The impoverished status of the Liberian media has alarmed Sinoe County Senator J. Milton Teahjay for which he is calling on international partners to help the media through direct support in order for the “fourth estate” to maintain its independence and professionalism.
According to Senator Teahjay, the Liberian media have remained foremost partner in fostering and sustaining the democratic gains in Liberia; and as such, strengthening the financial capacity of media houses will further enhance their independence.
The Sinoe County lawmaker’s statement was contained in his remarks at the beginning of a two-day media reform conference organized by the Press Union of Liberia and partners yesterday.
Senator Teahjay emphasized that it is frustrating to note that despite their importance to the society, most media institutions in Liberia currently operate under appalling conditions.
Teahjay, who is Senate Committee Chairman on Broadcasting at the National Legislature, mentioned that “the media needs to be adequately supported financially in order to maintain their independence, and serve as a watchdog of the society”.
For her part, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf , delivering opening remarks, said her administration fully subscribes to and is committed to offering government’s partnership in the reform agenda; the objective that places emphasis on equipping and empowering the local media not just for sustainability of media houses but equipping them with the tools and skills that will enable them to place country above self.
“When we ensure or underscore sustainability it calls for quality in newsgathering and packaging for a news-hungry population,” she said.
“As you embark on strengthening both the legal and normative means to achieving an enabling environment for a freer media, the onus is on all and sundry to enjoin media practitioners on the need to curb deliberate ethical transgressions, which have become commonplace, thus eroding the foundation of freedom of speech and the press,” Sirleaf intoned.
Her government, President Sirleaf emphasized, has made significant contributions to the administration of media respect and sustainability, among which is the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act of 2010.
“Our political tolerance is manifested by allowing freedom of speech as a fundamental civil liberty and sine qua none of democratic value system, and as such never before have 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, some in the promotion of politics rather than journalism), the Liberian chief executive indicated.
“What does our country seek to benefit when the watchdogs watching over society remain unregulated? If we must progress, the media must first be accountable in as much as they demand accountability,” she observed, noting that the signing of the Table Mountain Declaration in 2012, was and still is in the interest to repeal the sedition laws and criminal libel laws.
“This has taken some time with the full involvement of some civil society organizations. Let me commit to you that this matter will be brought to closure within 60 days,” President Sirleaf assured, and concluded in thanking Internews and partners for an initiative that will scrupulously examine the media and adherence to law to cement the current democratic space.
The Media Law Reform conference organized by the PUL, in partnership with the British fir, Albany Associates, is part of the Liberia Media Development Program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The LMD is being implemented under the leadership of Internews, with PUL, LMC and Accountability Lab as the main national partners.
At the conference, discussions center on the current legal and regulatory regime governing the Liberian Press, as well as encouraging amendments and repeals that ensure that the Liberia legal/regulatory environment conforms to 21st Century realities, and those of a genuine democracy.