Given the social and economic environment in which the Liberian media, like many other media in countries of the global south work, it becomes bit more subjective to determine the actual effectiveness of the media. One would wish to see a corporatized media institution rather than an individualized one; one would wish to see media institutions that would impressively remunerate its staffers as an insulation against receiving material or financial gifts or inducements which lead ultimately to the breach of professional ethics. The issue of ethics is a side bar for this piece, so it’s not a contentious issue for now. Therefore, its mention is merely in passing.
Now, let us transition to the focus of this piece which looks at the agender-setting role of the media but more critically to assess whether the Liberian media are on point or on the right trajectory. The ability of television, newspapers, magazines, movies, radio, and a whole host of new communication technologies to mold the public mind and significantly influence the flow of history is a widely ascribed power of the media. How do the media help the people to form political opinions and make political decisions at this critical period of democratic transition in our county? The critical role of the Liberian media spanning several decades is no doubt indisputable. As a mark of heightened deference to the intriguing role the Liberian media have played painfully over the years and continue to play, it is worth mentioning confessedly that systemic reprisal has left a trail of arson attacks on the Liberian media, summary closure of media houses without warrant and in worst cases, the extermination of scores of journalists in historical times. Despite these hardened historical pains, a jaundiced view of the Liberian media is at times portrayed in some quarters. Whatever harsh history the media in Liberia may have endured, I am overwhelmed to state that there is proliferated interest still in the media, particularly during the period of Liberia’s uninterrupted democratic resuscitation from 2005 elections to date. This interest in my considered opinion is due to the trail blazing role of the media in setting cross cutting societal agenda. As articulated in the book ‘Media Power in Politics’, the idea of agenda-setting asserts that the priorities of the press to some degree become the priority of the public. In other words, what the press emphasizes is in turn emphasized privately and publicly by the audiences of the press (Graber 1984). Practically being a bit picky, in a home driven mood, what sort of agenda should the Liberian media be setting that would proximately or ultimately lead the voting populace to making an informed decision on October 10, 2017? Are the Liberian media on point in ensuring that by their news choices, they should be actually elevating the everyday political and social issues to the extent that they stimulate discursive debates? Quite honestly, when one picks a tabloid (local newspaper) or listens to a radio or views a television, it is unquestionably clear that the lead (repetitively slanted against a candidate) or intonation of the radio or television hosts point to their political leaning. For a class case example, a radio host once said “Party X can never win the presidential election, what’s your view?” Firstly, what is the empirical basis for the germination of such opinionating question or faulty conclusion? From all indications, since the statement was more of an opinion, how can any intelligent person be dragged into such slanted debate? Is this an agendum for intelligent discussion that inculcates the overarching interest of the country? On another note, should a newspaper pick up a clear propagandistic piece of information with conscious non-verification and present it as a news item, void of the fundamental 5Ws and H (what, who, when, where, why and how)? Let me be quick to state here that in their agenda setting role, media practitioners are required to consider saliency of various attributes like well researched topics, issues, personalities and or whatever is of trending importance or is topical for inclusive intellectual contributions and or discussions. Coming from the media background myself, I fully understand that newspaper clearly state the value they place on the salience of an item through the headline size and placement within the newspaper-anywhere from the lead item on the first page to placement at the bottom of the last page. So following the flow of articulations both by the print and electronic media, again from an informed media perspective, I am fully aware that institutional requirements cause most reporting still to be conducted within the restrictions imposed under the masking views of institutional ‘requirements’ or restriction imposed by media sole proprietorship. Under this kind of subtly modified censorship, creativity and valued added independence of the media practitioners are completely latent. Without the slightest doubt, mass communication exerts tremendous influence over human affairs. Therefore, it is healthy for the media to maintain its neutrality for respectability on purpose that prior portrayal makes audience to believe so. Is it wrong to have a partisan paper or a partisan electronic institution? My answer is a resounding no. If you are conspicuously known by your label as a partisan institution by your output as we see some institutions around here, perfect. But forcing down your opinions in the throats of your audiences under the pretense of setting an agenda when you are really seeking public concurrence with your opinions, deviates from the required role of any agenda setter. I would rather a critical media that pursues consistent pattern of objectivity, truthfulness and research based reporting of issues in order to keep the public informed in our society. Believe it or not, when people are not informed, they are one way or the other deformed. As Liberians are about to influence the flow of history through elections, where do you stand, given your ascriptive power of agenda-setting as a media institution or a media practitioner?