The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding, CEMESP as one the country’s media development entities has come out with a media position statement depicting the high and low points of the industry as a critical plank of the national recovery process.
The Liberia media as an organic reality is an extension of the rest of the country. This notion is founded in the time honored fact that every media is a reflection of the socio-economic and political reality of the country in which it subsist.
Having said that let’s remember that Liberia is a country in transition from war to peace saddled with immense challenges, opportunities and threats. Our media entity, not operating in a vacuum is bound to be affected by the symptoms of the milieu.
In this presentation, the positive things that abound about the Liberia media must first of all be spotlighted. Ours is a burgeoning media in varied forms and content surpassing prewar days.
More number of media outfits, infrastructure and technological wherewithal means that there is relative improvement in the forms of media products.
It is not surprising that we now have colored newspaper printers, computerized Adobe voice recording features in radio studios. These are enhancing output of the over 40 plus newspapers and 50 plus radio stations in the country.
More tertiary education offering mass communication and journalism courses are available than ever before. In essence there is hardly a media outlet in the country without one or more university graduates or recipients of hands on media training.
In contrast to media form, content is certainly the gray area. Significantly, media content is not in tandem with the colorful newsprint and technologically complying and aspiring radio stations in Monrovia and the rest of the fifteen counties.
Talking about the unimpressive media content is to highlight a grave deficit to our collective efforts. It is putting us media development disciples in a difficult position. It beg us the question: are we succeeding in the plethora of trainings handed down since post war era? Are we the problem in terms of the materials we package and our delivery patterns being mediocre? Or are the recipients, the journalists not actually taking back into newsrooms those valuable materials they gain from schools and workshops? These are critical brainstorming issues.
Meanwhile, scan through the newspapers or listen to the radio stations: If it is not the quality of English as a medium of communication for print that is jarring in grammar, syntax, coherence and organization, then it must be a grave ethical infraction that makes the reading public be pejorative to tag journalists as lairs. Then we have the critical drawback of low circulation of newspapers-limited to Monrovia.
Whilst statistic is difficult to obtain, it can be haphazard that there is not up to 5% of hard copy readership of newspapers amongst the one million population of Monrovia. Offline readership of the newspapers is equally just emerging. With its cost implication and limitation of internet connectivity, your guess is as good as ours about how niggard in scope that bracket of media consumers can be.
However, it can be very simplistic to blanket all media houses as bad in form and content. Without citing specific newspapers and radio stations there are fine journalists in the country. Their work and comportment can be deemed as enviable. They are the trailblazers of professionalism-defying odds of the context in which they are operating. They are disproving stereotypical ascription of our journalists being solely associated with bribe taking to kill the story or malign people. In them we find hope for the future to do the investigative pieces using the FOI Act to for instance deliver on data driven reportage that uncover high profile graft in the state craft. They are they ones daring in less explored areas: gender and children, environment and development coverages. Yes, Liberia has fine journalists to celebrate, no matter how small.
Very often when we are confronted with the task to decipher problems with the Liberia media, the scapegoat finding route is followed to the dead-end. It has not and will not take us anywhere.
We see this especially in the defining parlance of the political class- so condescending to journalists. They are operating on the logic that takes the half for the whole.
We hold the view that state is obligated to the media in empowering it for the public good it is bound to serve as the fourth estate. Providing subvention to media in the national budget does not amount to political bribery to compromise media output.
Without losing sight of the token gestures and half measures from the government, we are invariably witnessing luke-warmness to make good on responsibilities and pledges for media empowerment.
This brings to mind the millions of dollars in adverts debts the government continues to ignore. The tardiness for media reforms and the continued physically attacks to gag free speech. These are very much limiting media development profile in the routine rankings of Freedom House and or Reporters without Border.
In presenting this paper, we do not want to commit the same lopsided error of judgment that attends the diagnosis of what is wrong with the Liberia media? Consequently, we are gyrating in this analysis within and without the media industry to give due recognition to factors and actors responsible for the state of affairs. Having come this far with the discourse outside the media, let us reflect what is obtaining within.
For instance, there is the challenge to get the compliance of media owners respect their obligations to remunerate their journalists. At the moment there are not more than ten media houses with formal wage payment and welfare schemes for their journalists. The Press Union of Liberia is facing an uphill task in getting media owners comply with the dictate of a draft Collective Bargaining Agreement.
What this is doing to media output and professionalism can just be imagined. It is contributing to the manipulative effects journalists are prone to. Selling, killing and distorting stories galore…
Much as we decry attacks and abuses of the state and non state actors towards media, media owners must be self-respecting to pay their journalists as provided under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
In the same vein we call on the media to support initiatives of self regulation as founded in the Ethics and Complaints Committee of the PUL. Honoring verdicts of the Ethics and Complaints Committee that is made up of stakeholders is the surest means Liberia journalists can wrest that control power from external influence. We know where external hands are involved in controlling media excesses; it can be used arbitrarily.
History is testimony to the fact that media can be destructive and constructive. On a fair scale of judgment, the Liberia media is contributing to the modicum of gains the whole country is witnessing since the cessation of hostilities to democratic transition. Once this fact is acknowledged in good faith it will become the collective responsibility to be interested in media development.
So we look forward to the ongoing constitutional review process to reflect the dictates of the Declaration of Table Mountain signed onto. Liberia’s image on international media and good governance ranking can start changing for the better. This will thusly be corresponding in declension to the heightening media litigations we are witnessing at the moment.
In the established nexus between media development and that of the country it is constructive partnership rather than adversarial posturing that carries the day.