By Othello B. Garblah
The Liberian media industry is arguably one of the most non-performing sectors in the country’s economy. Investors shy away, banks are often reluctant to loan it money, advertisements are slow to come by and even if they (advertisements) do come, payment takes months. Yet, expectations for its performance are high, and rightfully so.
When the media take advertisements from government, particularly the Executive for live coverage (electronics) and pictorial (for print) or even feature positive stories about government on its front pages, it is adjudged as being bought by the ruling establishment.
Albeit when similar coverage and pictorials are provided by those in opposition, it is considered an independent media, or it has taken sides.
Often, the Liberian media is considered independent when it bad mouth those in authority and sing the praises or lift invectives spewed out by those in opposition.
However, what many media critics don’t know is that it is also run as a business, and it is only the business aspect that sustains it. But no one sees the business aspect.
Many of the sector’s critics have and continue to ignore its viability, something which has to do with meeting overhead costs, paying staff salaries, and other obligations including but not limited to rentals and all kinds of taxes.
Unlike the State Broadcaster (Liberian Broadcasting Corporation) and the New Liberia newspapers which are state-owned and are financially supported through the national budget, all other media institutions both print and electronic are purely private and financed solely by the owner or in terms of community radio stations, partly community owned.
These media outlets rely on advertisements and meager sales (newspapers) which are little or nothing to write home about to survive-that is running generators, paying printing costs, staff salaries, annual rentals, taxes, and running offices.
The lack of competition among the few businesses in the country and the advent of the Executive Mansion Website makes private advertising hard to come by, thereby leaving the government as the biggest advertiser. But even at that payments are hard to come by. In some cases, it takes months if not years to receive payment from government.
With these little or limited sources of income, the Liberian 4th estate has been strangulated, thus losing out its experienced practitioners to government and non-governmental organizations.
The advent of media NGOs has not helped the situation either. They must bad mouth or paint a gloomy picture of the media landscape to attract donor funding- many of which have made little or no impact after USD millions have been invested in projects that are yet to change or improve the situation.
In fact, they would prefer recruiting inexperienced graduates from these quasi-journalism schools as their foot soldiers to run subsidiary organizations just to divert funding. All of these are done at the peril of mainstream media.
As it stands, the most experienced journalists remaining in the mainstream do so for passion and not necessarily for the meager sum they take home at the end of the month-some which hardly comes by regularly.
Meanwhile, this is not an argument in defense of yellow journalism, which undermines the integrity of the entire media landscape. But there should be a line between the media as a business and journalism as a professional practice.
Media owners should be cleared to differentiate between the business aspect of their institutions and ethical practices just as the public is entitled to know which aspect of broadcast or publication is paid for.