MONROVIA: Yesterday, Sunday, August 13, 2023, struck exactly the anniversary clock of Liberia’s most analytical news organ—the memorable moment a crack team of the country’s best pen pushers released the maiden edition of The Analyst. That was August 13, 1998—a quarter of a century since—and today, with the spirit of sheer heroism, unbridled resilience and ironclad determination, The Analyst has cruised on, leaving behind the legacy of ethical and exemplary reporting, responsible but daring analyses and prudent management. Proud of its records, The Analyst, in this report, looks back at the enviable strides made and ponders a glorious future despite the social, economic and political challenges belying the national mosaic.
The Analyst Story—cursorily
By August 8, 1998—five days before its debut publication—the stage was set and editors and reporters were locked up in strategy meetings, pondering and debating on editorial style and wit that would distinguish the new newspaper from the few others already on the Liberian media landscape.
Already, the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism (MICAT) had granted The Analyst Management the permit to operate as a legal entity in Liberia. While the spirit of celebration pervaded the management and editorial staff, the next most pressing thing was how to enter the media ecosystem in grand style as to capture the attention of the public, soothe their desire for a robust but ethical news reporting.
By this time, the Liberian political environment was charged, as former warlord and newly elected President, Charles Gankay Taylor, was on the throne, and many a media practitioners were tactical if not cowering to avoid eventuality particularly when the young political administration was grappling with emerging armed conflict from the north of the country.
Things were tense. The first National Reconciliation Conference under the National Patriotic Party-led government was ongoing. At the conference, the atmosphere was charged. Speeches were sincere, some mixed with fears and anxieties as the predominantly traumatized Liberian hearts were on the one hand desperately seeking repentance before reconciliation, and the attendance was overwhelming.
Hopes were radiant that a new day was dawning over the nation’s immediate gloomy past, in part because the “new political messiah”, Charles MacArthur Ghankay Taylor, who said during his inauguration address a little over a year earlier on August 2, 1997: “I am the president for all Liberians. I will not be a wicked president. But I will also not be a weak president. This country will be a country of laws and not of men.”
He had predicted reconciliation for the nation and the present conference was the actualization of that prediction. So the public was anticipating a great day and the media was somewhat nonplussed about what to report as the gulf between promises and actual occurrences on the ground remained unbridgeable.
Then, bang! The nation began a long slide down the hill of arbitrariness and political arrogance borne of the “they are against us” mentality.
Not only did the flowery and pageantry conference end with the communiqué not reflecting the views of the conferees, but it also highlighted the aspiration of the NPP’s anticipated 24-year rule that so far failed to see the need for genuine dialogue based on trust and equality.
Meanwhile, news of insurgency in the north of the country was overshadowing the charge of the political and social atmospheres in Monrovia. The government needed the National Legislature to convene to answer to the emerging national emergency.
But it would not be in the business of heeding traditions, legislative norms, and the law. The Legislature was prepared to resist. So early! That was August 10, 1998. The Analyst saw the too early divergence from the spirit of the inaugural speech and the reconciliation conference whose ember was yet to die.
A legislative committee on a day had earlier debated on the issue of the need for a proclamation, something that fiercely provoked dissension amongst a group of lawmakers.
At this point, The Analyst had an opportunity to shoot itself into action based on the disagreement and the controversy seething at the National Legislature.
“No Proclamation, No Session – Says the Legislature.” That was August 13, 1998, exactly 25 years ago.
That maiden headline ran “odd” with the House Committee involved with the debate, as well as the Executive Mansion, and with some section of 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.
As the first headline appeared to step on the toes of prevailing power brokers, it was like almost immediately the battle line between the fledgling newspaper and establishment with its notorious security forces was drawn.
In the mind of Taylor’s propaganda machinery and spitfire security forces, a new voice of the “detractors” and “agent provocateurs” was born. And they were determined to nip the newspaper in the bud.
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.” Speculations ran wild within government security circles that some former warlords were sponsoring The Analyst to pull down the government.
But when most of the warlords scurried into exile and The Analyst was still potent and did not die in terms of rich contents and regularity on the newsstand, there was immediate review of speculation. It was agreed that The Analyst’s support came from Liberia’s exiled opposition based in the Diaspora, mainly the U.S.
Caught between facing accusation of stifling the free press and what it was planning to do against The Analyst became an intensified headache for both the administration’s security details and its propaganda machinery. It was especially frustrating that clues of complicity were painstakingly hard to come by.
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.
As a backup plan, the administration instructed major businesses in the country not to advertise in The Analyst. Yes, advertisement is the chief source of income for newspapers in Liberia and stopping advertisement transactions was to strangulate the paper strategically without taking the blame or being seen as stifling freedom of the press. That was to seal the doom of the paper without smearing the image of the government as abhorrent to the freedom of the press.
But with innocence, obsession with the existence of the rule of law, and force of mission as its weapons, The Analyst pressed on pleading truce and the return to good governance and democracy for the sake of the Liberian masses whose lives had then been shattered by seven years of useless civil warfare.
The Analyst was originally set to appear on the newsstand thrice a week. That it did until 1999 when the witch-hunting started. By this time, the newsstand time has shrunk to a hard one-time a week. Hard one-time a week because many times the paper could not come on the newsstand on the appointed day.
One week it would come on the newsstand on Monday; another week, it would come on Wednesday or even Friday. As the newsstand day became increasingly irregular and printing cost-driven, so also the income base shrunk. The Analyst, despite its noble goals, was dying and the Liberian people and civil society groups and individuals in and out of the country were losing their voices.
The government was contented for removing the “loud-mouthed Analyst” from the newsstand, congratulating itself for such a major coup. As far as it was concerned, the battle was won and as a matter of course, The Analyst will be one of the newspapers that once were.
By 2001 following three years of irregular appearances on the newsstand, The Analyst hit a cul-de-sac. With poor sales in the wake of rising cost of printing, only Providence knew what would become of The Analyst. But what Management knew was that with the paper making its marks on the intellectual class, the political liberals, and conservatives in the Taylor administration, and most on the hopes of the downtrodden, there was no turning back, come what may.
There was a glimmer of hope that The Analyst was truly getting down to the hearts of policymakers, which is its mission objective, and that it was a matter of time before a new class of Liberians dubbed “those who strive for a better Liberia” was born.
Meanwhile, the silent repression continued without let; but so, unfortunately (The Analyst had wished the insurgency would somehow be turned into a national dialogue for peace.), was the rebellion in the North.
The government craved for sympathy, but it found none in The Analyst, which insisted in its reportage and editorials that conquest of the government or the rebellion was a coup not accomplishable.
As far as The Analyst was concerned, events of the country dictated that the Liberian conflict 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 these seemed the least that President 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 call 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 staffs 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 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-Qaida operatives captured in combat in Afghanistan.
The persecution continued until Taylor met his nemesis and has to exit the scene bowing, it is supposed, in regret. And like every professional institution elsewhere across the country, The Analyst has since picked 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 it 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 productions 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.
The Press Union of Liberia overwhelmingly voted The Analyst Liberia’s “Best Analytical Newspaper of the Year 2008/2009”.
Today, August 13, 2023, The Analyst is proud to remain alive and stand up to be counted as the first Liberian newspaper that possesses its own website (the website is currently being expanded to handle increasing data volume), that goes beyond the headlines to analyze the news, and that runs editorial comments purely against the backdrop of the rule of law and respect for human and people’s rights.
Tribute to the Staff & Supporters
There is no question that the Media is Liberia’s Fourth Estate. What that means amongst other things is that it a stakeholder in the nation’s quest for stability, democracy, and progress.
The Media must therefore do the things that serve as catalyst to the achievement of these pillars of nationhood, if it must uphold and make sacrosanct its “Fourth Estate” status. As a crucial member of the Fourth Estate, The Analyst is dedicated to this responsibility; and it has adapted it as its creed. At its 25th year of analytical circumspect reporting – of upholding and making sacrosanct the tenets of the Fourth Estate, The Analyst Staff Writer has been looking forward into the future and then back into the depth from which the paper has come.
Thus, as The Analyst newspaper observes its 25th Natal Day today, it does so with the renewed vow to extol tendencies toward democracy, peace, and progress and to revile the slightest tendency towards the days of the rule of powerful men and women or of the rule of armed bandits presenting as “freedom fighters”.
During a planning meeting for this year’s anniversary, Founding Managing Editor and Chief Executive Officer Stanley Seakor hailed gallant staff and comrades living and dead—editors, writers, reporters, business staffers—whose contributions made the Analyst survived the oceans of odds it navigated in 25 years.
Some of these staff include Ignatius George, Sherman Seequeh, Hassan Bility, Elis Togba, Gibson Jerue, Ora Garway, Moses Wantu, Sallu Swaray, Fred Mills, Peter Toby, Sue Nipeh, Grace Miller, Edwood Dennis, Nathaniel Daygbor, Mensiegar Karnga, Monica Robinson, Sarah Coumbilli, Adbullah Dukuly, Bill K. Jarkloh, Varney Kamara amongst many others. He also paid tribute to the late George Borteh.
Meanwhile, Mr. Seakor has praised the roles subscribers, fans, and advertisers played in The Analyst’s growth over the past 25 years and he bid them continue.
He said: “I salute our many readers, fans, and advertisers for being with us in difficult and good times. We encourage them to continue because there is much to be mutually gained in our friendship. By your effort, by just buying a copy of The Analyst or placing an advertisement – you might not know it – the nation is guaranteed continued information: the government is guaranteed information from the people, the people are guaranteed information from the government and both are edified to make the proper decisions for growth of society.”
He added: “Well, we welcome new conscientious business partners who subscribe to our dreams to join us in the forward march toward lifting Liberia up to greater heights.”
He said because of the importance of what the nation stands to gain, “The Analyst will remain steadfast, resolute, and ever vigilant in pursuit of its professional duties and national responsibility”.
Looking forward to years ahead
The Analyst is especially wary of the nation’s current cross-roads posture, the change of guards at the highest echelon of government respecting the rising onto the Liberian political and leadership scenes of the Administration of President George Manneh Weah.
“This has come with ample reasons to be guardedly upbeat about the future of this country,” Mr. Seakor said. “We may be assailed year-round with ever-increasing costs of production, personnel, and utility, but that will not subtract from our ethical and patriotic standing – as a media house that pledges to work only with those who strive for a better Liberia. We will be an active watchdog.”
Commenting about the future of The Analyst vis-à-vis balanced and analytical reporting in a country where it seems good journalism is to simply report the news and worry not about its accuracy and impact on society, the progressive Managing Editor further noted:
“We will continue to carry out the dream of The Analyst, which is to help government promote growth tendencies, remind government of its responsibility to the nation and citizens, and remind the citizens of their responsibilities to the government, and the nation.”
He said besides opening the three-way information flow and monitoring responses for the benefit of the people and policymakers, the paper would continue to make it its responsibility to remind all stakeholders about the essence of unity and about agreement on the need for basic reforms in order to spur growth and development.
“This is the active watchdog role that we have been playing and that we will continue to play in the years ahead,” he said, noting that Management was not unaware of the fact that some Liberians, for whatever reasons, were not very comfortable with the editorial policies of the paper but that those policies were the closest any professional media house would come to being relevant to the present day realities of Liberia.
With the country’s troubled economy being passed over to a new administration, which with controlled jitters is itself looking upon the enormity of the problems of reviving the economy, Mr. Seakor indicated that his management believes self-effacement at the moment in order to allow for transitional adjustment is to fail the government and people of Liberia in the nation-building efforts.
“The management is aware that some administration insiders and sympathetic observers would prefer a sympathetic media that will amplify gains and overlook commissions and omissions that run counter to law and the call for nation building. But it said such approach, while reasonable and attractive, was dangerous as far as hindsight could tell,” he continued.
“We are opened to new suggestions; but we may have problem with suggestions that will make us enemy of the status quo or any group in society. Or that will make us political lackeys for the incumbency or those seeking the Executive Mansion as trophy for being jobless for so long or for making sacrifices of a sort sometime in the past.”
Like in its founding days back in 1998, he said, it would not be the business of The Analyst to shy from its responsibility to the nation and its international partners in order to avoid making enemies or being entangled in brawls about law and principles.
“We will continue to serve our people even in difficulties other than we have already known. We will analyze issues and leave it with our people to make decisions. We will not be in the business of throwing complicated issues at them for fear of presenting as partial,” he said.
The Analyst managing editor said as a professional organization, The Analyst holds impartiality as the foundation of the journalistic code of ethics and that therefore it would endeavor at all times to ensure that its stories and editorial comments subscribe to impartiality as a creed.
But it noted that while it recognized ethical dissemination of information as the cardinal goal, it will need the cooperation of all Liberians and the international community to sustain it professionally.
“There are a number of things that militate against ethical dissemination of information in Liberia – in this age of fast media. One important one is the right to demand and access public information; the other is being blacklisted for what you report. Sometimes commercial printers refuse to print newspapers because they were warned by invisible hands not to print them,” he said.
Part of this problem, he said, was solved with the passing of the Freedom of Information Law under the watch of the Sirleaf administration and the KAK Law decriminalizing free speech under the George Weah administration.
“We believe the Weah administration will uphold these Acts scrupulously, which gives free reins to the media to assess public information. This will discourage or make inexcusable superficial reporting,” Mr. Seakor noted.
That aside, Mr. Seakor said the next likely hurdle in media-government cooperation that the Weah administration will do well to clear at this early stage is respect for the National Code of Conduct.