Ethnic violence in Zorzor leaves unanswered questions

Reporting ethnic disturbances: The Zorzor, Lofa  incident

By James Kokulo Fasuekoi | March 10, 2015
Eden Prairie, Minn.


I have read for the third time in a row, your story titled: “Zorzor, Lofa County: Woman’s Death Leads to Curfew…Ethnic Chaos?” Instead of being enlightened, your story left me with many unanswered questions thereby adding to the entire confusion. This is very unfortunately and bad for some of us who presently live abroad and have immediate family members living in Zorzor and Fessibu, two sister towns/cities within close proximity.

Let’s take a look at the fourth, fifth and sixth paragraphs in the FrontPage story so that readers can understand exactly some of the “Confusions” I am talking about. The following quotations in parts are explanations provided by County Attorney of Lofa County, Atty. Luther Sumo. “…When [Sianneh] Gayflor arrived in Zorzor, Atty. Sumo said she could not trace the whereabouts of her fiancé thus, she (deceased) decided to visit another male friend identified as A.B. Dukuly, a Guinean national…

“She told the magistrate that I am hungry and am going to find something to eat. Just in that time when she went to eat, she met another guy that she probably had relationship with. This guy took her to another room not in his own room. She and this guy had a problem; we don’t actually know what they had there, but from our investigation, we observed that she was chocked from the neck…

“The Lofa County Attorney informed FPA that when the confusion erupted between Gayflor and Dukuly, the Guinea national ran to Fissibu, the hometown of Sianneh Gayflor to seek for medical help, but before Dukuly could come back from Fissibu, Gayflor had crawled out of the room and was immediately noticed by community members.”

Of about eleven paragraphs that contained the entire story, the main story points are found in the following above three paragraphs and the story structure which traditionally should be based on what is known in reporting journalism as the Invented Pyramid was grossly ignored, not to mention grammatical errors. Also striking photographs shot in the aftermath of the chaos are uncredited which in itself is professionally wrong. In addition, the paper repeatedly cited “6AM-6PM” as curfew time and I thought this too appears strange since resident of this farming community might need to go out and fetch for water and food.   

First, the reporter of the story does not give any background relating to the deceased in the story, something that should be of necessity in the story. For example, the story should have stated where exactly Ms. Gayflor came from before she “arrived in Zorzor” although, “Fissibu” [Fissebu] is later cited in the sixth paragraph as the victim’s hometown. Plus, readers get the understanding that while victim visits “another male friend identified as A.B Dukuly,” she meets “another guy that she probably had relationship with,” a guy who now takes “her to another room not in his own room." So far, readers know that everything remains fine at this point, although it sounds foolish that a woman will go to see a “male friend” and suddenly she’s found with another in a room not his own.   

What even adds more to the confusion is when Atty. Sumo says: “She [victim] and this guy [who guy?] had a problem; we don’t actually know what they had there, but from our investigation, we observed that she was chocked from the neck.” These statements are quiet troubling and I can’t believe a news editor would let such conflicting remarks, especially from a lawyer, go unnoticed. After all, how will Atty. Sumo suspect Sianneh had relationship with a second or third person; that victim and the “guy” had problem but goes on to say “We don’t actually know what they had there,” only to conclude “we observed she was choked from the neck?”  

Question: Who really was the other “Guy” Sianneh met that took her into another room, “not in his own room,” having gone to visit her “male friend” A.B Dukuly? Or is it the same Dukuly who took her to “another room?”  Can one see the confusion and inconsistency? Honestly, this news story from all indications has the appearance of a story written by a fifth grader who is learning to write stories. In my mind the reporter seems to think that just because the source of the information is an attorney, he reporter is absolutely compelled to accept everything he says even if things don’t add up. No, it can’t be.

In the end, readers are led into a state of ambiguity all because; the FrontPage Africa (FPA) story fails to present with clarity what exactly transpired before “confusion erupted between Gayflor and Dukuly.” All readers know is that Dukuly, not Sianneh instead, “ran to Fissibu,” the victim’s hometown to seek medical help. Nothing is explained as to whether there was a fight or what prompted Dukuly to seek medical help following what seems a friendly visit to Dukuly’s place before Sianneh was lured by “another guy” in a room, not his own. This begs the question, where then was Dukuly all this time?

This particular news story has a strong ethnic dimension and because of the history of the war, couple with past ethnic tension and rioting that engulfed this region, I supposed the FPA reporter and editors would have approached or treated this event with some degree of caution. In so doing, the FPA should have had an experienced reporter to handle this story, taking into account that thousands of Liberians abroad, (away from the scene) who have immediate relatives in Zorzor and Fissebu might get worried if a story about the chaos falls short of clarity.  

Reporting an event is generally like a big puzzle waiting to be solved and no doubt it’s the task of the reporter to unravel that mystery or at least present a scenario whereby readers or viewers are able to make a better judgment on their own based on available facts and information. This particular incident, with ethnic undertone, is in no way different. I only wish both the reporter and his news editor had asked themselves the usual question most experienced reporters and editors asked whenever a story of this nature is written: Have all the questions in the story  been answered?    

What this error by the paper does is that it doesn’t only make the reporter of the story to appear like someone who didn’t know what he was doing; it also raises questions about the competency of the news editor of the FPA and I hope that the FPA will do more to pay careful attention to story contents, cohesion, organization and grammar in the future so as to avoid such embarrassment.   

The magnitude of the referenced news story requires seasoned journalists, reporters who have homicide-court reporting as their beats. Indeed, in some cases like in the Zorzor situation, the editor might want to even dispatch two reporters (one experienced, and the other, a beginner, for learning processes), most likely from none of the contending ethnic groups (Lorma-Mandingo), to the scene to report or do a follow-up in the aftermath of the chaos. Such is only meant to maximize objectivity.  

It is hoped that my observations will be viewed in a more professional manner and not as malice against any reporter or the FrontPage Africa in that I have observed that this isn’t a problem limited only to the FPA, but most of Liberia’s local papers and web magazines nowadays.
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