Reflecting @ 24 -The Analyst’s Journey was Tortuous & Fulfilling

MONROVIA – Two decades and four years ago, a professionally savvy and gallantly balanced group of journalists confronted a very petrifying media and political landscape of Liberia with the first copy of The Analyst bearing stories elevating, witty and enlightening, espousing the terms of the “National Organic Book” which guarantees freedom, equality and protection for all. And one decade and four ago, we have been engaged in war against the principalities of power, the perverter of justice, the purloiner of the national cake, having conceived the conviction dedicated to the cause of the downtrodden, the ‘have-nots’, the distant, rural and often forgotten peasants and masses of the people. Our brave men and women, living and dead, paid their dues with the power of their pens, the wisdom of their skills in management and the acumen of their editorial power. Some were flogged, bruised with the baton of the gun, imprisoned, and threatened with death. Liberia will little note nor long remember the tears and blood we shed, but they will clearly recall and treasure and never forget what we did here—what we wrote and published here to the annoyance of the establishment but the celebration of the pauperized populace. Celebrating, rather modestly at 24, weighing our failures and successes, our triumphs and our defeats, we are dedicated to the proposition that of all, the fame that we got and earned, the staff we shed and added, will go a long way in harnessing our resolve so that the intent for birth of the noble Newspaper and those who fought and got bruised to make it what we are today will not have suffered in vain. It is against this backdrop that we celebrate and dedicate this 24th Anniversary.

When Stanley Seakor and Ignatius George engineered the birth of The Analyst Newspaper on August 13, 1998, later to be joined by Sherman Seequeh and Hasan Bility and a host of the other dedicated editorial and administrative staff, the Liberian media community was situated on the lonely island of terror and insecurity. Journalism, in the country, was in a complete furnace, and the motive for risking to jump onto the media terrain was fit for only the ingrained figment of anyone all but exceptionally brave and audacious.

The purpose for writing and reporting news was far from pecuniary considerations, because there was nothing to be hopeful for since the business community was a literary desert land and the warlord-leader-turned-president and his band of like-minds were on the political throne.

It was either like announcing yourself a puppet of the militarized government and to incur its misdeeds and bloody credentials hated by the wider international community or to throw yourself and dear life in the devouring hands of the establishment which was keeping its iron claws on the media community, and was hyper-suspicious of, and hyper-sensitive to, the criticisms and critical reporting.

The expectation came just immediately as The Analyst flashed its blue-and-white pages in Monrovia and beyond—heralding the birth of the nation’s first analytical newspaper digging deep into the stories and holding all the angles in priority.

The maiden edition carried the banner headline, “No Proclamation, No Session – Says the Legislature.” That was August 13, 1998, exactly 24 years ago. And expectedly it came at odds with the establishment—the Executive Mansion, and the public that had been acclimatized to the notion of marriage of convenience between the Liberian presidency and the legislators under the guise of peace and harmony.

From the point and forward, the battle line between the teething Analyst newspaper and the notorious security forces of the Taylor administration was drawn; for Mr. Taylor’s propaganda machinery and spitfire loyalist security forces, a newspaper with such a headline appears to be the new voice of the “detractors”.

The establishment was determined to nip it in the bud—once and for all. There and then began the baseless speculations about The Analyst’s mission and the fruitless searches for clues about conspiracy to undermine the so-called nascent “democracy.”

 Friends of The Analyst within the administration superstructure alerted the Management of the newspaper that there were speculations that some former warlords were sponsoring The Analyst to pull down the government.

Again when most of the warlords scurried into exile and The Analyst did not die, there was immediate review of speculation and it was agreed that The Analyst’s support came from Liberia’s exiled opposition based in the Diaspora, mainly the U.S.

Undercover agents of the regime were smuggled into the Analyst newsroom and the editorial staff to keep the security apparatus informed about moves editors were making, what the next major stories were, who were visiting the offices amongst other things.

As the Newspaper continued to produce the news with analysis and wit, much was also perpetrated by the regime to censure and intimidate.

Others were being toyed with to ban the Analyst or punish key editors as to render the newspaper insolvent. The first action they chose was to warn the commercial printers against printing The Analyst. The printers were also instructed to censor The Analyst’s contents for so-called subversive or inciting materials.

To compliment the plans already in place, they derived a subtle but more forceful tactic by instructing major businesses in the country not to advertise with The Analyst, since advertisement is the chief source of income for newspapers in Liberia.

Prudent management of scarce resources, coupled with sheer commitment and passion on the part of the management and staff kept the newspaper afloat despite the sabotaging schemes designed by the establishment.

To some extent, the plot of the establishment worked against the Analyst, which had to settle for one-time weekly from three-time weekly as originally proposed.

It was at times difficult to maintain a once-a-week schedule; as many times the paper could not come on the newsstand on the appointed day. Appearing was irregular; one week it would come on the newsstand on Monday; another week, it would come on Wednesday or even Friday, just like that.

Meanwhile, Liberians at home and abroad who saw the newspaper as the surest medium to voice out their views were stifled largely because of the irregular nature of the paper’s publication. The regime was determined to see it out of the newsstand and thereby see the intellectual class, the political liberals, and conservatives in the Taylor administration, and most of the hopes of the downtrodden turned into nothing.

But with consistent analysis of events, balanced stories and level headedness, the paper endeared itself in the minds of diplomats, social activists and the larger population whose moral support, and technical and at times financial contributions kept it afloat.

Despite the regime’s covert attempts to draw the analyst closer to itself or silence it, the Analyst kept its head above the waters, knowing that the events of the country dictated that the Liberian conflict at the time would be reversed if the incumbency put into place a responsible security force that reflects ethnic and geographic balance, allows genuine dialogue amongst Liberians to thrash out longstanding discontents, liberalizes employment, and replaces the patronage politics with meritorious politics.

But this seemed the least Taylor, who wanted to be the only “rooster” in the country, wanted. Having conquered the opposition (military and political), he wanted total submission to his whims and caprices, not a treaty with groups he fought for seven years and “defeated”.

So by March 2002, the taciturn battle between right and expediency spilled as the government became desperate and less tolerant of criticisms about its handling of the war in the North, which was then being felt near the capital by the government and people, by the timber and diamond industries, and the political opposition.

As before, The Analyst was the perfect target for suspicion – the sitting lame duck that took all the punches. That was when the real hunt began.

The government declared a state of emergency that banned public assembly, restricted travels without exit visas, and put the security forces on the alert in the capital. The Analyst called that “counterproductive” in the face of calls by the international community for immediate dialogue and early elections.

Charges flew from “communication with detractors” to being “agent provocateur” and intimately to charges that a senior staffer of The Analyst was running “terrorist cells” in Monrovia.

The rest is a well-told story. But just to recap, the equipment of The Analyst were twice seized on suspicion of running of Internet links with “enemies”, the staff were summarily detained on more than three occasions for reasons never stated or not deemed necessary by the police to be stated. And when that seemed not to deter or intimidate The Analyst, its editor-in-chief Hassan Sekou Bility was picked up while on duty and charged with espionage and dubbed “illegal combatant” in mock justification of similar charges leveled by the Americans against al-Qaeda operatives captured in combat in Afghanistan.

The persecution continued until Taylor met his nemesis and had to exit the scene bowing, it is supposed, in regret. And like every professional institution elsewhere across the country, The Analyst has been picking up the pieces, keeping focus on its mission which is to work with those who strive for a better Liberia to help the government and people of Liberia cultivate a middle ground for progress.

No sooner had the repression subsided than The Analyst bounced back, normalizing and increasing its production to three times a week and expending the distribution of its publications to the counties. It also recruited correspondents from the counties to change the flow of news from Monrovia-based to cross-country. That paid off. Not only that, The Analyst broke fresh grounds in the media business by establishing the first ever website to be owned by a Liberian newspaper.

By the beginning of 2005, The Analyst increased its production from three to five times. Four months later in April the number of production was increased to six times, thereby going over the Monday to Friday production barrier of the Liberian media. A month later, The Analyst broke another barrier by being the first Liberian newspaper to permanently run a post-war twelve-page newspaper.

As the international community’s presence and its nature of media freedom and liberty overwhelmed Liberia, the newspaper stepped up its gains and became the country’s Number One Print News outlet. It won the prize of the “Best Analytical Newspaper of the Year 2008/2009” conferred by the Press Union of Liberia, the country’s media umbrella organization.

Managing Director Speaks On 24th Anniversary

The Publisher/Managing Editor of The Analyst is a man of few spoken words. Stanley Seakor is a profoundly shrewd administrator and consummate editor—the major pillar upon which the newspaper had laid for 24 years now. A corps of internal reporters pressed him hard to speak to them on the tape Saturday, August 13, 2022, exactly 24 years since the newspaper was unshelled. And he said:

“I am short of words to express how delighted I am today, August 13, 2022, to see my brainchild, my handiwork and my legacy hit 24 and still standing firm within the epicenter of Liberia’s media landscape. All praises belong to God, my able staff both those who serve now and those who served then. We are all winners.

“I also want to say hats off to our subscribers, readership and supporters here and there who believe in our editorial judgement and our journalistic style. Thanks to the ordinary Liberian people, the masses of our people in urban and rural communities; in the slums and in the ghettos. We would reach nowhere without them. They largely inspire us. They are our strength and motivation. It is for them that we are here today. It is because of them that we took the risk, and are still ensuring hassles of Liberian journalism.

“Looking back, looking far in the past, we know it has been a worthy journey. We surveyed the dreadful Taylor regime. We labored it through the Sirleaf administration. Today, we are struggling. All through the last 24 years, because of our type of reportage, we may have made enemies and enemies may have made us; we made friends and friends may have made us. In all, it was a fruitful time, for like the mineral, our outlook today is because of the furnace through which we were subjected and processed that we emerged radiant. It is because of this that we stand out as amongst the first five media organizations in the country; it is because of this that we won PUL’s Best Newspapers in 2007/2008. The Analyst is the first Liberia newspaper to own its own website.

“Our folks were abused and bruised. We were arrested many times. We were bundled into military pickups and driven away to police stations and prisons. Our offices were summarily ransacked and sealed up. We were arraigned before kangaroo courts, intimidated and harassed. A staff of ours, Editor Hassan Bility, was whisked off and taken incommunicado for months.

“We keep going. We have not stopped. We wrote profusely and are still doing so more elaborately in the cause of the marginalized people of Liberia. We are keeping power wielders accountable. We are highlighting the woes of society. We are bringing to the burner the case of abused women; seared orphans, and disadvantaged physically challenged people. We are the voice of the poor.

“For 24 years, our pages continue to be flaunted as pedestal for democratic engagement. We have space for the opposition as well as for the ruling class, promoting dialogue and civil exchanges are bulwark of our nascent democracy.

“We shall continue on this trajectory because Liberia matters. Of all else, Liberia matters. Politicians come, politicians go; but Liberia remains. This country, for which our forefathers shed blood and tears shall not be left at the whims and caprices of fleeting politicians. Our pens and papers shall be unwavering at all cost, and without fear and favor, in protecting the sanctity of our democracy, the destiny of our nation.

“If there is any last message to send out there on this glorious day, this is it: ‘watch out, The Analyst, 24 years and going, is here to stay and to stay for the cause of Liberia’s democracy, peace and harmony. Nothing else!!”    

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