Liberia

Table of Contents







Map of West-Africa: Liberia is situated on the coast next to neighbouring Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast
Map of West-Africa: Liberia is situated on the coast next to neighbouring Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast

Map of West-Africa: Liberia is situated on the coast next to neighbouring Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast





Liberia is a country in West-Africa, surrounded by neighbouring countries Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ivory Coast and the South Atlantic Ocean. In 1820, Liberia was colonised by free un-slaved African- Americans from America and is one of two countries (along with Ethiopia) without roots in European colonisation. Liberia's government is modelled from that of the United States- a representative democracy with a Constitution, a President and three separate arms of government- executive, legislative and judiciary. In 1980, a military coup overthrew the Americo-Liberian led government and this led to two civil wars and political and economic instability. Today, Liberia is still recovering from the effects of economic dislocation. Currently, its main source of economy is agriculture, although due to the slow development of technology, productivity is low. The official language of Liberia is English with a literacy rate of 59.1% and its population is 4 million (World Bank Data 2010). As one of the world's poorest nations, 63% of Liberia's population lives under the international poverty line in 2007. (The World Bank, 2012)


Main media that exist in Liberia:


Newspapers

Newspapers in Liberia are scarce, due to the vast amount of the population who are illiterate. Access is limited, with copies of papers only being available in the cities. The cost of the papers also mean that citizens with a low socio-economic status struggle to afford them. Therefore, the newspapers in this country are largely reserved for the elite and high classes. The main newspapers include:04liberia.xlarge1.jpg

- The Analyst
- Liberia Herald
The Inquirer
- The News
- The Daily Talk- a free newspaper written on chalkboards

- The Independent Heritage Newspaper:
  • Heritage Communication Corporation (print media outlet)
  • Began publication in 1996, is also established online
  • Only 20-25% of the readership is Liberian
  • The Heritage Communications System Inc is a privately owned business based in the United States.

The Daily Talk is worth particular mention. Founded by Alfred Sirleaf as an innovative newspaper, the chalkboards are set up in the center of the capital Monrovia, accessible by all every day. As Liberia is a country where radios and televisions are luxuries most people can not afford, the Daily Talk represents a special service, providing news for free and describing hopeful plans for the renewal of the nation (Aljazeera 2012). As literacy rates are low, the 2009 rate for men was 63.7% and for women it was 53% (TradingEconomics, 2012) this is a particularly effective communication method.
This video provides more information on The Daily Talk.

Monocle News Report: The Daily Talk


Radio Stations

Radio stations in Liberia are an effective way of communication and information mediation. Due to low literacy rates, newspapers cannot always be understood by citizens. By having the radio stations avaiable, greater equity is produced, narrowing the gap between the educated and the uneducated. Another positive contribution of the radio stations in Liberia is that they have the ability to reach remote areas and are most popular among the people. There are no AM waves but many FM stations:

- Star Radio FM-privately owned
- UNMIL Radio- privately owned
- ELBC FM- government owned
- Truth FM- privately owned

UNMIL Radio commenced broadcasting in October 2003, but has since then grown tremendously, with its estimated reach now encompassing two thirds of the Liberian population. Initially, only the capital Monrovia had coverage, but today there are transmitter sites in Gbarnga, Harper, Sanniquellie, Ganta, Voinjama, Zwedru and Monrovia.

Television Stations

- Real TV
- Love TV
- Clar TV
- Power TV

Liberian Media Center

Liberian Media Centre (LMC), an independent and not-for-profit organisation established in 2005 and led by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and the Partnership for Media and Conflict Prevention in West Africa. Created to professionalize Liberian Media, LMC utilizes communication and information resources in attempt to peacefully improve media capacity on both a local and international level.
http://www.lmcliberia.com/aboutus.htm




Ownership of Liberian media







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Screen Shot 2012-08-09 at 10.39.47 PM.png


Reporters Without Boarders: Press Freedom Index 2011-12


What is the extent of the Liberian Government's influence over media? What restrictions do they enforce?


The Liberian media is owned by individuals, corporations, organisations and the Government. Individuals include media mogul Musa Bility, proprietor of Renaissance Communications, comprised of Real TV, Renaissance newspaper and Truth FM radio; the UN has a radio station (UNMIL Radio 91.5 FM) and there are many foreign media sources operating in Liberia. The Liberian Government has controlled and funded the state broadcasting system, Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS) since 1959. LBS operates TV station ELTV, shortwave radio and FM radio.

Although today their Government is actively pursuing free and objective media, this was not always the case under the rule of Presidents Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor.

1985 Election: Samuel Doe
- Use of media power to influence public opinion.

1997 Election: Charles Taylor
- Intimidation and bribing of voters.
- Used personal media empire to manipulate public opinions and influence electoral results.

Under the rule of these Presidents, the Government's media institution was used for propaganda purposes. Since then, the need for third party regulation and for the freedom of speech has been taken seriously. Progress has been made, as seen in the following examples of third party grounds and co-operative Government:

Case Study 1: LMC/ CEMPESP Condemn Governments Systematic Media Clampdown
<http://www.lmcliberia.com/news/lmc_cemesp%20condemn.htm>

On the 7th November 2011, the Liberian State filed a petition for the permanent cancellation of the broadcasting licenses for Power FM and TV, Love FM and TV, Kings FM, Shatta FM and Clar TV. The Liberian government claimed that these media outlets had broadcast anti-government messages advocating violence, calling them hate messages. No charge or complaint had been made previously. The petition was also filed in the criminal court rather than the civil court, a "blatant error" (LMC, 2011) on the government's behalf. LMC believes, "the judge's granting of the temporary restraining order that temporarily closed these media outlets has no basis in law and this should be immediately rescinded." (LMC, 2011). As a result, LMC and CEMPESP "unequivocally condemn the government's action to shut down the media outlets as this action clearly infringes on the petitioner's right to due process." They believe the Liberian government, "acted to close the four broadcast entities in a rastic attempt to suppress speech, muzzle the press, violate fundamental freedom and crush dissent." (LMC, 2011).

Case Study 2: Table Mountain Declaration
http://allafrica.com/stories/201208021160.html

The Table Mountain Declaration was signed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on 21 July 2011. The declaration, committed to press freedom, aims to increase media pluralism in Liberia. Under President Sirleaf, Secretary General Charles Cuffy and Eco-Bank Managing Director Kola Adeleke the issue has been resolved, to achieve higher levels of media pluralism, more funding must be allocated to the media sector so that it can be concreted in "Liberian democratic space"(All Africa, 2012). Assistant Information Minister, Albert K. Jaja, stated, "the era of a single print house is now a thing of the past with newspaper publishers inclined to take greater ownership of their publication and print exclusively, a classic case of economic an democratic reforms." (All Africa, 2012)

How is Liberian media ownership progressing?

DuBois Bunche Centre .png
Dubois Bunche Organisation: Sample of newpapers available in Liberia

Liberian media is becoming more independent of its proprietors as new agreements progress. The opening up of conflict sensitive training, through the workshop "Strengthened media for transparent elections" collaborates with international scholars and the UN. The UN runs the radio program UNMIL 91.5 FM and collaborates with three other Liberian radio stations. Their belief is that one key to a democratic and free nation is the sustainability of the press. "UNESCO has implemented a series of measures that aims to... break negative cycles. We are trying to help Liberian businesses see the potential in investing in media." said Handem Piette (UNESCO, 2012). Media, under President Sirleaf, is becoming freer and more independent of its proprietors, which bodes well for the nations further democratisation.



Regulation of the media:



"Media underpins development and democratisation and is a vital element of conflict resolution and peace building...An independent media is the foundation of democracy and more often than not the only guarantee for transparency and good governance in conflict management and post-conflict development efforts (UNESCO 2003)."

Most media are regulated by the Liberian government through its executive, legislative and judicial branches. Although these separate arms of government were originally established to distribute power in a way to prevent one arm from having too much power, it has been brought to attention that the government (especially the executive and judiciary arms) arbitrarily use their power to control and marginalise the media, especially during elections.

In a letter addressed to the President of Liberia from the Secretary-General of Reporters without Borders, it was highlighted that many journalists were victims of violence as a result of rising tensions between the two main opposition parties. In addition, a judge has closed down four media corporations in response to complaints from the justice minister and information minister. At least two media premises owned by politicians have been closed down by police officers on the grounds that "hate messages" have been broadcasted against the government. Another television premise was closed down the following day without a court order, which further emphasises the corruption of Liberia's government. However, these television companies were eventually allowed to re-broadcast. In Liberia, journalists are constantly living in fear and there is a sense of unpredictability of government-controlled media regulations. The police and soldiers have been known to arrest and harm journalists, which suggest that the media in Liberia are constantly regulated by authorities acting on behalf of the government. Evidently, Liberia is a prime example of the ‘polarised pluralist model’, pioneered by Hallin and Mancini (2004)- Liberia’s press is largely politically orientated, the government heavily regulates and intervenes with media activities and there are indistinct standards of professional practice. In Liberia, the media and journalists are under scrutiny and are in constant fear for their safety. Existing political tensions create an atmosphere of uncertainty and dangerous working environments for journalists, who often face brutality from the police, political parties and Liberian soldiers. So Liberia's media is mostly regulated by the government with political interests in mind, rather than a self-regulating system.

Press Freedom:


Press Freedom Index:(Reporters Without Borders, 2012)
Liberia
Year
Rating
2011/12
110
2010
84
2009
63
2008
52

As can be observed from the above table, Liberia's Press Freedom has decreased over the past 4 years. According to the Freedom House, Liberia's press freedom status has changed recently from 'Not Free' to 'Partly Free' (Reporters Without Borders, 2012). This change occurred due to the Freedom of Information Law that was passed in 2010. According to the Freedom House, this law saw a decline in the physical and violent attacks on journalists within Liberia (Freedom House, 2012). As a result, access to public documents (excluding those pertaining to national security) was granted to the public, and in particular, to journalists for their own use. This is one step further down the road to a free press for Liberia. Previous to this legislation development, journalists had been able to gain access to government information with some difficulty, but this Act, as well as making it somewhat simpler, made it law.

Both state-owned and private media outlets are encompassed in Liberia's media sector. Literacy rates are low, and the internet is rarely used due to its high expense within the country. Newspapers are only delivered to those in the capital, and often news stories are influenced by the individuals who are mentioned in the stories. Journalists are commonly accepting sums of money to sway their story in a particular way, or have it positioned in a particular section of the newspaper (Freedom House, 2012). Although the laws have made it somewhat easier for journalists to obtain information, their ability to write freely is still damaged by the individuals' payments and bribes.

Press Freedom Day in 2012 saw the announcement by Lewis Brown, Minister of Information, for the decriminalization of libel in Liberia. This was a huge and important step in the road to free press in Liberia. In the past, if journalists made any judgement or critique of the administration, they would be subject to heavy lawsuits. Journalists will now no longer be "sued or prosecuted for telling the truth" (UNESCO, 2012).

In previous years, the UN, NGO's and the Liberian government have provided the necessary finances to the Liberian press, but UNESCO's new initiatives attempt to encourage the private sector to support the media, by "seeing the potential in investing in media" (UNESCO 2012). These actions are all in the attempt of supporting the development of Liberia's media sustainability.

The Table Mountain Declaration:

In July 2012, the Table Mountain Declaration was signed by President Johnson-Sirleaf, a "global movement dedicated to replacing statutes under which journalists and media practitioners may be prosecuted as criminal defendants for criminal defamation" (All Africa, 2012). The Declaration contests Liberian journalists to be ethical and responsible in their media coverage and reportage, revealing to the nation and the world that Liberia is moving towards the protection of their journalists and achieving a free press. The movement encourages those in power to acknowledge that the "political and economic progress they seek flourishes in a climate where the press is free and independent of government, political or economic control. It aims to...set a free press higher on the agenda" (All Africa, 2012).



Protection for journalists (with particular regard to their obligations concerning confidential sources):


Liberia is an adoptee of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa which sets out the parameters within which journalists will not be required to reveal confidential sources or other information used in their media pursuits.

The Declaration states that information shall be required for disclosure if:
  • The identity of the source is needed during the investigation of a serious crime, whether that be for the prosecution or defence of those involved
  • The information possessed cannot be obtained from anywhere else or by anyone else
  • A judicial order is issued by the Court demanding disclosure
  • The compromise to the journalists' freedom of expression is outweighed by public interest (Mehlolo T, 2012).

As observed by Mehlolo (2012), the conflict over whether to ascribe to the journalist-source relationship the same level of fiduciary obligation that exists between doctors and patients or lawyers and clients is marked by debate over the need to allow journalists to carry out their "watch-dog" functions uninhibited, and the need for state intervention to regulate the extent to which journalists should be free to decide what is and is not state-owned information.

Protection for journalists and the safeguarding of their confidential sources is thus apparent in the Liberian system, but is compromised by a widespread lack of awareness concerning the importance of the right of access to information for democratic existence, as well as the traditions of secrecy that permeate Liberian government (Public Agenda Online 2008).

Examples of restrictive media practices in Liberia:


Article 15(c) of the Liberian Constitution states that "no limitation shall be placed on the public's right to be informed about the government and its functionaries" (Embassy of Liberia 2012). These sentiments are enshrined in the Freedom of Information Act (2010) which acknowledges the fundamental right of access to information, thus encompassing the citizens' ability to receive and to request, and be alerted about matters within the public interest (Embassy of Liberia 2012). Constitutional and statutory instruments thus appear to convey a Liberian commitment to genuine democracy in particular regard to the flow of information and the mediums responsible for this. However, upon closer inspection, the Liberian media landscape is a nuanced and complicated one, as observers attempt to reconcile the idea of a restricted press with the United States model of government that has shaped Liberia's own.

CASE STUDY:


May Azango, a Liberian journalist, recently sparked national outrage and global controversy as a result of her reporting on female genital mutilation practices in Liberia.
Due to internal backlash and an apathetic police response to various violence threats, Azango was forced to flee to America for protection (Nkanga 2012). The following image depicts her article entitled "Growing Pains" (Azango et al. 2012).






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Azango’s predicament serves as an illustration of Liberia’s unique media situation. It reinforces the general lack of public awareness concerning their right to information in the public interest, with involved Liberians voicing their opinions that Azango “should have known better” than to write on such a controversial topic (Greenslade 2012). Further, the majority of the Liberian population had no knowledge of the issue, which showcases the culture of secrecy evident within their national government (Greenslade 2012).


References:



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All Africa 2012, Liberia: Court gives Musa Bility 24-hour Ultimatum, All Africa, Africa, accessed 10 August 2012, <http://allafrica.com/stories/201208070938.html>.

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