Permanent Body set up in U.S. to Help Liberian Media

By James Seitua


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 18, 2006


A permanent task force aimed at mobilizing resources to assist the Liberian media in every aspect of its capacity building process has been established in the United States.

The “Liberian Media Support Initiative” was set up at the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Democracy and Development, McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies in Boston, to climax a two-day media conference on Liberia, held on April 7 and 8, 2006.

The conference, organized by the Center for Democracy and Development, brought together several US-based Liberian journalists who, along with their hosts, deliberated on issues encompassing capacity building of the Liberian media. All those who attended the conference are members of the task force.

Addressing the participants, Prof. Steve Tweh called for the decentralization of the Liberian media as a way of encouraging the people in rural Liberia to participate in the democratization process. He reminded the journalists that their role in society is mandated by the constitution, therefore, “that role must be played in developing our democracy.”

Prof, Moses K. Nagbe pointed out that the Liberian society was in transition and cautioned members of the press to consider themselves “critical stakeholders in society, not mere disseminators of news.”

A panel of female journalists expounded on the topic: Challenges Facing Liberian Female Journalists. From a historical perspective to current day realities, Ms. Muna Wreh, former station manager of the Catholic radio station {ELCM); Sylvia Henri, former broadcaster at the Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS); and Rowena Gono, former reporter of the Liberian Daily Observer, eloquently highlighted their individual experiences which were believed to have summed up the role of women in the Liberian media.

Speaking during a teleconference, the chairman of the Mass Communications Department of the University of Liberia, Mr. Joe Mulbah, catalogued the problems at his department and received assurance of full support.

Meanwhile, a special four-man technical committee charged with the responsibility of overseeing the activities of the task force has been set up. The members of the committee from the university are Michael Keating, visiting fellow, and Margery O’Donnell, administrator of the African Programs. They will work along with Liberian journalists Isaac Bantu and S. Togba Slewion to review recommendations made by the participants and draw up a plan of action for the consideration of the task force during follow-up meetings intended to maintain the momentum that was built during the two-day conference.

High on the agenda of the task force, among other important issues, are training programs, financial independence of media institutions, and professional conduct of media practitioners.

The participants underscored the need for Liberian journalists to take into consideration the global nature of their reporting, given the advance of the Internet, and strive to report on par with journalists in other parts of the world. In this light, the task force will work with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and the Mass Communications Department of the University of Liberia to plan and conduct training programs ranging from short-term to long-term. The task force will also work with the PUL to strengthen its award program so as to encourage professionalism in the Liberian media.

Already, talks are being concluded between the Center for Democracy and Development and the Boston Globe regarding an exchange program between Liberian media institutions and the widely respected newspaper. The Globe is also being encouraged to report any censorship of the Liberian media, according to officials who were quick to point to the new world trend where “freedom of the press is a condition for receiving economic assistance”.

On the issue of self-sustainability of media organizations, the task force will seek ways to improve their financial management practices, while encouraging entrepreneurs to invest in the Liberia media, taking advantage of the new government’s adherence to democratic principles, including freedom of the press.