-Pres. Sirleaf addresses journalists
President Sirleaf in group photo with some participants and guests President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says some media entities here have “violated our laws” by continuing to be unregistered and non-tax compliant, while boasting that never before had Liberia seen the multiplicity of newspapers and proliferation of radio stations as it is during her administration.
“Never before had we seen the multiplicity of newspapers and proliferation of radio stations – some of which have violated our laws by continuing to be unregistered and non-tax compliant; and some of which engage in the promotion of politics rather than journalism,” Mrs. Sirleaf said Tuesday at a two-day Liberia Media Development conference in Sinkor, 10 May.
Mrs. Sirleaf challenged media practitioners to tell the truth and curb “deliberate ethical transgression,” and suggested the need for the media to be accountable as much as they demand and must demand [accountability] from others. She proffered suggestions for the media to curb ‘blackmail and extortion”, as she reassured her administration’s respect for the media and its sustainability, including the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act of 2010.
She also cited her government’s political tolerance as evidenced by the high level of freedom of speech as a fundamental civil liberty, as well as a sine qua non of democratic value system. She recalled that when her government signed the Table Mountain Declaration in 2012, it was with the interest to repeal the sedition and criminal libel laws.
But President Sirleaf requested the media and civil society organizations to join the government in ensuring that the Legislature pass the instrument into law to complete the process as quickly as possible, having recognized the fact that it has taken too long after she signed it.
She said her administration was aware of the establishment of a regulatory body to ensure that the values and principles of good journalism are respected. In conclusion, the Liberian President challenged the media to shape public opinion, mobilize community to community development, foster reconciliation and building and helping to keep the peace.
“A constructive media, while reserving the right to full independence and the role of a watchdog, can promote or destroy the environment for private investment and the economic growth which results will benefit to all including the media itself,” she said.
Earlier speaking, Sinoe County Senator J. Milton Teahjay said for the past ten years, international institutions have been engaged with Liberia to build capacity, hold workshops and train people. But in his view, Liberia, particularly the media, has had enough of such capacity building and requested partners, including Internews and other international partners to shift a little bit such training to provide direct support to media institutions.
“Media institutions in the country are struggling,” he said amidst hands of applause from the audience, as he further argued that complains of bad journalism here were the result of hard struggle in the media. “We complain when a press young lady or young fellow writes something that doesn’t favor us. But you have to be realistic. If a newspaper is struggling, the fellow who runs it, [he] depends on the daily income.
There is no support from anywhere. The only way in some instances for that fellow to make it through to the next day is to get a commitment from somebody for publishing a story,” Sen. Teahjay argued. He indicated that this is the impetus of bad journalism when media institutions are not being supported, reemphasizing that the training and capacity-building are enough now for the media here.
“Let the international media support group turn to direct support to media institutions,” he said, adding that he was deeply looking forward to the time Internews will start intervening in the lives of the media institutions that have already been assessed.
On the question of government’s support to media, Sen. Teahjay said the government cannot directly give money to media institutions because it would be seen as bribing the institution. Beside publishing supplements for the government paid for, he expressed the beliief that direct government funding to media institutions would be seen as buying the entity, even though he noted that it is not beyond government capacity to help the media.
“So, the only best way out is for our international partners to look at how we can strengthen media practitioners and institutions in the country beyond workshops,” he concluded. The conference being held by the Press Union of Liberia, in partnership with Internews and Albany, is taking place at the PA’s Rib House in the Lakpazee Community of Sinkor, with the participation of dozens of journalists.