes handle our own activities as PUL members brings me to almost agree with others who say we are behaving like professional carpenters.

Professional carpenters often put in the best of their talents and skills to prepare the best furniture for their customers, but sleep on the floor.

I started hearing such statement long time ago, but I don’t really know if the statement is true about carpenters who fix all the good furniture for their customers, but prefer sleeping on, perhaps, the sub-standard ones or stripped floor.

I am also told that the carpenter-scenario is also haunting land sellers.  (Selling huge parcels of land and collecting all the huge amounts, but living in ramshackle   structures. 

Our program was so poorly attended to the extent that our panelists even noticed such thing happening and urged us not to treat our own activities with less attention.

*When a politician is having a program, we give the maximum coverage;
*When lawyers are having their programs, we give them maximum coverage;
*When religious institutions are having their annual conventions, we troop in there like infantry soldiers and promote their aspirations; and 
*When NGOs, advocacy institutions, civil society, drivers, bankers and mountaineers are having programs, we go there for the news, just to cite a few instances.

Please, I am not suggesting that we should not cover the programs of non-media related institutions.
Instead, the idea I am trying to push, which I think others are pushing is that we need to equally promote our own programs.

I am not suggesting that we stay away from activities of non-media related organizations, but let’s give the same maximum coverage to PUL activities.

A CUE FROM THE PANELISTS

During the indoor program, the PUL invited three experienced personalities to share their respective experiences with us.

I want to commend the PUL leadership for such a wise decision. Normally, the sharing of experienced individuals’ experiences provides room for people wanting to succeed or excel to learn a great deal of lesson and get inspired in the process.

The stories of Former Information Minister, J. Emmanuel Bowier, Inquirer Managing Editor, Philip Wesseh, and the Chief Executive Officer of Power FM, Aaron Kollie, were enough to help lay a good foundation for others wanting to improve their life styles as journalists.

*Some of the issues I picked up during the program include the need for people not to feel too big to learn, share with others what may appear doubtful in the discharge of duties, because the old adage says, “No one is an island;”

* Self respect as journalists. This is another good point, because when we don’t learn to respect ourselves, nobody will respect us; and
*The need for female journalists to get out of the narrow box by constructively competing with their male counterparts.

Yes, I agree with the panelists that some of our female colleagues have the ability to do what male journalists are doing, or could even do better. But they need to realize that journalism is a time-consuming profession.

ACCEPTING ONE’S MISTAKES

There are colleagues who believe that being a journalist gives one the right to write or publish what they want to publish.
There are cases in which we make errors in carrying on our work.

But when we make mistakes, let’s be honest by doing justice to others. That is, we must acknowledge our shortcomings, instead of being unreasonable. This is why I emphasized the Peer Review Mechanism (PRM) approach when I was running for the PUL presidency in 2013.

Even at the time when I was Vice President of the Union, I placed considerable volume of emphasis of the Peer Review Mechanism (PRM) every time I spoke on behalf of the Press Union.

The reason is that an “in-house” approach like the PRM will help prevent law suits against journalists. But it is unfortunate that there are colleagues who are not willing to accept or admit that they are wrong whenever they go wrong.

For instance, how can you still say “I stand by my story” when the person you earlier claimed to have lost his two hands in a motor accident appears the next day to praise God before a congregation, especially when he is visibly seen clapping his very hands you claimed he had lost?

Again, let me commend our panelists for their good ideas. To my PUL colleagues, I am not in the position to amplify some of the comments, especially the issue of casting blame on the leadership and all the seemingly unending allegations.

But my advice to my professional colleagues is that once we put a leadership in place, let’s put the past behind us and respect our leadership.

We should, however, engage them constructively by going to membership meetings, or seek an audience with them to express our displeasure, if at all we have any.

Unless we begin using the appropriate forum (meetings), hold one-on-one discussions, or discussion at the Congress level, we may send out the wrong signal.

Happy 51st Anniversary to the PUL and May the spirit of oneness keep us together. Long live the PUL and may Press Freedom Reign day-by-day and night-by-night across Liberia…This is my fervent appeal!

The author, Jacob N.B. Parley is an Associate Editor in the News Department of the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) and a former Vice President of the Press Union of Liberia.-Contact:  jacobtheancestor@yahoo.com/ or 0886560455

 


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