By Jonathan Browne
The Resident Representative of the President of the ECOWAS Commission in Liberia, Josephine Nkrumah says the world looks to Liberia to showcase its growing democracy in the impending Presidential and General Elections slated for October 10th.
She made the statement in Monrovia on Monday, September 18, 2023, at the start of a two-day engagement with the Liberian media to counter misinformation and disinformation during electioneering period.
Madam Nkrumah notes that misinformation and disinformation pose serious threats to democracy, as they have become instruments that can be used to manipulate public opinion, sow discord, and undermine the electoral process.
“The debilitating impact of misinformation and disinformation on elections can be seen in a number of recent elections around the world, particularly within our region, where lives were lost, properties destroyed, and the credibility of elections compromised. We have had four coups from post-election conflicts in the sub-region and Liberia must stem the tide”, she emphasizes.
She says in partnership with the Liberian media, ECOWAS hopes to promote inclusivity by empowering the media to work towards eliminating fake news, resisting availing their platforms to people who devise and promote hate speeches and inciting statements, and to instead, ensure that the resonating voices of all Liberians are heard and adequately represented.
The engagement with the media is being facilitated by veteran journalists in West Africa, including Professor Kwame Karikari from Ghana, Sulemana Brimah, Executive Director of Media Foundation for West Africa also based in Ghana, and Madam Esther Tawiah, Executive Director, Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED), among others funded by international partners, including GIZ and the European Union.
Madam Nkrumah also stresses that the media, as gatekeepers of information, plays a vital role in countering misinformation, mal-information and disinformation, and practitioners or journalists have the power to rightly inform and educate the public, to minimize the spread of fake news and hate speeches, as well as to hold those in power accountable, and to promote critical thinking by setting the agenda for informed, engaged and discerning civic discourse.
“We are therefore honored to have you here for the next few days to chart this course together. This workshop presents an important opportunity for us to come together and discuss how we can collaboratively work to counter mal-information, misinformation and disinformation in elections, as we recognize the pivotal role the media play in shaping public opinion, and fostering democratic processes, particularly in creating the conducive environments and conditions necessary for violent-free, inclusive, transparent, free, fair and credible elections.”
The ECOWAS Resident Rep. notes that Liberia is faced with social and political issues arising from challenges of obtaining reliable information about the elections and their processes, so the media are expected to play a crucial role in bridging these gaps by ensuring equitable representation and fair coverage of all political activities and actors, devoid of misinformation, disinformation, hate speeches, incendiary statements and incitements to violence.
She says it is also important that the media use their platforms to provide voters with essential information about the candidates, political parties and their manifestos and programs, as well as election procedures and access to accurate and timely information that is crucial for citizens to make informed choices in order to actively participate in the democratic process of electing leadership.
“Through inclusive reporting, the media will help to promote social cohesion, foster understanding, and counter divisive narratives during electioneering periods. The importance of media, in this regard, can therefore not be overemphasized as it is core to the electoral processes of every democracy.”
She says with less than a month to the elections in a critical juncture where citizens are called to exercise their civic duties, it becomes imperative that the media ensures that information reaching citizens is accurate and meets ethical standards of the journalism profession with a gender-sensitive perspective for inclusiveness.
“The media, as the Fourth Realm of the Estate, play a pivotal role in upholding these principles and strengthening democracy. Therefore, your role in fostering confidence in the electoral process is crucial through your objectivity, fairness and accurate reporting to sustain our peace. The two-day workshop marks another milestone in our collective efforts to strengthen the integrity and effectiveness of election reporting”, she adds.
The engagement continues today, Tuesday, 19 September in Monrovia.