Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says she takes full responsibility for including a gift of 500 dollars in the Christmas cards she sent to a number of media institutions in Liberia. A number of the publishers condemned the president’s action and returned the money. Earlier this year, in an unusual public criticism, President Sirleaf described some Liberian journalists as checkbook journalists. So was her 500-dollar check a true Christmas gift to the media or a bribe?
Lawrence Bropleh is Liberia’s minister of information. He said President Sirleaf was simply trying to share the Christmas spirit with the media.
“The president, you may or may not know, had been going around the country and had arranged for Christmas parties to be held throughout the country for children, and she had visited other personalities throughout the city. She visited hospitals and everywhere she went she gave a gift, and said well, members of the press are always part of our family. Let me extend to them a Christmas card and include 500 dollars because many of them would want to have Christmas parties for their employees. This was the pure intent of this,” Bropleh said.
Earlier this year, in an unusual public criticism, President Sirleaf described some Liberian journalists as checkbook journalists. Bropleh said he understood why some journalists and media houses would be angry with President Sirleaf about her 500-dollar gift. But he said the two issues are not the same.
“I clearly understand that James. But I also want to say that the scenario is not the same because we do know that not only in Liberia but in other places, journalists can be bought. The president cannot buy journalist here with 500-dollar check that is written through the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs. I mean this is something that is clearly transparent. It was not money in an envelope that was given to somebody behind the scene or under the table. But you know like I keep saying, hindsight is twenty-twenty. We appreciate those journalists who have accepted it and those who have not for the reasons given, we accept it in good faith. The goal here is to continue to work with the press and make sure that press freedom is primary where the newfound democracy is flourishing at this time,” he said.
Bropleh denied the 500-dollar check could have been intended to influence what journalists write and say about President Sirleaf’s government.
“James, the president doesn’t have to beg for press coverage. She has it nationally; she has it internationally. This is a woman who has united this country. This is a woman who has begun the redevelopment this country in a way that is second to none. What we’re trying to do is to build bridges with the press, not through giving gifts of 500 dollars, but through setting standards of integrity and reporting through the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. This is what we’re going to be working with,” Bropleh said.