Publishers’ Election At Boiling Point

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As the Publishers Association of Liberia (PAL), the frontline umbrella organization of newspapers, magazines and online media outlets in the country, prepares for its national leadership elections on December 10, 2021, reports reaching the Hot Pepper suggests that some top and influential leaders of the opposition community, mainly from the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), are working overnight for members of a die-hard clique of the opposition community to ascend to the leadership of the institution.

   Members of the Publishers Association of Liberia are expected to go to the polls on December 10, 2021 to elect a new President, Vice President, Secretary-General and Financial Secretary. PAL has some 35 members who are eligible voters.

   The current leadership of the PAL, which includes the President, Othello Garblah, Vice President, Sam O. Dean, and James Kiazolu, Secretary General, stands accused of being influenced and “bought” by officials of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) government; as a result, PAL has become a toothless bulldog lying like a sleeping rabbit.

   Also, it has been reported that, upon the announcement of PAL’s election guidelines and timetable by the PAL Elections Commission, the opposition community began pushing some of its strong supporters, including a staunch public relations guru for Ambassador Joseph Nyumah Boakai, former Vice President of Liberia, Robert Moncio Kpadeh, to declare his candidacy for the PAL’s Presidency against incumbent President, Othello Garblah, Publisher of the New Dawn Newspaper.

   Kpadeh, former Deputy Information Minister during the erstwhile administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, owns and operates the Parrot Online publication, and reportedly heads Joseph Boakai’s presidential election PR team and, by extension, running the CPP’s public relations.

   Additionally, Helen Nah-Sammie, Publisher of the Women Voices Newspaper, is contesting against Sam O. Dean, Publisher of The Independent Newspaper.

    Helen Nah-Sammie previously worked in the Business Department of the Inquirer Newspaper, but allegedly left under controversial circumstances.

   She is the former Vice President of PAL who stands accused of enjoying the blessing of Alexander Benedict Cummings, the Standard Bearer of the opposition Alternative National Congress (ANC). 

   According to information, the CPP’s game plan for the Liberian media, particularly the newspaper sector, is to turn the PAL into a pro-opposition and radical media assembly that will be primarily dedicated to issuing hard-hitting statements and promoting news blackouts against the ruling establishment on critical national issues.

   Insiders further explained that the PAL, under Kpadeh’s Presidency, if he is elected, will promote CPP’s political agenda behind the curtains, aimed at making the ruling class unpopular ahead of the much-awaited 2023 presidential and legislative elections in Liberia.

   Moreover, some top-officials of the opposition community are of the mere perception that the press was the main “gadget” that undermined the success of the governing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) administration during the 2020 Special Senatorial Election, losing nearly 80% of the contested seats to the opposition by promoting the so-called “opposition agenda”.

   Interestingly however, several potential voters for the PAL elections are poised to vote the best candidates, whom they strongly believe will perform admirably as their leaders.

    The incumbent PAL President, Othello Garblah, speaking to the Hot Pepper as it regards the allegation of the CPP trying to field candidates in the PAL election, said that is the rumor being circulated, but could not ascertain whether or not these candidates are actually being supported by the opposition. He said, as a candidate in the race, he is optimistic that he will retain his presidency due to his style of leadership and the work he has done over the years. “No matter how many candidates contest against me or who supports them, I will win,” Garblah maintained.

Incumbent PAL President and Publisher of the NewDawn Newspaper, Othello Garblah

   Responding to the allegation that the current PAL leadership has been watered down by the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) government, Garblah argued that the allegation is false and misleading, and cannot be proved. According to him, member-institutions of PAL have always maintained their independence, evidenced by the banner headlines of yesterday. He stated that they have been providing the space for every sector of the society, and such an allegation against them is far-fetched. 

   According to him, his leadership has initiated a number of impactful reform measures, including enhancing the professional capacities of top media leaders, such as editors, safeguarding the best interests of media workers, promoting professional media environment, as well as mutually rewarding relations between the media and the government and working in the best interest of the country and its people.

   Also, in defense of his character, the incumbent Vice President, Sam Dean, he remains independent and cannot be swayed by anyone in his investigative pursuit. He noted that he has no problem with anyone contesting against him for the Vice Presidency—whether sent by the ruling establishment or opposition—but he believes that all those qualified to contest are members of the Publishers Association, and it is their right to vie for any position they feel qualified to serve in. He however emphasized that, what matters the most is that the election should be free, fair and transparent. He said he will be prepared to congratulate and work with anyone who emerges victorious, and hoped that other candidates will do the same if he wins.

   Responding to the allegation of being hired by the opposition camp to overtake the PAL leadership on their behalf, Robert Kpadeh refuted the allegation of being a member of the CPP or a member of the Boakai PR team for the 2023 election, and termed the allegation as immaterial and a political innuendo. He stated that it is true he publicly supported Boakai’s presidential bid in 2017, but has never been a member of any political party.

   Kpadeh informed the Hot Pepper that he is the Publisher of the Parrot Newspaper, the Founding Secretary General and first Vice President of PAL, and that he wrote the PAL constitution. He argued that all the PAL members, one way or the other, have someone whom they support politically, and his supporting Boakai’s presidency in 2017 should not be the basis of his rejection. He said the discussion should be centered around his qualification and what he brings to the table for the institution.

   He said, even in the West, media institutions support political candidates, referencing the US election between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, when CNN, BBC and major outlets openly supported Clinton.

   He lamented that PAL has been dormant over the years and, if elected, he will ensure that emphasis is made on traditional media, particularly newspapers. According to him, there is no need to bootlick government officials to survive when PAL leadership can demand for what is rightfully theirs—receiving adverts from concessions and major companies, as well as reigniting other sources of revenue.

Candidate for PAL Presidency, Robert Moncio Kpadeh, along with Joseph N. Boakai

   Also responding to the allegation of being sponsored by Cummings, the Publisher of the Women Voices, Helen Nah-Sammie, wondered where the “false news” was manufactured, as she does not even know Cummings in person. She said she is in her little corner writing about women issues, and her intention to contest the vice presidency of the PAL is mainly intended to bring competition to the race; therefore, her name should not be used as a conduit for political talk.

   She said the PAL election has nothing to do with the controversy at the Inquirer. “Is it because of this small election that people are saying all these things about me?” she wondered.

   Furthermore, she said being the Vice President of PAL will in no way put her in authority to mandate newspaper publishers about what to carry in their papers or how their headlines should be crafted.

   She however drew the Hot Pepper into her war of words, telling the paper that it can go ahead to write whatever it wants so that it can make a good sale for the day.

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