By Kolec Jessey, CPA
We all know by now that the Managing Editor of Frontpageafrica, Rodney Sieh, has been jailed and his paper closed for nonpayment of a $1.5 million civil award stemming from a civil suit filed by Former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe. The suit derived from a news article the paper published in which the minister considered to be libelous. There are those who contend that the $1.5 million award is too excessive. But the crux of the matter has to be whether the former minister deserves this judgment in the first place and secondly whether one can be jailed for nonpayment of a civil penalty.
Let me be cleared here that I am not a lawyer and do not pretend to be one. However, that a government official who by accepting a position in government has injecting himself into the public domain can now claim privacy and win a libel suit with such a huge sum of monetary award is nothing more than the government attempt to muzzle the press. This is something that is done in a banana republic that is controlled by thugs.
There is just a high threshold for public figures like the former minister to win a libel suit. To win such a suit the minister must demonstrate that Frontpageafrica and Rodney Sieh published the news article with malicious intent and wanton disregard for the truth. There is no evidence that the paper published the article with malicious intent or disregard for the truth. Before the news article was published the paper made all reasonable efforts to obtain the Minister’s side of the story.
Well, let consider the worst case scenario and assumed that the paper published the news story without obtaining the minister’s side of the story. All the minister would have done was to demand that the paper retract the story or publish his side of the story. If the paper refuses to publish his side of the story then maybe a case can be made of malicious intent. Even at that, the minister will have to demonstrate in a libel suit how the publication injured his reputation and business dealings.
Now, how the judge in this case arrived at this award is peculiar to me and the public at large. To arrive at this award, the minister must demonstrate that the publication had adverse influence on his business dealings and has held him in public ridicule. But the last time I checked the Minister is still on the Board of Trustees of Strayer University, the for- profit University, in the United States.
The outright falsehood in which the government wants us to believe that the imprisonment of Mr. Sieh and the closure of his paper were directed by the court and not the government is puzzling to say the least. The fact of the matter is that you do not sent people to jail for nonpayment of a civil penalty and closed their business. Only in a country with a Kangaroo court system that is intent on silencing the press will carry out such an act.
The whole idea of jailing somebody and closing their business in order to settle a civil suit is just a twisted logic. If you deprived a person from working or running their business to earn money, how will they settle the civil suit? The most the government and the court would have done is to put a lien on the future earnings of Mr. Sieh and Frontpageafrinca to sell some of his assets to settle the judgment. Let me give you a classic case in point. Take the civil suit involving the former famous American football player O.J. Simpson and the parents of Ron Goldman in which a civil penalty was rendered against O.J. Simpson for millions of dollars. The civil case was brought by the parents of Mr. Goldman for wrongful death. The court did not jail O.J Simpson in order to come up with the money. Instead they only placed a lien on his future earnings and sold some of his assets to settle the award. So now, if Mr. Sieh is unable to pay this civil award does he spend rest of his life in jail? The government has just boxed itself into a corner to the extent that the only option is to release Sieh and reopen his paper.
This case is nothing more than a government gone astray and a desperate attempt to browbeat the press from aggressive and investigative reporting. At least during the Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor regimes suppressing the press was done overtly. But now under this so-called democratic government suppressing the press is done covertly by using the incompetent judicial system. They boost of press freedom and democratic governance which is nothing more than a fabrication and misrepresentation.
It is just ironic that those who once were the victims of injustices in yesteryears under the past regimes of Mr. Samuel K. Doe and Charles Taylor are the same one now inflicting injustices on the press and the Liberian people. Mr. Samuel Doe must be turning in his grave while Mr. Taylor head must be spinning in his prison cell. I hope they too do not get the same outcome as their predecessors.
Kolec Jessey is a graduate of the University of Liberia with a BA in Communications and LaSalle University in Philadelphia with an MBA in Accounting and Finance. He is also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and work as an auditor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.