Thursday, July 26, 2012

Liberia: Signing Table Mountain is not enough!

By ralph geeplay

Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is being praised for signing the Table Mountain declaration which aims to boost press freedom and stop the criminal prosecution of journalists in Liberia. Sirleaf deserves commendation, but It is important to note that the signing comes from the Executive Mansion at a time when assaults and libels against the press has been documented and on the rise. All the Fourth Estate has done these past years even when dictatorships ruled Liberia has been an effort to report the news and bring sensitization to the greater public as it fulfill their professional obligations.

(Team of Liberian Journalists World Press Freedom Day 2000) Left to Right: 
Stanley George, Ralph Geeplay, Philip N. Wesseh, ME-Inquirer; Timothy Seaklon,
John Taweh, Jackson Seton, Samuel Wai Johnson and Ansu Sekou Konneh.

Reports say Johnson Sirleaf is the second African leader after Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, who have signed the document. One of the main aims of the declaration is to stop insult and criminal laws against the media, who could however still be sued in courts, "but laws are just what they are unless they are implemented and brought to bear in places like Liberia where often signing a law sometimes is seen a window dressing and a headlines grabbing feats, let’s not hope so" said a professor of Mass Communication at the University of Liberia. 

The Liberian media has given the country some of the best pressmen there is, and some have paid with their blood, Sirleaf's intent to sign the declaration is therefore a welcome development.

The major issue facing Liberian journalists according to analysts in a new era as they strive for independence is that critical component of advertising revenue which they lack, for without the ability to support their own efforts independently and adequately, wherein there is sufficient capital to hire the best, calls for responsibility could fall short, pundits have said.

“When it comes to advertising revenue, other West African countries are far ahead of Liberia,” says a news editor in Monrovia. For the press to assert it autonomy, the Unity Party led government must move two steps forward by making sure through policy or otherwise that the press has access to a revenue that is independent, and of outside influence. "if she did that, she would have in totality completed the Table Mountain," and would have paid tribute to the Likes of Charles Gbeyon and Albert Porte, says Chris Johnson a Liberian. 

The dissemination of critical analysis of the socio-economic and political plays in the country both the private and public sectors as is being enhanced by the fourth estate is done purely on a sacrificial basis today.

If the Johnson Sirleaf Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) is meant to be felt across the broad strata of society, and if vision 2030 rising must affect the lives of all,  so too must the media as watchdogs of society see improvement in their lives. The media must see dividends in their hard work for respectable labor return, as it strives to attract a professional core of individuals. Journalists must not be reduce to beggars. 

Johnson Sirleaf must see the signing of the Table Mountain as the beginning in what is certainly a long road to empowering journalists on the last leg of her mandate. Media men and women, who often times can hardly afford to go on critical assignments and do in depth investigative reports, whether on corruption or society ills, because they lack the financial means and muscle, says less about the Liberian society.

Press freedom must also not be a byword by policy makers to catch headlines. When Sirleaf says “we are committed to advancing free press and free expression not just in Liberia but to use our leadership role to promote it on the entire continent of Africa," analysts say the statement must go further. Journalists who seek to advance their careers must not be the last ones at the earning lines in society!

Without advertising revenue it is hard to say where some of the most powerful media institutions in world would be. Already, the average Liberian lack purchasing power to buy newspapers on a daily basis, because they can hardly afford to buy one.  How many times do you hear another Liberian saying to the other one "my man let read it yah when you finished with it...." Waiting anxiously to borrow, even though the poor fellow/lady might still be needing the paper back because they are in a rush (on the bus or taxi), might not have even finish reading the paper, or might be needing it for keeps.

Liberia also can not advance competitive good governance throughout the country when all the newspapers and almost all the media entities are located in Monrovia. Papers that want to venture out of the capital city must have support in a national policy, in Liberia's larger effort at decentralization, it makes sense when you considered that local governments need to be looked at critically at how they are handling the people's business, and only a free press can do that efficiently

High school students most especially need to read the papers a lot, this must be emphasized, because by doing that they will know the issues, them young voters. Schools must encourage students to write weekly letters to editors, especially English teachers on the issue on which they agree or disagree. This would sustain a culture for lively debates in the public square.  It's a shame that in places like Harper or Zwedru there is no paper to read, hardly would you find that kind of scenario in places like Nigeria or Ghana.

Reporting and writing the news is not an easy venture, it’s a lot of brain work. Many times journalists in Liberia risk their lives to get their stories published, and sometimes called “check book Journalist,” never mind the fact, they often work under undue pressure and with little resources. But if they are to be the guardians of Liberia’s democracy, and suppose to be the watchdogs that society demands and do their job efficiently and attract a competent core, then, Sirleaf and her administration must go beyond the Table Mountain, it is just not enough. 

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