A study commissioned by Media Foundation for West Africa working in partnership with the Center for Media Studies and Peace-building to assess the capacity of Liberia Media has released a preliminary report that among other things underscored the issue of reputational risk as a consequence of the under-resourced media challenge that fraught the yearnings for professional standards in the sector.
Key recommendations emanating from the study included: the need to revisit the collective bargaining agreement and enforce it, specialized training for journalists, strategy to recruit and retain journalists with passion for the profession, strengthening the capacity of managers, media legal defense fund to be set up and raising seed fund to support the advancement of good journalism.
At a CEMESP’s organized Media capacity Assessment dissemination Forum held on Friday in Monrovia and attended by media stakeholders, Deputy Information Minister for Technical Services, BoakaiFofana, reaffirmed government’s commitment in providing an unfettered space for journalists to operate in advancing democratic values.
He referenced the passage of the K. Abdullai Kamara Freedom of Expression Act by the Government of President Weah as a mark of commitment to freedom of the press, cautioning that the media must therefore lend itself to self-regulation and adherence to regulations and ethical codes as a basis of dealing with some of the challenges that abound.
He disclosed that most of the media outlets operating in the country have not regularized their status and could not acquire tax clearance as one requirement for advertisers.
PUL Secretary General Daniel Nyakonah paid tribute to innovation which makes it possible to embark on this critical enquiry of assessing the strength, weaknesses, threats and opportunities for independent media practice in Liberia. He described the exercise as a self-check process intended to identify gaps that must be bridged in developing a media amidst a challenging economy that is having knock on effect on the quality of media in Liberia. He used the occasion to announce the need for media ownership disclosure so that those pseudo politicians infiltrating the ranks of journalisms can be identified and the public will know how to relate to them.
Veteran Journalist Aaron Kollie of Infinity Broadcasting Corporation also made the connection between the national economy and the media economy. He argued that if poverty and corruption are pervasive in the country, there is every possibility that it will have trickle-down effect on the media industry. He decried media development programs in trainings that have not succeeded to address the perennial problems lingering in the sector. He said with the transition from analogue to digital technology, many media outlets are still not equipped to catch with the revolution. He said media developers must refrain from crafting and imposing templates but should rather create the forum for media stakeholders to sit and discuss and find durable solutions to the problems.
In an opening courtesy, Executive Director of CEMESP Malcolm Joseph earlier disclosed that this exercise is funded by OSIWA and covers other sub-regional context with the overarching aim of using the findings to craft solutions in promoting quality and sustainable independent media.
Lead Researcher Frank Sainworla said the report is work in progress that sampled some fifteen media houses print and broadcast to arrive at the picture that has portrayed a range of problems and solution areas to be addressed. Based on two objectives of assessing the capacity of the media for sustainable support and identifying media outlets that deserve support in upholding professional standard, the methodology of administering questionnaires that were semi structured succeeded to come out with qualitative data informing key findings.
These findings among other things noted that media ownership has vested political and commercial interest, weak management, under capitalization, journalists being least paid, unpredictable funding for the sector and incidences of inducement dictating ethical transgression.
The next layer of the event was the question and answer session with other speakers adding their voices to the conversation. There were suggestions to provide support in equipment to selected media houses to enhance their effectiveness. The point was raised that the media are public entities and must not be considered as personal investment to be run on the whims and caprices of those who set up newspapers, Television and radio stations.
It was also noted that the pre requisite for enrolment in communication and journalism schools must be streamlined and made more up to date with the evolving realities.
The problem of poor writing skills of many journalists was also pointed out as something that has to be worked on.
Whilst workshop training that donors are supporting was lauded it was also established that this intervention must be augmented by other supports to private media. It emerged that the banking sector in Liberia can hardly capitalize media in loans because it has been pointed out that the sector is not performing.
Another suggestion for media advertisement to improve was the need for journalists to improve on their content and forms.
Community radio input in the discussion restated the challenge with sustainability of electricity, repairs of equipment and retention of professional staff.
With spectrum regulation controversies of ten miles limit for community radio forming a talking point, the Liberia Telecommunication Authority Director of Public Affairs Jarsea Burphy used the occasion to announce a planned meeting where stakeholders can be apprised about the rationale behind such policies meant to avoid clashed and interference in the airwaves.