Analysis of the Similarities and Disparities: The Tale of Liberian Press and Global Media Practices

By: Josephus Moses Gray

Author: J. Moses Gray

The mass media generally constitutes an influence and effective ingredient of the world through its robust role since a vigorous media is an important element in a strong and healthy democracy that can curtail corruption from the society even without the political backbones. Without free media, there is space for enormous and unchecked political power leading to corruption and anti-democratic behavior by public officials. The role of media is complex and varied, sometimes, media is viewed positively by society, although it is considered overbearing and obnoxious by others especially for those political elites who dreaded the influence of the media.

The Africa’s image in the Western media is not a significantly self-portrait and it is not a what you see is what you get or see for yourself. Africa is mostly treated with disdain by the Western media because media conditioning shapes, molds, and monopolizes those images.  This negative portrait of Africa cannot squally be attributed to the Western media but also to African corrupt leaderships and political bureaucrats and capitalists especially the continent’s  governments  and leaderships’  failed policies also profoundly contribute to how Africa is projected negatively globally.

The purpose of this article under the caption: A Comparative Analysis of Western Media Coverage of Africa: Overviews of the Practices and Intricacies of the Liberian Media, is divided into five parts chapters; due to space concerned, this article which is split into subchapters would be published in succession every week. It deeps into some evidences of a modus operandi Western Media organizations employ to specifically dump negative news materials and information when reporting, communicating, or disseminating anything concerning Africa. But Africa’s incalculable natural wealth, which is barely available to its indigenous populations, and her environment, are endangered by insatiable Western consumption.

The author’s analysis focuses on similarities and disparities of journalism in a sophisticated and less sophisticated world served as a focal point of this article. The analysis has been performed within the context of present global media practices and intricacies covering one region to another mainly concentrated on Africa, Asia, Europe and the North America.

It goes further to discuss the general historic overview and presents highlights of the successes and failures, and main transitions of contemporary media’s sophistication and influence in Africa from the colonial to post-independence eras and extending to the emerging of social media. This article is divided into several sub-chapters to afford the readers the opportunity to digest the article from an informed perspective. According to studies, the word media comes from the Latin word medium, and it is used as a collective noun to refer to newspapers, television, radio, magazines, films, and internet, playing a very important role in national development

It is clear fact that Africa constitutes the poorest continent in the world and is mostly attended with negative portrait and neglected by Western media. It is predominantly portrayed negatively” by the Western media on the basis that 85 percent of the stories and articles linked the continent to bad governance, insurgencies, rampant corruption  and abuse of resources, undemocratic and unworkable policies, abject crusading poverty, suffering, hunger, crimes, briberies, migration, war, protest and failed leaderships and most often, imposed unwarranted hardship.

Critical analysis of an in-depth research studied gives fairly credence to the Western media subjective inscription of Africa when reporting stories from the continent. For instance, the recent disappearance of Liberian Sixteenth Billion in Monrovia and mismanagement of public resources in the face of adjacent poverty, poor infrastructures, suffering and bad leaderships was highlighted in the Western media coverage of the continent but explanation by the Central Bank of Liberia regarding the money has not been reported apparently for lack of detailed explanation to convene the Western media.

The Western media community usually takes advantage of the failures of the continent’s media inscription of presenting the true events most beyond negativity, and gives fame positive development or soft news like developments. Both “hard’ and “soft” news need to be treated with the same prominence but in the case of Africa, the Western media focused on the hard news.

There are visible evidences of a modus operandi Western media employs to precisely dump negative news materials and information when disseminating and providing converging concerning  Africa’s innumerable natural riches, which is barely available to its indigenous poverty-stricken populations and poor management of African leaders to governance in line with best democratic practices are endangered by insatiable Western consumption.

The mass media tradition role takes place from two main domains -public and the private. The public domain means the central administration directly funded and operates the various forms of the media while the private domain which is the people centered composed of individual, religion institutions, business tycoons, and corporations operate print and electronic media. The media plays a critical role in improving governance and reducing corruption, increasing economic efficiency and stability, and creating positive social and environmental change. The media is an indispensable element of the society and a “mirror” of the contemporary world, it is the media which shapes public opinions and served as a conduit between the government and the people.

It also set the public agenda, performs watchdog role and help to expose societal ills and fights against bad governance, including corruption, abuse of state wealth, human rights and constitutional violations, and oppressive actions and policies. The media further plays several roles in the society and lessens the information gap between the government and population, inform, interpret, educate and entertain and also convey precise needed information regarding politics, economic, social cultural and environment.

Africa’s image in the Western Media is not a self-portrait, it is not a what you see or hear is what you get since media conditioning shapes, and monopolizes the images about Africa are received sometimes with disdain and scorn. Even African descendants, who have virtually no cultural competence, essentially contribute to how Africa is projected globally. Over the past decades, media experts and scholars have composedly criticized Western media for their manner in which they unfairly report happenings on the continent, compared to other continents and regions of the world.

Whether Africa is the most neglected geographical area in Western media or not, the existing literature shows that it has consistently been one of the most neglected, while consensual observation is that the Western media coverage of the continent focuses on “negative stories” and follows a “crisis-driven news agenda. But what do we know pragmatically best about Western media coverage of Africa and other regions? This article provides an in-depth insight and analysis to address the response.

However, there are several pitfalls in reducing the analysis of Africa’s coverage to a focus on “negative “news. Firstly, the phenomenon of “bad news “is not specific to Africa. De Beer (2010), for instance, found that the tone of news reports about Africa in developed media especially the Western press is predominantly negative (74.1 percent) but that it is less for other regions.  Along with the adage “if it bleeds, it leads” the idea of news more generally is crossed by a negativity bias. But, the existing evidence for such a “negative” focus may not be as strong as insinuated by the prevalent claims in numerous literatures; this is a question of one interpretation and perception of developments on the African continent.

For instance, “Liberia is predominantly portrayed negatively” on the basis that 90 percent of the articles linked the country to corruption and failed institutions while Nigeria is portrayed negatively on the basis that 99 percent of stories and articles linked the country to crimes and terrorism. The situation is not only unique to the two countries but majorities of the African countries, whereas “only” 25 percent linked them to sport, democracy and infrastructure.

However, “negativity” is a fairly subjective criterion used by the Western media to portray Africa wholly. For instance, the disappearance of the L$16 billion and recent protest in Liberia, the wave of demonstrations and riots in Conakry, guinea over the increment of the price of gasoline and diesels; the   2014 riot in Burkina Faso in response to former President Blaise Compaoré’s attempt to amend the constitution; the violence protest in Kenya owing to disputed elections; the 2011 coordinated Arab Spring across North Africa and the persistent Boko Harm’s insurgency in Nigeria cannot be termed as biases of the Western media.

The forceful resignations of former president Robert Mugabe, Gambian politically short-circuited Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh and Jacob Zuma of Zimbabwe and South Africa, and indictment of the presidents of Kenya and Sudan by the International Criminal Court and the sentenced of ex-president Charles Taylor of Liberia, cannot be described as “negative” portrait of Africa by the Western media; these are all actualities of situation; the continent is also prone to frequent political instability and change of leaderships, rampant corruption and war.

On the other hand, little is said about Africa’s strategic importance to so called industrialized nations; her indispensability and relevance to world development, global technology, and the wealth of nations, derived from involuntary African largesse, are not acclaimed in the media. According to Brookes (1995) the inscription of different news stories in a cohesive symbolic system of references specific to “Africa”, journalistic discourse reproduces a view of “Africa as a country”, as “a homogenous block with violence, helplessness, human rights abuses and lack of democracy as its main characteristics, with several literatures suggesting that these features have been observed nearly systematically in previous publications.

Outside scarcity and negativity, they are what make the discursive construction of Africa in international media peculiar and linked it to stereotyping, in addition, the publications tend to focus on the coverage of a narrow range of topics related to war, conflict, disaster, crisis, political instability, corruption, failed leaderships and unworkable policies and violence. With the stroke of a journalist’s pen, the African continent and her descendants are pejoratively reduced to nothing: a bastion of disease, savagery, animism, pestilence, war, famine, despotism, primitivism, poverty, and ubiquitous images of children, flies in their food and faces, their stomachs distended. These “universal” but powerfully subliminal message units, beamed at global television audiences, connote something not good, perennially problematic unworthiness, deplorability, black, foreboding, loathing, sub humanity.

For example, Scott in his journal argued that the Western criticism has become taken for granted to the point of becoming a fairytale. A Kenyan author, Wainaina (2005) published an essay turning into disdain the way Western authors from journalists to novelists write about and portrayed Africa. He propounded that contemporary Western media representations of Africa are still shaped by colonial ideas, exoticism, feeling of white superiority and, ultimately, racism but this author, Professor Josephus Moses Gray in some illustrations disagreed.

Although in the field of media and journalism studies, there is a significant body of useful texts that has supported Wainaina’s analysis, from the early 1990s to today multipolar world. There is a persistent criticism of Western media coverage of the African continent in media and communication studies. Broadly, this critique has been concerned with the perceived failure of Western media to offer a composed depiction of Africa.

The media has played several roles in the society, including serving as a means to inform and distribute news, and also convey precise and needed information regarding politics, economic, social, health, cultural and progress. The media is very important in the development of a state and its people while radio served in several critical capacities especially in shifting the views and opinions of the population and the central government for the greater good of the largest society.

Media plays several roles in society, including serving as a means to distribute news and convey information regarding politics and education and robustly defending and promoting the platform of  the display of higher moral content and the dispensation of justice to all without fear or favor completely rooted in the rule of law.

One will agree that the Western media publications have shown that the media have generally failed to fulfill their ethical requirement to minimize harm—in that case, harm to global representation of Africa; there are several greater things taking place on the continent but the developed media pays keen attention to the opposite and go for the negative stuffs, presenting Africa as “darkness”.

Nevertheless, it is not clear if the African continent constitutes the most neglected region in foreign news; research by the Oxford Internet Institute found that between January 1979 and August 2013, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 13.4 million of stories as opposed to 60 million for North America and Europe combined, 32.6 million for Asia and 23.5 million for the Middle East and North Africa. The Oxford Internet Institute finding further goes on that Latin America and the Caribbean accounted for only 6.5 million, and Oceania 3.4 million.

Against the backdrop, if one were to add the countries from North Africa to those of sub-Saharan Africa, the continent would register nearly as many events as the Middle East and Asia. De Beer (2010) explores that the United Kingdom, United States of America, Europe television news coverage over the year 2008. He found that while Africa (10.8 percent) received significantly less coverage than Asia (25.5 percent), the Middle East (22 percent) and North America (21.4 percent), it nonetheless “received substantially more coverage than South America (1.9 percent).

Domatob (1994) found that crisis and disaster stories dominated the coverage of US news magazines, and Brookes (1995) explained that “civil war, civil conflict, aid, human rights, politics, crime and disaster account for 92% and 96% of all news about Africa in the American and British media. In the United States, the media emerged as a dominant social figure in the 19th century and since then; media has served the purpose of providing members of the public with real-time information on issues and news surrounding local, national and international events. The role of media is complex and varied. Sometimes, media is viewed positively by society, although it is considered overbearing and obnoxious other times.

The relationship between the government and the press differs in the various countries and regions since geography and environment have a greater impact on the practice of journalism. In some geographical locations, freedom of the press is unrestricted while for other places especially in autocratic nation freedom of the media is national. Therefore, to better comprehend the dynamics and practice of journalism in Africa; it is essential to make a critical comparison with the media that exists in other parts of the world. For instance, let use Liberia as a case study to set the basis of the assessment.

Interestingly, press freedom on the continent from the colonial period to the present has its own contradiction primarily due the African 55 countries diverse cultural, ethnicities, political and geography.  Also the diverse collection of political and models inherited from European colonial regimes and traditional African system is having a greater effect on the practice of journalism in contemporary Africa, with the continent huge illiteracy and poverty demography playing a vast part.

The media in some countries, especially the ones in which the leaders feared the media, for example, will not exercise the same influence as those in democratic societies, the ones in which the media enjoys its responsibilities and function as a free press. Even among similar types of government, other factors, such as technology, the target audience and the message, may influence the extent of media impact on the society.  It tells about the people who are geographically divided. The real influence of the media in national development will depend on the media themselves, the societies in which they operate, and the audience they reach.

There have been serious concerns of how the Western media covered or treat stories from the African continent, with media commentators and political pundits describing the coverage of developments from Africa by Western media focusing on “negative “news. Although the issue of “bad news” cut across the world from one continent to another and from a region to other but the Western media coverage of the continent is negative while on some occasions “fake news” about the continent regularly finds it way into the Western media. This is not only limited to Africa but also the Middle East, Asia and South America.

The continent media specialists have persistently criticized Western media for portraying Africa negatively globally but a Western media professor, Scott argued in this journal that this criticism has become taken for granted to the point of becoming a fairytale.  A respectable Kenyan author Wainaina (2005) printed an essay turning into derision the way Western writers, journalists and poets portrait and tells Africa’s stories globally.

Although it has not been substantiated, one can definitely conclude that the existing Western media representations of Africa are still shaped by exoticism, colonial ideas, and, eventually, prejudice and white superiority, while another argument blamed Africa’s bad leaderships, greed, corrupt practices and abused of public resources, bad governance and unworkable policies significant contribute to the negative media coverage of the continent by Western media and authors. However, there is a significant body of literature that has supported the two analyses and arguments. There is a long-standing critique of Western media coverage of Africa as the assessment has been concerned with the perceived flop of Western media to offer an equilibrium illustration of Africa.

It is clear fact that Africa constitutes the poorest continent in the world and is mostly negative portrait and neglected by Western media. Research by the Oxford Internet Institute found that between January 2000 and August 2017, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 9 million of stories as opposed to 67 million for North America and37 million for Europe, 14 million for Asia and 7 million for the Middle East. Latin America and the Caribbean accounted for only 7 million and Oceania 3 million.

De Beer (2010) explains that the tone of news reports about Africa in Western media is 54 percent negative and about 45 and 22 percent negative for Meddle East and Asia but that it is even more so for Central America which carried 195 percent negative. This narrative is not surprising because the idea of news more generally is crossed by a negativity bias since more often “negative” news or “bad” news gain publicity then the others; this has boost the widespread claims by several political pundits and media experts.

Whether Africa is the most neglected geographical area in Western media or not, the existing literature shows that it has consistently been one of the most neglected. exploring the British, American, French and German’s television news coverage for the year 2008, De Beer (2010) made a startling revelation that Africa received 10 percent media coverage far below progress on the continent while Asia got 20 percent coverage despite the much talk about China growth, Asian Tiger and Japan miracle, and 22 percent provided for Middle East despite of the region vicious circle conflict and insurgencies.

For instance, North America which is the United States of America in 2008 received 38 percent news coverage more than any region, followed by Europe 22 percent and South America 6 percent while the balance percent goes for other region and continents. Unfortunate, 10 percent of the western media coverage of Africa, 9.5 percent focused on “negative “news either war, corruption and protest. However, stories that received widen coverage of US news media include political, crimes, immigration, disaster  and rape while news on Africa is dominated by war, social unrest and political instability, demonstrations and riots, human rights violations, politics and corruption and failed policy.

Africa is predominantly portrayed negatively” by the Western media on the basis that 85 percent of the stories and articles link the continent to bad governance, insurgencies, rampant corruption  and abuse of resources, undemocratic and unworkable policies, adjacent poverty, suffering, hunger, crimes, briberies, migration, war, protest and failed leaderships. Whereas the balance 15 percent of the Western media coverage of the continent directed to football-African professional footballers whose are performing abroad, democracy, natural resources, and construction. Media experts suggest that the Western media inscriptions have been perceived closely methodically in persistent depicting the continent negatively; this inscription continues to be collaborated by the media on the continent as studies have shown.

Brookes (1995) discloses that Western media portray the African continent dark and homogenous block with social unrest, political instability, wave of demonstrations and riots, violence, helplessness, human rights abuses and lack of democracy as its main characteristics.   According to studies, predominantly news in the African press has been “negative” or unsubstantial apparently due to huge illiteracy on the continent where the population, majority go for bad news then soft news, which help to sale newspapers and increase audiences and views for radio and television stations.

Interestingly, press freedom on the continent from the colonial period to the present has its own contradiction primarily due the African 55 countries diverse cultural, ethnicities, political and geography.  Also the diverse collection of political and models inherited from European colonial regimes and traditional African system is having a greater effect on the practice of journalism in contemporary Africa, with the continent huge illiteracy and poverty demography playing a vast part.

The media in some countries, especially the ones in which the leaders feared the media, for example, will not exercise the same influence as those in democratic societies, the ones in which the media enjoys its responsibilities and function as a free press. Even among similar types of government, other factors, such as technology, the target audience and the message, may influence the extent of media impact on the society.  It tells about the people who are geographically divided. The real influence of the media in national development will depend on the media themselves, the societies in which they operate, and the audience they reach.

Unlike several other Africa countries, the media in South Africa especially the print and television in the South African society are very strong, courageous and respected. The media in South Africa serves as the gatekeeper and perform the watchdog role, especially in political transparency and fight against bad governance, including corruption, abuse of state wealth, human rights and constitutional violations and autocratic.

In Western Europe, for example,  print, radio and television  are feared by the governments and institutions due to their critical reportage and persistent in the pursue of stories to the dead end. In the region, the media performs the watchdog role, especially in political transparency, economic accountability and fight against bad governance, including corruption, abuse of state wealth, human rights and constitutional violations, dictatorial and autocratic governance by public officials and suppression of civil liberties.

For Asia and the Arab World where democracy is conditionally practiced, the media is mostly operated by the central administration, worthy class and families, and bureaucrats. The media in these regions especially China and Middle East lacks independence and “objectivity” due to constant interferences by the governments or corrupt political bureaucrats. The same goes to the media in the Russian Federation where the partly served as spokesman for the ruling regime and avoid criticism of certain key elements of the government; it is also wildly practice and visible in China and North Korea-they are the mouth-piece of government.

For the Nordic Countries, South and Central America, Caribbean and Austrian, the print media are not too influential as compared to television and electronic media which are most dominant media. The media in these regions plays an important role in the day-to-day activities of the ordinary people since it serve as a source for information and hold their officials feet to the fire.

Besides South Africa, the print media in other African countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Senegal are vigilant in their reportage and set the public agenda and act as the gatekeeper of public issues. The internet is developing fast, mainly in urban areas, but its growth is slowed considerably by the very low level of development of telephone systems; also few media institutions in Liberia engaged into instigative journalism and report on corruption in public sector but the lack of measures by the central administration to institute action against corrupt bureaucrats helped to weaken these media institution efforts.

According to several publications obtained and analyzed reference to the evolution of journalism has shown that the print (newspaper ) started in 1605 when the first printed weekly Relation Aller edited by Johann Carolus appeared on the newsstand. Conboy (2004) discloses that radio was invested by an Italian investor Guglielmo Marconi in 1895, while the spread of broadcasting emerged in the 1920.

In his publication: Journalism: A Critical History”, Martin Conboy explained that in 1690, Benjamin Harris published his instructive Publick Occurrences the first print (Newspaper)  to appear on the newsstand in the United States of American. However, only one edition was published before the print was suppressed by the government while the Hartford Courant is the oldest print in the United States.

According to Daly (2012), the Oxford Gazette which appeared on the newsstand for the first time in 1665 was the first true newspaper in Britain. In Canada, the first newspaper to appear on the newsstand is Halifax Gazette published in 1752 by John Bushell. In the book titled: A narrative History of Journalism”, Christopher Daly revealed that Vedomosti was the first newspaper printed in Russia; first edition appeared on the newsstand in 1703.

According to other publications, corroborated by Conboy and Daly, the Cape Town Gazette was the first newspaper to be published on the African continent; it was edited by two slave dealers-Alexander Walker and John Robertson.  The first Chinese newspaper is called Shangai Wen Hui Bao. It was first published 1939; journalism in the People’s Republic of China is restricted and under the watchful “eyes” of the central governments, free speech and social media usages are also restricted in China.

According to authenticated publications, the five primary 24-Hour Major News Agencies (Wire Service) are Associated Press (AP) , Agence France-Presse (AFP),  Reuters, information Telegraph Agency of Russia ITAR-TASS and Athens News Agency-Macedonian Press Agency ANA. While the influential newspapers in the world are The New York Times, Washington Post: Wall Street Journal and L’ Monde in Paris and the People’s Daily in Beijing.

While the world’s first 24-hour leading television news networks include The RTL Group, founded on 11 May 1920 in Europe. It reaches some 120 million European TV viewers and radio listeners a day through its 24 commercial “free TV” channels and 17 radio stations in 35 countries; followed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) formed on 18 October 1922 by a group of leading wireless manufacturers including Marconi.

The list also include the Sky Television formed in November 1990 by the equal merger of Sky Television and British Satellite Broadcasting, it broadcasting has become one of the largest providers of entertainment formats in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island; Cable News Network (CNN) founded in 1980 by Robert Ted . Accordingly, CNN is seen in more than 89 million American households and over 160 million homes internationally. The Fox News Channel formed October 7, 1996 is viewed in more than 17 million homes in the United States of America and 120 million homes internationally; this network is reportedly wildly viewed in the US than CNN; Al-Jazeera News Channel is wildly viewed in the Arab world.

General Overviews:  The Contemporary Liberian Media and its Evolution

The media in some countries, especially the ones in which the leaders feared the media, for example, will not exercise the same influence as those in opened societies, the ones in which the media exercise its responsibilities and function as a free press.  This article is also gives the vivid picture of the history, development, increasing complexity and successes of the Liberian media, and in other instances discusses the globe media. There is also the belief that the media hold a large amount of power and wield it in an effective manner to direct and manipulate the development of the society. The media does this in several different manners but faces several.

I have no doubts that this instructive piece also weighed into the understanding of some complexity of the local media, and on the other hand, to what extend had the media helped to influence the society since it organ; taking an in-depth look of the evolution of both print and electronic media in Liberia and the malice the media in general suffered under successive regimes from President Charles D.B. King’s administration to current.  It concludes with the contributions, role and review of media organizations and institutions in the country. This article  tells of the way the journalists saw and lived through the bitter, bloody and most destructive period in the entire history of this nation where all the unwholesome and gruesome acts of barbarism characterized by rough, tough and brutalities journalists encountered directly or indirectly.

The Political history of Liberia since its independence in July 26, 1847, and widely acclaimed to be the first independent Republic in Africa, has been pre-occupied with a class system dominated by the settlers to the complete exclusion of the aborigines. This pattern of government, loaded with all the features of political injustice, social isolation, economic deprivation and denial of international exposure, all meted out against the aborigines for decades, soon developed into some uncomfortable recipes for peace, unity, stability and harmonious co-existence. This sad development gradually transformed into a state of dissatisfaction with the full potential of engaging chaos and lawlessness in the society.

Challenges Facing Liberian Media

Another difficulty that the media faces in reporting on issues that bordered on international affairs is the challenge of comprehending these issues, which present different circumstances, and contexts with which Liberian journalists have little familiarity. The ideal example of this international complexity is media coverage of Liberian foreign policy and international relations, because the media did not have a sufficient understanding of the culture and the dynamics of the international system, they are unable to critically analyze and discuss same in details-most of the stories in the local papers are political, except for few institutions that diverse their news coverage.

The task of relaying collective effect in combating falls largely to the independent media in the country but hampered by the lack of needed financial resources and advertisements, inadequate support and persistent delay to settle payment for advertisements, have propounded  the multiple problems the media are facing. The situation is directly responsible for the unprecedented unethical problem facing the local media, although lack of dedication and professionalism also plays a major part in this situation.

The financial constraint of the media has a significant toll on the journalists’ ability to engage into investigative journalism even though the few are doing so; investigative journalism is time and energy consuming, financially expensive and requires patience. As a result, large number of the local media generally lacks the capacity to expose, report in-depth on the systematic practice of corruption, mismanagement of public resources and violations of public trust by political bureaucrats and foreign capitalists.

The failures of the Liberian media are not intentional, but due to several obstacles which stand in the ways of the media to accurately and adequately perform its national and patriotic duty.  Let us not forget that journalists are humans with responsibility to support the welfare of their families and meet their daily needs but the unprecedented financial constraint profoundly has a crippling effect on journalism in the country. Some local media institutions are compared to engage into “public relation” and pay deaf-ear to corruption in the public sector for fear of being listed detractor of government.

Some journalists and media institutions that try to report on corruption or societal ills on some occasions do that with less attention—meaning they do not report comprehensively for fears of being denied advertisements by elements within the regime since 80 percent of advertisements come from government’s agencies, ministries and corporations. While some journalists depend on the token of political bureaucrats and foreign capitalists to meet their needs since the monthly income are very low.  The lack of monthly income for journalists is directly resulting to brain drain and affecting the independent media; in recent time there has been huge exodus from the independent media to take up positions in government or private organizations.

According to studies, the monthly income (salary) for a highest paid local journalist working with an independent institution is about US$350 while a monthly salary for less paid journalist falls between US$75 to US$30.For others journalists, their monthly income is based on the token received from the news-makers most of whom are political bureaucrats and foreign capitalists.  The media institutions in the country do not generate needed revenues, they are operating at a total financial lost; they are choked with huge debts resulting from payment for high printing cost and the running of private generators excluding salaries; Liberia has a very low reading public as a result the newspapers on the newsstand generate no sale nor profits; only newspapers are engaged into “yellow” journalism are the ones that benefit big sale since the public goes for negative stories.

The media itself is battling allegations of corruption, bribe, extortions and biasness, as some folks in the journalism profession in the country are embarrassment to the professional ones. Therefore, public officials have taken advantage of the shortfall of the local media into their interest. Despite the unprecedented financial situation, the independent journalists continue to play their tradition role to keep their public informed and breaking major stories

The 1986 Constitution of Liberia, Article 15 provides that “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution. The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. It includes religious freedom and by extension freedom of speech, of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right to libraries to make such knowledge available.”

In Liberia, the history of journalism dated far back from the era of pioneers in 1822 when the first batch of colonizers arrived in Liberia. But other historical facts have shown that before the arrival of the settlers, the indigenous practiced their own forms of traditional communications- the use of town criers, drums, svuvuzela, signs, the Dugkpa  and waving of handkerchief.

In his publication, Joe S. Kappia (2010) quoting Kenneth Y. Best disclosed that the settlements expanded and the churches established newspapers, the first being the Liberia Herald, which appeared on February 16, 1826. The print was started “by Charles L. Force, an African-American printer and journalist, using a hand-operated printing machine to keep the paper on the newsstand and cost him about US$600 to purchase the printing press.

Evolution of the Liberian Media

The first independent newspaper to appear on the newsstand in the country was the “The Liberian Herald”, edited by a American Negro printer Charles L. Force. The Liberian Herald was a four-page monthly publication but the paper disappeared from the newsstand few months after its first edition due to the death of Mr. Force.

Few years later, the Liberian Herald reappeared on the newsstand but with revived changes under a new editor, John B. Russwurm from the American State of Maine. He was the first Negro graduate of the Bowdon College in the United States of America. He instituted some improvement on the paper including changing its format the size and increased the pages. After successful running the paper, sold for two dollars annually, Mr. Russwurm, in 1836 left for Maryland where he was appointed as governor of the southeastern county of Maryland.

According to Cassell, (1970) the Herald appeared on the market a year after the African Repository and Colonial Journal started publication by Ralph Randolph Gurley, the then Secretary of the colony. The Liberia Herald continued publication for several decades before it disappearance from today Liberia’s media landscape. The Herald, just like other colonial prints provided information on “new groups’ arrival, ship arrivals, market conditions and other data about the environment.

The paper also provided interesting articles on the geography, natural history, manners and customs of Africa, including criticisms about the administration of the colony by the ACS. It was four-page bi-weekly. Liebenow (1987) in his journal titled:  The Quest for Democracy, the colonial newspapers provided information on “new groups’ arrival, ship arrivals, market conditions and other data about the Liberian environment general overview from political to socio-economic.

The departure of Russwurm did not affect the Liberian Herald publication with the arrival into the institution by Hilary Teage, an editor who effectively ran the paper for about eleven years until 1847 when health compelled him to relinquish the editor position to Hilary R. W. Johnson. Under the Johnson’s management, the Liberian Herald was reshaped to meet the aspirations of its readers and went into reproduction.

Eight years following his stalwart and distinctive editorial policy, something which rejuvenates the interests of the editorial staffers, Hilary Teage decided to take up a new appointment as private secretary to Stephen Allen Benson, the second president of Liberia. However, he was replaced by a West Indies academician, educators and a well learned scholar with authority over the Latin, Greek, Arabic and English poetry and rhyme, Edward Wilmot Blyden.

Blyden, highly regarded as the most educated Liberian kept the Liberian Herald on the newsstand until 1862. Blyden just like the others, also left the paper for a new duty at the University of Liberia, formally the Liberian College, where in served as a professor and president. He was a naturalized Liberian from the West Indies. The departure of Blyden forced the Liberian Herald to cease operations and extricated from the newsstand.

Following the disappearing of the Liberian Herald, came the African Nationalist, with Frederick Taylor as its first editor. The paper existed for a very short period of time on the newsstand, due to former President William V.S. Tubman despotisms against Frederick Taylor, who was slapped with sedition and held in contempt by the Legislature in 1939. He was confined but after his release, he courageously printed another detailed investigative piece on Tubman’s totalitarianism. The publication led the African Nationalist’s Taylor in detention for 15 years, forcing the paper to collapse.

The collapsed of the African Nationalist newspaper gave room for the formation of the Friend newspaper under the dynamic leadership of Mr. Samuel Richards, a producer of a blazer articles against the True Whig Party’s absolutism approached towards opposition politicians. The paper’s equipment and other essential tools were badly damaged by unknown persons who stormed the offices of the paper during the late night hour. The Friend newspaper did not survived the night blitzkrieg by the than ruling True Whig party led-government, forcing the media house to cease operation.

Several others independent newspapers including Liberian Star, The Amulet, and Africa’s Luminary have short history due to the papers little   stayed on the newsstand. The paper suffered several short-comings, with major lack of income and support. Rev. John Seys edited The Luminary newspaper while The Sentinel was founded by Edward J. Roye in August 1854,  was the longest survivor of the three papers but its disappeared from the newsstand when Roye, the fifteenth president of Liberia decided to pursue another career.

Dozens of other newspapers came into existence immediately following the failed of The Sentinel and The Advocate, but listed shortly due to suppressive attacks on these papers by the Tubman’s administration since these paper prints were mainly highly critical about corrupt officials and the regime.

These papers were mostly run by people were against Tubman style of governance but the regime in returned decided to engage into several well organized campaigns, aimed to scare away editors of these papers. The Tubman’s regime succeeded by arresting and sentencing the papers’ editors.  One of the casualties of the Tubman’s regime attacks on journalists and political opponents was a trained journalist, decent lawyer and a veteran politician, from the Kru tribe, Mr. Tuan Wreh. He founded the Independent Newspaper which was later banned by the government while Wreh was sentenced for critiquing the legislature in his several well-articulated editorials and articles.

In order to silence him, he was banned from operating a media institution in the country. While serving his sentences, Mr. Tuan Wreh was subjected to inhumane treatment, humiliated and threatened with death. On several occasions, he was stark-naked and paraded through the principal streets of Monrovia with bucket filled of urines.  Besides Tuan Wreh, several other journalists were also severely subjected to cruel treatments and assaults by the Tubman’s regime.

In his latest book, : My Fight for Press Freedom, Kenneth Y. Best (1991) provides an insight into the dynamics of the Liberian press, explored that when the True Whig Party came to power in 1869, it was never defeated in an election until its overthrow in 1980. While Patrick Burrowes in his publication: Power and Press Freedom in Liberia,  revealed that What made the True Whig Party to stay in power for more than hundred years was government restriction on public dissent and the curtailment of the freedom of speech and of the press, contrary to the provisions of the 1847 Constitution, suspended on April 12, 1980.

It provides in Article I, Section 15 that: The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a state; it ought not, therefore, to be restrained in this Republic. The printing press shall be free to every person, who undertakes to examine the proceedings of the Legislature or any branch of government; and no law shall ever be made to restrain the rights thereof. The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the invaluable rights of man, and every citizen may freely speak, write and print, on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.

Just like Tubman, President Charles D.B. King inflected rusticity sty against the Liberian media but was challenged by one critic who remained a thorn in the flesh of the Tue Whig Party leadership and the military government was that “inveterate” Pamphleteer, Albert Porte (1906-1986) who from time to time sold his pamphlets on the sidewalks of the streets, attacking issues of current significance. After the passage of the 1924 law, Albert Porte clashed with King in 1929 for using government funds to build himself a private mansion.

There was some degree of press freedom under this provision until the administration of President Charles D.B. King (born in Freetown, Sierra Leone)  when the National Legislature passed an anti-press freedom law on February 8, 1924 making it a criminal libel. Law makes it illegal to criticize the President of Liberia and “even if the publication were true, it could not hold water in court and therefore, the individual or publication was still guilty of libel.

”It can be recalled that the enactment of this law coincided with King’s exportation of native Liberians as slaves to work on plantations on the islands of Fernando Po. The investigation of this scandal by the League of Nations forced King out of office since slavery had earlier been abolished in the settlements.

Any person to malicious make, publish, expose for sale or to public view any writing, printing, engraving, drawing or effigy charging the President of Liberia or the Diplomatic Representatives of any foreign government with the commission of any act which, if true, would warrant a criminal prosecution against such official, with the intent in so doing to defame, degrade, revile or expose to public hatred, ridicule and contempt for any of the aforesaid officials, or to disturb the peace and friendship between any foreign government and our own.

This law, which is in contravention of the 1847 Constitution, provides a fine of $300-$1000 and imprisonment ranging from six months to two years for any person convicted of said offense. Best adds that this law makes it illegal to criticize the President of Liberia and “even if the publication were true, it could not hold water in court and therefore, the individual or publication was still guilty of libel.”

When William R. Tolbert, Jr. became president in 1971, he temporarily lifted the tight hand of censorship on the press and some private newspapers began appearing on the newsstand. A proliferation of newspapers sprang up overnight because of Tolbert’s relaxed attitude towards the press. Newspapers published in Liberia today include the “Bentol Times,” “Sunday Express,” the “Scope,” “Liberian Inaugural,” and “New Liberian”. Liberian Age and The University Spokesman, Sunday People, The Liberian Inaugural, Sunday Express, We, Weekend News, The Trumpet and a variety of other publications.

The major source of news supply to the above newspapers comes from the Liberian Information Service handouts, presidential press conferences, the US Information Services, some foreign news agencies, and a few reporters. Liberian Age and The University Spokesman (published by the student government at the University of Liberia) began publishing critical articles and pointed editorials on the conduct of government officials in light of the then prevailing press freedom in the country.

This period also witnessed the birth of news magazines such as The Revelation, The Revolution and Gweh Feh Kpei, published by pressure groups such as the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) and the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA). The only leading news magazine was the Liberian Outlook.

No sooner had this press freedom gone down with the crowd than the ugly hands of censorship began clamping down on free speech and free press. In 1975 the Government of Liberia fined the editors of The Revelation, a university student magazine, $17,000 for publishing “a cartoon of the blind goddess of justice (a statue in the yard of the Supreme Court) peeping at the scales” (p. 6). The four students were jailed; their parents paid the fines, but when they were released, the government denied them a business license to resume publication.

The press freedom took a nose-dive during the administration of President William V.S. Tubman (1944-1971) when the “strict sedition, libel and slander laws that protected government officials from most forms of criticism constrained the independent press  as editors and reporters were jailed and or banned from time to time. Tuan Wreh (Read his book: The Love Of Liberty) was jailed by the Tubman Administration and made to parade through the principals’ streets of Monrovia with fusils on his head. In 1945 the Tubman government jailed one journalist for 15 years, the longest term for any in our country.

The Tubman’s regime succeeded by arresting and sentencing the papers’ editors.  One of the casualties of the Tubman’s regime attacks on journalists and political opponents was a trained journalist, decent lawyer and a veteran politician, from the Kru tribe, Mr. Tuan Wreh. He founded the Independent Newspaper which was later banned by the government while Wreh was sentenced for critiquing the legislature in his several well-articulated editorials and articles.

In order to silence him, he was banned from operating a media institution in the country. While serving his sentences, Mr. Tuan Wreh was subjected to inhumane treatment, humiliated and threatened with death. On several occasions, he was stark-naked and paraded through the principal streets of Monrovia with bucket filled of urines.  Besides Tuan Wreh, several other journalists were also severely subjected to cruel treatments and assaults by the Tubman’s regime.

According to several publications, in 1955 the same government banned a newspaper, arrested and imprisoned its two editors and eventually deported the editor-in-chief who was a foreigner. There was, however, a steady growth of government-owned newspapers.  The “Listener,” “Liberian Age,” and “Independent” were the country’s major newspapers until 1971 when President William R. Tolbert assumed office.

The Liberian Age (1946-1964) was founded in 1946, first as a bi-weekly and later twice a week by the government. In 1950, the Daily Listener (shutdown in 1977) was founded as a private newspaper, but government decided to finance it, like the Liberian Age. Other private newspapers such as The Friend (1954), The Independent (1955) and the African Nationalist were quickly choked to death by Tubman for criticizing government’s policies, programs and the behavior of public officials.  The Liberian Star (1964-1980) succeeded the Liberian Age, and this was later supplemented by the Bentol Times.  After the 1980 coup, the Liberian Star became The New Liberian, and a short-lived supplement, The Redeemer, both being publications of the Ministry of Information as the mouthpiece of the revolution.

Studies show how broadcasting began 1926  through the Firestone amateur radio in Liberia, although Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) is recorded as the first to broadcast in the country since its foundation in the 1950s, as one of the first four true independent radio stations in Africa. Radio was the most promising medium in the 1950s. Requiring no literacy on the part of Liberia’s largely illiterate population, radio capitalized on the familiarity of verbal communication.

A variety of local languages could be used but in a contemporary Liberia, English language is 99 percent used. Following the emergent of broadcast in Liberia came Cinema in the 1960s but today cinema is less populace due to the invention of internet, video clubs and home television which have replaced cinema as well as smartphones.

According to an analysis of the local media, Television came to Liberia in 1964 when the Liberian Government contracted with Radio Rediffusion Limited of London to set up its first television station but television has not fared too well in the country due to the cost associated with the use of television especial electricity and subscription fees.

Liberian journalists and media institutions over the years since the evolution of political regime in the country, stating from 1847 to current, media has been subjected to arbitrary detention, cruel and inhumane treatments; closure of media houses, denial of permit to operate  and degrading treatments by various Governments of Liberia.  For instance, the venerable Pamphleteer Albert Porte and the many times he went to jail for writing and speaking the truth and many other journalists who were jailed, tortured, murdered as well as the many media institutions that were burned, shutdown or looted for reporting the truth and do nothing to reverse the gains that have been made in the profession.

According to the UK Guardian (2013), Rodney Sieh of the FrontPage African Newspaper explained that: “If Liberian journalists are sometimes accused of not living up to the ideals of Albert Porte, more often they are accused of being Albert Porte poseurs”. He continued; Porte’s status as the conscience of pre-civil war Liberia is rarely disputed. The story goes; he always kept a toothbrush around when reporting, in anticipation of a night in jail. Today he’s cited by Liberian journalists as a model to emulate, the grandfather of modern Liberian journalism both figuratively and literally. Kenneth Best and Rodney Sieh, rival publishers of Liberia’s two most prominent newspapers are both blood descendants of Porte. Sieh is a respectable Liberian journalism and recent published an instructive book on the landscape of journalism in Liberia; the book is a master piece that demands reading by all.

In his historical connection of family ties, Sieh said beyond family and profession, Sieh shares with Porte the great ability to get under the skin of Liberia’s elite. “He thinks he’s Albert Porte,” people would say about Sieh. “But he’s no Porte.” In fact there are some telling parallels between Sieh and Porte. In 1975 Porte wrote a critique of the finance minister, Stephen Tolbert–who happened to be the brother of Tubman’s successor, William Tolbert–accusing him of using political office to advance his considerable business interests. The minister sued Porte for libel and was awarded damages of $250,000 US. Stephen Tolbert died in a plane crash soon after and the case was closed.

Porte indomitable role for free press and social justice also won him international attention.  A New York Times article from 1973, “Freedom of Expression Taking Hold in Liberia”, describes Porte’s lonely crusade under the True Whig regime as coming to an end. The article profiles a new generation of journalists and critics testing the opening of free speech in Liberia at the time. A young assistant to the minister of finance is described as mounting one of the most critical public speeches yet.

The media profession in the country has produced some of the professional and best journalists although there are also unprofessional ones, just like any other profession where there are good and bad ones. But for the purpose of history, I will discuss those whose works have positively impacted the Liberian society.

Liberian journalists such as Jonathan Reffell, Olivia Shannon, Tommy Rynes, G. Henry Andrews, Bill Frank Enoanyi, Jesse Karnley, Martin Brown, Wilmot Stubblefield, Kenneth Best, Chauncey Cooper, J. Reilly Gunpa, just to name a few. Liberian journalists who started their careers, before many of the journalists here this evening were born; excelled here and abroad based on hard work and love of their profession. Also Ted Roberts, Sherman Brown and James Butty for example who started their radio journalism in Liberia, later worked for VOA.

The situation in contemporary Liberia has changed, State radio LBS services are mostly national in both reach and purpose, while dozen of new independent FM radio stations are mostly based in cities, and their coverage tends to be confined to the urban areas in Montserrado. However, the establishments of several Community radio stations have the purpose to broadcast in their areas of location-the rural areas mainly in the vernaculars.  These are all FM stations, whereas the urban local stations and state radio are FM; but radio ELWA also runs on a mix of transmission methods FM, AM medium wave, and shortwave.

The third group, comprised community radio stations, is probably the fastest growing sector, today there are over 150 across the 15 political sub-division of Liberia, with about 50 in Monrovia and its surrounding. Unfortunate, about 99 percent of these FM stations are under the sponsorship of politician, corrupt bureaucrats, political party, region institutions and official of government or business tycoon.

As a result, independence usually comes into question by the public although these stations tried to display neutrality; generally and on the positive side, they helped to complement the state’s effort to crate job and break the information dissemination gap, with the major outcry by the public center on lack of professionalism and efficiency.

These are often staffed by volunteer helpers and are run at very low cost. The ones based in the capital-Monrovia generally broadcast in English with no attention given the indigenous languages or dialects especially to reach the illiterate population; this is where the community stations filled the vacuum. Countless numbers are supported by outside some non-government organizations.

During the head of the Liberian dark chapter, several subsidized factional radio stations and print institutions emerged as the result of political and ethnic or other conflicts; with a key example was the Patriot newspaper and Radio Liberia which were based in Gbarnga, Bong County the headquarters of ex-president Charles Taylor rebellion.

Later, the station was replaced by KISS FM after Mr. Taylor won the 1997 “disputed” and questionable election conducted on the threats of war, he obtained 75 percent of the valid votes.   During ex-president Taylor’s, KISS FM indirectly replaced state radio LBS, journalists in the employ was the station were the high paid while those that were in the employment of LBS took pay once or twice a year.

The same goes for Monrovia where the both radio stations and print media were under the protection and patronage of West African monitoring Force (ECOMOG) and former INPFL; there media stations operated from the famous Coast Guard based on Bushrod Island while the Scorpion newspaper operated from the ex-rebel group notorious based.

However, the situation have improved for the better but media institutions in the country do not generate needed revenues, they are operating at losses; they are choked with huge debts resulting from payment for printing cost, rental fees, working essential equipment, purchasing of fuel and gasoline, running of private generators and to pay salaries.

Today, the journalism profession can also boost of professional journalists most of whom are positively contributing  to the highest level of journalism in the country especially in the areas of investigative journalism and effort to challenge the elites, corrupt political bureaucrats and foreign capitalists; naming these journalists will take a numerous exercise especially considering space.

Brief History of PUL 

The daunting task for press freedom leads to the establishment of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL); was established during the administration of ex-president Tubman when a Stanton Peabody was arrested and detained for an editorial under the caption: Never Again. The Tubman’s regime felt unhappy over the editorial and detained the journalists, thus leads to the formation of PUL in 1964, with Henry B. Cole as it first president while the second, third and fourth presidents were Tuan Wreh, James L. Marshall Denies.

The Union’s past leaderships include John Scotland, Peter Naigo, T. Nelson William who also served as the first Chairman of the School of Mass Communication of the University of Liberia; Kenneth Y. Best, C. William Allen, Lamine Warity also served as the Second School of Mass Communication of the University of Liberia;  Isaac bentu and Sam Van Kesseley.

The PUL’s presidential lists include J. Siaka konneh, G. Abraham Massaley, M. Bedor Wla Freeman, Suah Deddeh, James G. Kaizolu, Terrence Saysay, Elizabeth Hoff, George Barpeen, Peter Quoquo, Kamara A. Kamara and Charles Cuffey (current).

The Similarities and Disparities: The Liberian Press and Global Media

  Globally, the media is considered as “mirror” of the modern society, in unarguably it is the media which shapes our lives and served as a conduit between the government and the people. The role of media is complex and varied, sometimes, media is viewed positively by society, although it is considered overbearing and obnoxious other times. Despite of geographical location, play several vital role such as the media set the public agenda and act as the gatekeeper of public issues and perform the watchdog role, especially in political situation and fight against bad governance, including corruption, abuse of state wealth, human rights and constitutional violations, and autocratic activities of some corrupt public bureaucrats.

If one was to better illustrate the dynamic relationship between the media and Liberia society, it would expedient to examine some case studies if the media have had an impact on a nation’s socio-economic, political and industrialization.  There is also the belief that the media holds a large amount of power and influence to effect change in a particular society and echoes the voice of the voiceless. The media similarly wields it in an effective manner to ensure that rights are respected, workable policies and respect for the rule of law and just are sustained, while at the same time direct and manipulate the development of Liberian. The media performs this in several different manners.

Having discussed Western media coverage of Africa in general, let me turn my attention to Liberia where the major challenge facing journalism nowadays is that of surviving the unfavorable media policy still on the book and persistent attacks against journalists directly or indirectly by individuals with a strong connections to successive governments which rode on the leverage of the media to get to state power through democratic or indisputable elections.

In the case of African, the larger numbers of the media lacks dominance, influence and persuasion, however, there are some similarities and disparities to that of the American media; to a large extent there is wild differences due to geographical location and the advancement of the society. For example, major happenings in America are given wild publicity and take banner headlines in the Liberian press, while the American press the situation is the opposite. One of the greater tough pillars of the American media is investigative journalism and the ability to “follow-up” stories to the end; journalists are well paid and supported.

Although media nowadays enjoys smooth media landscape, emerging as a dominant social figure; it enables dialogue to take place and bridged the gap between government and the citizenry; it would be unimaginable for any Liberian security officers or officials operating under the orders of their bosses to lawlessly close down or burn newspaper offices or radio station, as was the case under previous regimes.  while 2016 was a throbbing year for Liberia media in general, the year saw the unprecedented death toll of journalists in the country in a single year, as the casualties of journalists in the hand of death as a result of the Ebola virus cannot be matched with other years.

Unlike the United States and other developed countries, in Liberia, media institutions which constantly exposed the central administration’s transgressions and constitution violations, makes corruption and other abuses a primary target; are often accused of detractor of the government and branded enemy of the regime.  For other media institutions sometime do that with less attention for fears of being denied advertisements by public officials, since eighty-five percent of the advertisements in the print and aired on radio or television come from government’s agencies, ministries and corporations.

Another sad scenario to robs the media of one of its most forceful and powerful avenue of support and defense is deeply embedded in the poor reading culture that has been lumbering gravely on the shoulder of the country’s population which supposed to raise the bar much higher in demand and production and publication of materials for daily public consumption-unlike the western world and some part of Africa.

Unlike Liberia, the media in the United States of America are very influential, vigilant and persuasive in the discharge of their functions and role to the American society. The American media are influential in the body polity of America and have the ability to influence government’s policies and decisions. However, just like other society, the American media are not perfect; they too have their own flawless and transgressions but are guided by perfection, very influential, effective, dominant and persuasive.

The American media are so respected in the society that the impact can be felt, but on the other hand, about 20 percent of the population believes what the media published or broadcast. The American media and journalists are well equipped, paid, trained, experienced and treat their assignments with dedication and commitment. But there is always opposing views in the American press – both the conservative and liberal views.

On the contrary, American media report less on vital issues obtaining outside the United States, less courtesy is given to main issues occurring in other countries as long it doesn’t affect the American national interest; except where American interest is threatened. If you go very close to Americans you will know that they are mostly interested in knowing happenings in their environment, not much involved about other things occurring in other country or region and continent, as long it does not threaten the United States national security both externally and internally.

America is a society where all are treated equally under the law. The country’s domestic policies are very unique, unlike, maybe the foreign policy. However, one might want to know the importance about America and its people. I guess there are several answers. Americans, especially in my personal interactions with professional colleagues are nice, friendly and treat others with respect. They greet people with smiles and opened hands, but on a serious note, they are direct and do not hide their feelings on issues of importance.

By just voicing out a concern, they are ready to assist; they are good observers and know how to approach situations. “Are you fine/ Are you okay? Do you have a family? Are you missing them? Have you spoken to them and what are your impressions about the time spent here? These are just few of the questions they will ask you on a daily basis. The people of America believe in their country.

They cherish the American dream and flag so much. They fly their flag in front of their homes and offices. There is no doubt why America is the world foremost superpower. I wonder when Liberia will as a nation and people ever learn to cultivate the pride of Americans. Surely, Liberia can’t be America, but patriotism coupled with nationalism does not grow on trees nor flourishes on the supermarket’s shelves; and that is exactly and so pathetically missing from our DNA. Savannah is a beautiful city, well layout, the beautiful landscape, nice structures and beaches and home to dozens of tourists.

Free speech, press freedom and religious tolerance struck me a whole lot. They attached great respect to religious tolerance. They are good at speaking their minds on issues of national and international concerns and offer suggestions.

Unlike in my native country, Liberia where we always say, “It is the people’s thing”, the opposite exists in America. Only few Liberians are good at speaking their minds but these Liberians are often accused as being ‘troublemakers’. In Liberia, when the independent media takes position on issues, especially the ills and pitfalls of government and prominent politicians, that particular media organization and staffers are demonized as undermining the government, branded as enemy of the state, biased reporting, paid agent or instruments of yellow journalism.

The downside is that the American society cares less about happenings in other countries, except for issues like terrorism, disasters, trade, and war since they all affect the American national interest. Sometimes, the American media published materials on smaller countries; these stories are treated with less interest and in some cases compromised stories; while African media give considerable courtesy to happenings in the United States. Most Africans believe in the sophistication of the American press and hold less respect for media on the continent.

Interestingly, press freedom on the continent from the colonial period to the present has its own contradiction primarily due the African 55 countries diverse cultural, ethnicities, political and geography.  Also the diverse collection of political and models inherited from European colonial regimes and traditional African system is having a greater effect on the practice of journalism in contemporary Africa, with the continent huge illiteracy and poverty demography playing a vast part.

The media in some countries, especially the ones in which the leaders feared the media, for example, will not exercise the same influence as those in democratic societies, the ones in which the media enjoys its responsibilities and function as a free press. Even among similar types of government, other factors, such as technology, the target audience and the message, may influence the extent of media impact on the society.  It tells about the people who are geographically divided. The real influence of the media in national development will depend on the media themselves, the societies in which they operate, and the audience they reach.

Unlike several other Africa countries, the media in South Africa especially the print and television in the South African society are very strong, courageous and respected. The media in South Africa serves as the gatekeeper and perform the watchdog role, especially in political transparency and fight against bad governance, including corruption, abuse of state wealth, human rights and constitutional violations and autocratic.

In Western Europe, for example,  print, radio and television  are feared by the governments and institutions due to their critical reportage and persistent in the pursue of stories to the dead end. In the region, the media performs the watchdog role, especially in political transparency, economic accountability and fight against bad governance, including corruption, abuse of state wealth, human rights and constitutional violations, dictatorial and autocratic governance by public officials and suppression of civil liberties.

For Asia and the Arab World where democracy is conditionally practiced, the media is mostly operated by the central administration, worthy class and families, and bureaucrats. The media in these regions especially China and Middle East lacks independence and “objectivity” due to constant interferences by the governments or corrupt political bureaucrats. The same goes to the media in the Russian Federation where the partly served as spokesman for the ruling regime and avoid criticism of certain key elements of the government; it is also wildly practice and visible in China and North Korea-they are the mouth-piece of government.

For the Nordic Countries, South and Central America, Caribbean and Austrian, the print media are not too influential as compared to television and electronic media which are most dominant media. The media in these regions plays an important role in the day-to-day activities of the ordinary people since it serve as a source for information and hold their officials feet to the fire.

Besides South Africa, the print media in other African countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Senegal are vigilant in their reportage and set the public agenda and act as the gatekeeper of public issues. The internet is developing fast, mainly in urban areas, but its growth is slowed considerably by the very low level of development of telephone systems; also few media institutions in Liberia engaged into instigative journalism and report on corruption in public sector but the lack of measures by the central administration to institute action against corrupt bureaucrats helped to weaken these media institution efforts.

To do justice to this article, this research analysis presents a description of callousness journalists have suffered under successive regimes including the NDPL, NPP and UP led-governments and in the hands of ex-rebel fighters during the 14-year civil war. Liberia now enjoys a high level of freedom in this new epoch, the status of the media in the country has significantly improved, and the issues of press freedom and free speech are undoubtedly unrestricted but more are expected from the central government in enhancing government-media relations to turn 2018 and years to come into a cooling period.

Wolo (1998) describes that the media also plays an important monitoring role in a democracy that enables citizens to hold their governments and elected officials accountable, leading to better policies and implementation”, while a former University of Liberia Professor, Dr. Zogbo Norman (1997) emphasized that: The media set the public agenda and act as the gatekeeper of public issues and provides information to the actors throughout society allowing them to participate in the decisions and debates that shape their lives.

A free and independent media supply timely and relevant information to citizens, allowing them to change their own behavior and to demand higher social standards for society. Society is influenced by media in so many ways. It is the media for the masses that helps them to get information about a lot of things and also to form opinions and make judgments regarding various issues! It is the media, which keeps the people updated and informed about what is happening around them and the world. The free media has its important role in all this since it enables dialogue to take place and make government more accountable as well as bridging the gap between government officials and the citizens.

While in 2012, President Johnson-Sirleaf became the Second African Head of State to endorse the Table Mountain Declaration, which amongst others calls on African governments to abolish criminal defamation laws. Moreover, in 2010 Liberia became the first to enact Freedom of Information Law in West Africa and has established the Independent Information Commission (IIC), headed by a veteran Liberian journalist; an ex-feature writer of the Inquirer Newspaper, Cllr. Beddoe Wla Freeman.

The purpose of the FOI law was to afford both journalists and the general public the rights to equal access to public documents, except the ones that are national security related. Regretfully, Liberian journalists either the general public or student groups have been unable to take advantage of the Freedom of Information Law. In one of his vivid publications on free press in the contemporary era, the author of this article, Josephus Moses Gray revealed that the presence of free press brings public corruption cases to the voting population while voters most often in an elections, in turn severely punished corrupt bureaucrats and unproductive politicians by ousting them from public offices; this was manifested in the 2011 and 2017 General Elections.

Three Distinct Phases of Media in Africa

There are three distinct phases in the development of radio since the first South African broadcasts in 1924; the first phase was the colonial or settler period. The South African Broad casting Corporation (SABC) was created in 1936 while Radio ELWA was the first recognized broadcast radio station in Liberia.

According to several publications, the first phase of radio in Africa started during the colonialism, as radio in Africa besides English also broadcasts in languages formed only a small part of the total output. Broadcasting for Africans was expanded in the 1960s when Radio. Bantu was developed during apartheid to reinforce the apartheid ideology of the separation of the races.

Going further, radio in Africa was also developed first to serve European interests including the periods of 1927 in Kenya, 1932 in Zimbabwe, 1933 in Mozambique, and in 1935 in French Congo. The earliest radio in British West Africa was not broadcast by wireless transmission but via wired services -subscribers had loudspeakers installed in their homes to receive the service.

Studies showed this was how broadcasting began in Freetown in 1934, Accra in 1935, Lagos in 1936 and Firestone amateur radio in 1926 in Liberia, although Radio Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) is the pioneer of broadcast in the country since it foundation in the 1950s, as one of the first four true independent radio station in Africa.

Radio in Nigeria developed along different lines than in other African nations, reflecting that country’s ethnic divisions and unique federal character. Two parallel state systems of stare radio developed, often in direct competition with each other. The federal government had its own broadcasting system, and each of Nigeria’s several stares had its own system, as well. Radio broadcasting in much of sub Saharan Africa still relies heavily on shortwave (the main means of transmission for many years) to reach widely scattered populations over large areas.

In Ghana and Liberia, for example, all radio transmissions until the 1980s to 1990s were via shortwave. This means of transmission is in many respects ideal for African circumstances, although it can suffer from interference and is subject to fading and distortion. Other resources referenced to the second phase of broadcast in Africa lasted until nearly the end of the 20th century; all 55 African countries had national broadcasting services, mostly dominated by radio and print. Today, African media are generally based in the capital or main city of each nation; and mainly concentrate their publications on politics.

The studies also showed that before 1987 there were only five or six privately owned radio stations on the entire continent in Gambia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Liberia, but in 1987 a trend to end state monopolies in almost every country began. At the turn of the century there were more than 800 independent radio stations in Africa. For instance, in December, Horizon FM went on the air in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. It was launched by a local entrepreneur who announced rather defiantly that the station would have lots of music, lots of commercials, lots of laughter, but absolutely politics. Today, it is one of several independent radio stations in Burkina Faso.

The Tale of Liberian Media: Overview of the Second Republic

The Liberian media has a daunting and challenging history dating back from its formation to present, with journalists paying a high price from the brutal hands of successive authoritarians. During the heat of the civil war, journalists were divided into two groups as the belligerent forces through fierce battles succeeded splitting the country, set-up defacto governments, without reference to the Liberian constitution. But if freedom of the press is sacrificed in the name of combating societal ills, one has allowed small groups of troublemakers to destroy one of the basic foundations of a democratic society. I leave you with these lines from a great United States statesman- Thomas Jefferson’s preference for “newspapers without government” over “government without newspapers” (1787).

The Liberian civil war has come and gone but the cruelties of the perpetrators of the war still remain fresh in the minds of journalists, most especially those who tasted wraths of these belligerent forces. The ordeals of Liberian journalists and their foreign colleagues can be told in different experience but similarities are much closed. Liberian journalists or media houses were no exception, they all suffered different forms of brutalities, leaving the unlucky ones dead while others faced with life time injuries.

Media practitioners and journalists operated in a risky circumstance since journalist were accused of being biased to any of the belligerent forces or the peace keepers. Liberian journalists found it difficult to operate freely for fears of stray bullet or shot intentionally, as lawlessness became very high. While journalists were battling risks posed by rebel forces, they were also encountering confrontation from some civilians, apparently owing to their dissatisfaction for certain publications.

The Liberian media has a daunting and challenging history dating back from its formation to present, with journalists paying high price from the brutal hands successive dictators including former presidents Samuel K. Doe and Charles G. Taylor.  Both men have gone down in history for inflating severe injuries and uncompromising actions against journalists and media institutions.

 

TORTURES AND BRUTALITIES

To begin with, while all eyes were anxiously glued to the mayhem and other dangerous treatments inflicted on journalists (Liberian) by the known NPFL, there were even much more gruesome and dreadful acts carried out by the LPC, INPFL, ULIMO-J and K, MODEL and LURD.  For example, during the invasion and subsequent fall of Taylor’s Gbarnga stronghold, ULIMO-K captured alive a renowned broadcast Journalist of the Gbarnga –ELBC Radio Station, chopped out his fingers and was later reportedly found dead. LPC which was also in a fierce contest with ULIMO-K for the control of Gbarnga captured the Bassa Vernacular Announcer Philip Yogar of the very radio station while escaping the bullets and wrath of the advancing armed bandits when he fell in an LPC’s ambush.

He was searched and the station’s ID card was found with him and for that, his head was placed on a solid rock and smashed to death with an axe. Again, a journalist from Gbarnga who came to Monrovia to print his newspaper, was seized by the INPFL and placed in a sealed container to be blown up with an RPG round, but through the grace of Providence, a rescue team from the NPFL’s Representatives stationed in Monrovia rushed to the scene and was released upon serious negotiation.

Due to the tactical strategy adopted from the NPFL wherein journalists picked up in conflict besieged areas were incorporated into their public relation network thereafter while providing protection and some items to feed on, are used to provide coverage for their activities as well as promulgating the usefulness of their missions. These embedded journalists, especially when LURD and MODEL collectively mounted the war theater (battlefield) purposely to capture Charles Ghankay Taylor or to see his back were very mindful not to cross the thin red line in order to avoid being branded enemy journalists or spies.

As a result, violations of their rights or encroachment on their security or wellbeing remain a faraway untold story due to little or no information simmering from those two warring factions. But let it also be made emphatically clear here that this does not mean in any way that it was all bread and butter or honeymoon for those journalists trapped in those two factions’ web because while some were operating against their will, others had to swallow the bitter pills and often remain mute in the face of psychological threats just to save their own lives or those of love ones, relatives and friends.

 

JOURNALISTS’ DILEMMA

Reporting in conflict zone is very difficult and dangerous because as a journalist, the side you find yourself in either rebel or government controlled, well expected you to report in their favor, report only good happening, and not the ugly side. Anything on the contrary, you will be hunted. Also if you are reporting form one group controlled area and that side is overrun by the other side is a gun battle, if you are caught in the web, you either be killed or severely manhandled.

For instance, in 1994 when Charles Taylor’s NPFL former stronghold of Gbarnga fell to another rebel group, there was killing even where, a local journalist was captured and all his fingers were cut off. He was forced to commit suicide. Unlike in the Western world, rebel fighters and ill-regular forces that participated in the war in Liberia do not subscribe to Geneva Convention. This poses a serious impediment for journalists to operate and report unbiased in hot spot.

Both ill-regular forces and government soldiers are in most instances feel uncomfortable with journalist because they fear for international reprisal. Government usually engages in several tactics to force journalist to report in it favor by libeling the jargon “Yellow Journalism”. The world (Yellow Journalism” is being so misused by state authorities to the extent it become a household word. In a conflict area, when a journalist report the actual story of happenings, that journalist is the labeled and referred to as enemy” by the group the report is against. Sometimes, the public “lash out at journalists just the journalist do not reported exactly what they want to hear.

     The experience of Liberian journalists is very worrisome, especially for those who found their selves divided between the lines of government soldiers and rebels fighters. The limitation of journalist as a result of the civil crisis, led several of them to take side with politician in supporting their cause. Also because journalists were inefficient and not schooled in conflict and peace reporting, the publics were left with nothing but to guess the true nature and cause of the civil crisis.

Reporting in conflict zone is very difficult and dangerous because as a journalist, the side you find yourself in either rebel or government controlled, well expected you to report in their favor, report only good happening, and not the ugly side. Anything on the contrary, you will be hunted. Also if you are reporting form one group controlled area and that side is overrun by the other side is a gun battle, if you are caught in the web, you either be killed or severely manhandled. For instance, in 1994 when Charles Taylor’s NPFL former stronghold of Gbarnga fell to another rebel group, there was killing even where, a local journalist was captured and all his fingers were cut off

Some of the difficulties are based on the thinking or mentality of the executors of the conflict (soldiers, rebels and politicians) on the one hand and the public. The inability of the journalists under conflict to have access to communication vis-sa-vis the outside world in many instances making it extremely difficult for journalists to fairly report since they are allowed to use the facilities of the authority (either government of rebels) on the side they are stationed.

For example: Journalist found it difficult to report fearlessly on the side of Charles Taylor and other hand on the side of the West African Peacekeeping Forces. Some journalists willing to brave the storm by reporting fiercely are at time appreciated by the public and at other time not appreciated. What happens usually in such a dilemma is those foreign journalists fill the gap by reporting unbiased as the conflict executors fear them far international reprisal.

 

CRACKED DOWN ON JOURNALISTS

Under Taylor regime the media was “undersized” while the state-owned media attempts with much difficulty to dominate public opinion agenda-setting. The Liberian media were attacks on several occasions while some journalists were taken to a graveside to be killed but later released through the intervention of a member of the ill-regular forces. Death threats were regularly used to silence the independent media under Taylor regime, forcing Independent media houses to close down while security on several occasions victimized media personnel and attacked media houses.

During his six-year rule, Taylor ruthlessly cracked down on the political opposition and civil society including the independent media and journalists, limiting their activists in order to consolidate his grips on the presidency and power. The Liberian private media, which Taylor regarded with a mix of suspicion and contempt, was continually subject to government repression and his tactics for silencing critics especially the media were varied. Under his regiem, Police banned independent radio stations perceived to have an “antigovernment” editorial line, and, using pretexts such as tax evasion, they closed newspapers that exposed government corruption or rights abuses.

As the 2003 war between government forces and LURD rebels intensified, the Taylor regime tightened its grip on information, imposing censorship policies that required all news stories on the war to be approved by the Ministry of Information. But in the case where it was impossible to subdue the media, journalists were either co-opted with bribes or cowed into self-censorship with threats of imprisonment or physical assault.

The tactics of intimidation culminated in brutal attacks against several journalists and the burning down of several media houses. The two most severely affected are Hassan Bility, former editor-in-chief of the independent Analyst,  who was held for six months incommunicado and repeatedly tortured for alleged ties to LURD, while in  December 2002, The INQUIRER Reporter Throble Suah was viciously attacked by agents of Taylor’s notorious Anti-Terrorist Unit after.

    Several media companies were attacked and looted during the war, and tens of thousands of dollars in equipment was lost or damaged. As fighting hit a fever pitch in June 2003, and almost all of the Liberian media shut down, journalists went into hiding for fear of being targeted by either side or hit in the crossfire while only independent news source that operating in the capital in late July 2003 was the Radio Veritas. The broadcaster was finally forced off the air in the same month when a mortar shell hit its transmitter. Foreign journalists flocked to the war-torn capital after U.S. President George W. Bush ordered U.S. warships to the region and Taylor’s departure drew near.

Several media companies were attacked and looted during the war, and tens of thousands of dollars in equipment was lost or damaged. Radio Veritas was unable to resume broadcasting until the end of August, 2003, and then only on the FM band, since the station did not have the funds to repair its shortwave transmitter. Good news for Liberian journalists seemed to arrive with the October 14, 2003 inauguration of Gyude Bryant as chairman of the former power sharing transitional government.

Though some “amateur” and community stations existed outside the capital, authorities banned at least five of them in the spring, because of fears that they were mobilizing the rural population against the government but Taylor allowed the state media service, the Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS), to deteriorate, preferring to disseminate propaganda through his private media empire, LCN.

Just like other professional organizations and institutions, the role of the Liberian media in the Liberian Civil War cannot be overemphasized, the media stood the test of time and paid a greater price, leaving  dozens journalists killed, while large numbers of journalist family members were killed and properties destroyed. They were severely humiliated and harassed and on several occasion sentenced to detention. Besides the local journalists, some foreign journalists also paid high price, as was the case in 1990,  went two Nigerian journalists who found themselves in the middle of the war were caught in the web and killed, by the disbanded NPFL rebels because of their country involvement in peacekeeping in Liberia.

During the late President William V. S. Tubman’s Administration, a well and highly respected Liberian journalist who later turned political to contest the Liberian 1986 presidential elections, was arrested and humiliated because of a report on the Tubman’s government. Journalist Tuan Wreh was humiliated and made to eat his own feces by government forces. Besides, he was script naked and carried feces on his hair through the principle of Monrovia. The jail was not the only means used to silence the opposition press.

ATTACKS ON MEDIA HOUSES

During the heat of the civil war, journalists were divided into two groups as the belligerent forces through fierce battles succeeded splitting the country, set-up defacto governments, without reference to the Liberian constitution. These forces were tussling to reach the vulnerable and traumatized population and the only way to do so was to engage into media propaganda, something which Mr. Taylor used effectively to prosecute the war.

Mr. Taylor, to achieve his goal, used several techniques including the confiscation rural radio broadcasting radio stations and loot the equipment of the ones that the NPFL couldn’t seize; sometime destroy items that could not be moved. In certain instances, several broadcast houses out of the range of control were set ablaze.  This was never limited to only radio stations but other private institutions and business houses. The ELBS and ELWA, just to name few, suffered seizure of broadcast equipment or destructions.

Just like Taylor, almost all the heads of the belligerent groupings wanted to create and operate their own media propaganda machinery to influence the population both under their controlled territories and other areas. People who resided in these areas were forced to listen to radio stations in their areas, but were they wanted news and radio programming from area out of factions controlled, they would locked themselves in their homes and lower the volume of their radios. The other factions were unsuccessful in matching resources and scope of the propaganda brutal empire that the NPFL leader created.

Mr. Taylor former Liberia Broadcasting Cooperation and KISS FM were effective in the propaganda to mislead the masses. In the rebels’ territories, especially the one under Taylor’s NPFL, it was a serious crime to listen to news and programming on radio stations operating from Monrovia. The city was governed by the Interim Government head by University of Liberia Professors, Dr. Amos Sawyer and Cllr. David Kpormakpor. The interim government was fully supported by peacekeepers. They succeeded in dislodging the various factions.

The 14-year war, started on the eve of Christmas 1989 between former president Doe’s regime and the NPFL, with Prince Johnson’s Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia coming into the picture, left media institutions destroyed and journalists victimized. Several radio stations, newspaper houses and printing presses were destroyed; comparing most media institutions seize operations.   After the peacekeepers took controlled of greater part of Monrovia, the Torch-light, THE INQUIRER and the Footprints Today Newspapers appeared on the newsstand, while LBS, funded by ECOMOG was the first radio station to resume operations. However, all these institutions were restricted to Monrovia and its surroundings, under the security control of ECOMOG.

 

Brutality against Journalists

Several reports obtained show that inhumane crimes against journalists took place in all the areas that were under either factions or ECOMOG but the greatest of these crimes were carried out by Taylor’s NPFL fighters who carry out summary executions of journalists. The ECOMOG peace-keepers also manhandled journalists and attempted to impose censorship on newspaper institutions that were operating into Monrovia during the heat of the war.

There were time when ECOMOG soldiers arrested and detained editors and reporters apparently for publishing stories against the interests of the peacekeepers. The international standard and ethics the practice of journalism were grossly highly violated and abused, as journalists allowed themselves to be used by heads of warring factions to propaganda hate messages.

The gross human rights violations against journalists during the 14 years’ war remain difficult to mention every crime perpetrated against them by soldiers former president Doe’s soldiers, fighters of Charles Taylor’s NPFL and rebel fighters of LURD, LDF, ULIMO-K/J, MODEL and  LPC. The arbitrary detention of journalists who published articles or broadcast programming critical of Taylor NPFL was also a common practice under Taylor regime. This was also the case of ECOMOG and Samual Doe. However, here are some of the crimes that have been documented under each faction heads.

 

The major challenge facing journalism in contemporary Liberia is that of surviving the unfavorable media policy still on the book and persistent attacks against journalists directly or indirectly by individuals with a strong connections to successive governments which have rode on the leverages of the media to get to state power through democratic or indisputable elections.

At present, it would be unimaginable for any Liberian security officers or officials operating under the orders of their bosses to lawlessly close down or burn newspaper offices or radio station, as was the case under previous regimes. While 2016 was a throbbing year for Liberia media in general, the year saw the unprecedented death toll of journalists in the country, as the casualties of journalists in the hand of death cannot be matched with other years.

To do justice to this article, this research analysis presents a description of callousness journalists have suffered in the hands of ex-rebel fighters during the 14-year civil war and under successive regimes including the NDPL, NPP and UP led-governments. Besides, gross violations against journalists were perpetrated by disbanded rebel groups including LURD, LDF, ULIMO-K/J, MODEL and LPC, while in some instances violations against journalists were carried out by solders of West Africa bloc-.ECOMOG. This article is based on dozen of  reports published by both local and international newspapers, journals, human rights institutions and TRC witnesses, amongst others publications; however, some of these publications are subject to further inquiries for accuracy.

The Liberian media has a daunting and challenging history dating back from its formation to present, with journalists paying a high price from the brutal hands of successive authoritarians. During the heat of the civil war, journalists were divided into two groups as the belligerent forces through fierce battles succeeded splitting the country, set-up defacto governments, without reference to the Liberian constitution. These forces were tussling to reach the vulnerable and traumatized population and the only way to do so was to engage into media propaganda, something which ex-president Taylor used effectively to prosecute the 14-year bloody war.

Liberia now enjoys a high level of freedom in this young democracy, the status of the media in the country has significantly improved, and the issues of press freedom and free speech are undoubtedly unrestricted but more are expected from the central government in enhancing government-media relations to turn 2017 into a cooling period.

While in 2012, President Johnson-Sirleaf became the Second African Head of State to endorse the Table Mountain Declaration, which amongst others calls on African governments to abolish criminal defamation laws. Moreover, in 2010 Liberia became the first to enact Freedom of Information Law in West Africa and has established the Independent Information Commission (IIC), headed by a veteran Liberian journalist; an ex-feature writer of the Inquirer Newspaper, Cllr. Beddoe Wla Freeman.

The purpose of the FOI law was to afford both journalists and the general public the rights to equal access to public documents, except the ones that are national security related. Regretfully, Liberian journalists either the general public or student groups have been unable to take advantage of the Freedom of Information Law.

In this era, the media is considered as “mirror” of the modern society, in unarguably it is the media which shape our lives and served as a conduit between the government and the people. The role of media is complex and varied, sometimes, media is viewed positively by society, although it is considered overbearing and obnoxious other times. The word media” comes from the Latin word medium, and it is used as a collective noun to refer to newspapers, television, radio, magazines, films, and internet, playing a very important role in national development.

Persistently, media has played several roles in the society, including serving as a means to distribute news and convey information regarding politics, economic, social and development. For Liberia which enjoys unlimited media prospect, media emerged as a dominant social figure and it enables dialogue to take place and make government more accountable as well as bridging the gap between government officials and the citizens. The media set the public agenda and act as the gatekeeper of public issues and perform the watchdog role, especially in political situation and fight against bad governance, including corruption, abuse of state wealth, human rights and constitutional violations, and autocratic activities of some corrupt public bureaucrats.

In one of his vivid publications on free press in contemporary Liberia, the author of this article, Josephus Moses Gray revealed that the presence of free press brings public corruption cases to the voting population  while voters in an election, in turn severely punish corrupt bureaucrats and unproductive politicians by ousting them from public offices; this was manifested in the 2011 General Elections and 2014 Mid-term Senatorial Election whereby only eleven out of seventy-four Representatives were re-elected and two senators out of 15 were re-elected. The media provides information to actors throughout society allowing them to participate in the decisions and debates that shape their lives.

In the words of the late James Wolo, “the media also play in important monitoring role in a democracy that enables citizens to hold their governments and elected officials accountable—leading to better policies and service implementation”, while a former University of Liberia Professor, Zogbo. Norman accentuated that: The media set the public agenda and act as the gatekeeper of public issues and provides information to the actors throughout society allowing them to participate in the decisions and debates that shape their lives.

 

The Tale of Violations against Journalists

The tale of gross human rights violations against journalists during the war remained difficult to mention. Every crime perpetrated against journalist by soldiers loyal to former president Doe and fighters of Taylor‘s NPFL as well as rebel fighters of LURD, LDF, ULIMO-K/J, MODEL and the LPC. The arbitrary detention of journalists and attacked against media institutions were also a common practice under Doe and Taylor regime. This was also practiced behind areas controlled by ECOMOG, LURD, LDF, ULIMO-K/J and MODEL. Presently, the situation has steadily reduced but there are several cases of violations against journalists and media institutions.

To begin with, while all eyes were anxiously glued to the mayhem and other dangerous treatments inflicted on local journalists by Mr. Taylor‘s disbanded NPFL, there were even much more gruesome and dreadful acts carried out by the ex LPC, INPFL, ULIMO-J and K, MODEL and LURD. The violence and brutalities against the Liberian media dated back from the regime of ex-president William V.S. Tubman but for the purpose of this article, this research analysis squally focuses on the ordeals of the Liberian media from 1990 to 2003, and 2005 to 2016, respectively.

The ordeals of Liberian journalists and their foreign colleagues can be told from different experiences, but the similarities are much closed. Liberian journalists or media houses were no exception as they all suffered different forms of brutalities, leaving the unlucky ones dead while others are faced with life time injuries while others fled the country to seek sanctuary in America and Western Europe. Media practitioners and journalists operated under risky circumstances since journalists were accused of being biased to any of the former belligerent forces or the peacekeepers. Like anyone else, Liberian journalists had safety concerns and found it difficult to operate freely for fear of being hit by stray or intentional bullets as lawlessness became very high.

But now a days the situation have improved, the fear of being hit by stray bullets is no more the case, but the hustling  of journalists and indirect attacks on media institutions are still visible. The administration is not media friendly, the government through the Ministry of Information has ordered all ministries and agencies of government not to directly advertise or give any media institution advertisement or business without the approval of the Ministry of Information.

This action by the government is gradually killing the existing of dozens of Newspapers and radio stations while the pro-government ones are enjoying the benefits of the indirect free press restriction. Despite of these restrictions, about fifty newspapers are on the newsstand in Monrovia while FM radio stations are about forty-seven in the capital only.

The 14-year war started on the eve of Christmas in 1989 between former president Doe‘s regime and the NPFL, with Prince Johnson‘s Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia coming into the picture. Several media institutions including printing presses were destroyed. This compelled most media institutions to stop operation. Several newspapers reappeared on the newsstand after the peacekeepers took control of ‗Greater Monrovia.

‘The Torch-light, THE INQUIRER, the Footprints and Today Newspapers were among print media institutions that resumed operations while LBS, funded by ECOMOG was the first radio station to resume operation. However, all these institutions were restricted to Monrovia and its surroundings, under the security control of ECOMOG while the Patriot and Scorpion Newspapers were being published as propaganda mechanisms for both the disbanded NPFL and INFPL of Mr. Taylor and Senator Johnson.

 

The Analysis: ECOMOG and the Media

In Monrovia, a journalist writing for the BBC was assaulted by ECOMOG troops in 1993 because he had apparently written an article criticizing ECOMOG. Later, in 1995, James Momoh, formerly of the Inquirer was beaten by ECOMOG troops after he tried to photograph Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) troops. Moreover, John Vambo, a stringer for the BBC, died after being flogged by ECOMOG troops.

He was reportedly being punished for asking an interviewee on air how far away from the executive mansion a rocket barrage had landed. ECOMOG apparently had the fear that such information could be used by the rebels to stage future attacks. The author, Josephus Moses Gray then a senior reporter of the INQUIRER Newspaper was manhandled by an ECOMOG soldier in Vai Town on November 7, 1997. Also on January 1, 1993 a BBC journalist was beaten by ECOMOG troops after he published an article criticizing ECOMOG, while on April 1, 1995 Benjamin

In 1994 several members of the editorial staffers of the Inquirer Newspaper including Bana Sackie, Wantu Major and D. Emmanuel Nah were arrested from the paper’s Gurley Street office to Star Base where ECOMOG was headquarters over a story which was published by the paper. In 1995 the author of this article, Josephus Moses Gray, then reporter of The INQUIRER Newspaper was severely beaten by ECOMOG solider in Vai Town although Gray was identified a journalist for publishing stories against the interests of the peacekeepers.

Wilson was beaten by police after he refused to turn over photographs. On September 1, 1995 James Momoh of The Inquirer was beaten by ECOMOG troops while trying to photograph AFL soldiers while in 1996 ECOMOG soldiers arrested the entire staff of The INQUIRER and briefly detained them. On January 11, 992 Isaac D.E. Bantu and Dan Browne were detained for three days by Prince Johnson of the INPFL at Caldwell where they were tortured and made to drink dirty water on order of Johnson.

Reports showed that inhumane treatments against journalists took place in all the areas that were under either factions or ECOMOG but the greatest of these crimes were carried out by Taylor‘s NPFL fighters who carry out summary executions of journalists. The ECOMOG peacekeepers also manhandled journalists and attempted to impose censorship on newspaper institutions that were operating in Monrovia during the heat of the war.

There were times when ECOMOG soldiers arrested and detained editors and reporters apparently for publishing stories against the interests of the peacekeepers. The international standard and ethics of the practice of journalism were grossly violated and abused as journalists allowed themselves to be used by heads of warring factions to propaganda hate messages.

The Analysis: Doe and the Media

Unlike Mr. Taylor, ex-president Doe saw journalists as his enemies, isolating himself from them and deliberately failed to discipline his soldiers (TRC final report, 2009). Among Doe’s victims was a veteran journalist, Rufus Darpoh (late) was kidnapped and detained by government security agents for allegedly writing anonymous articles. Mr. Darpoh, Ghanaian-Liberian was held for over six months at a notorious military prison, once Belle Yalla, and was reported subjected to routine beating and other forms of torture.

On March 20, 1990, Klohn Hinneh (late) of The News newspaper was detained on the orders of Emmanuel Gbalazeh, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia while on April 6, 1990, Mark Huband, a British reporter working with UPI, was kidnapped by anti-government rebels. He was released four days later and said he was not mistreated. On March 7, 1981, Tom Kamara (late) formerly of the New Liberian newspaper was arrested for a story he supposedly published against the police.

In 1984, Willis Knuckles (late) of the Daily Observer and BBC was detained, held without charge at the once Bellah Yallah prison, and reportedly tortured. He was released several days later while on June 1, 1984 Rufus Darpoh of the New Liberian was arrested and detained until 17 November. On January 17, 1985, former Justice Minister Jenkins Scott announced that the Daily Observer would not be permitted to print after it carried a series of stories and articles the Doe’s regime termed as “anti-governmental” reports.

Ex-president Doe, on August 1, 1985, announced plans for a nationwide radio service that would reach all areas of Liberia. On December 1, 1985, Charles Gbenyon, a senior journalist for the LBS was killed by AFL solders. In January 1986, the Doe’s regime placed a three-month ban on the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) but lifted it six days after the attempted coup led by the late Tmoas Quiwonkpa, a native of Nimba County. On March 5, 1986, the offices of the Daily Observer were destroyed by fire while on May 14, 1986, PUL issued a complaint concerning the government‘s non-response to anonymous crimes against journalists.

On March 7, 1988, the once Sun Times was banned for printing while on April 11, 1988, Thomas Nimely (late) of the Sun Times was arrested and held without charge for refusing to reveal the source of an article. Mr. Doe on April 12, 1988 accused the media of trying to undo progress by systematically publishing misinformation, while on the 13th of the same month the Footprints Today was banned by the government with five of its journalists arrested. Both Sun Times and Foot Prints Newspapers no longer exist.

The Analysis: Johnson-Sirleaf and the Media

     The level of attacks on journalists and media houses in the country compared to past regimes has gradually decreased, but journalists still faced threats and intimidation in the course of exercising their responsibility. There are several instances under this administration violence against journalists by public officials especially the security apparatus, deepening the unfavorably ties between the two—government and the independent media despite of efforts by the President Johnson-Sirleaf to cement the transactions.

These days Liberia enjoys an unprecedented high level of free press and freedom of speech in this blossoming democracy; the status of the media in Liberia in term of quantities are overwhelmed but in substances of quality and ethical adherence, most need to be done as the impact of the media in context of positivity cannot be mentioned by quantities but quality and knack.

In 2012, President Johnson-Sirleaf became the Second African head of a democratic government to endorse the Table Mountain Declaration, which calls on African governments to abolish criminal defamation laws, while in 2010 Liberia became the first to enact West Africa’s first freedom of information law. The purpose of the freedom of information law was to give both journalists and the general public the leverage of unrestricted to access to public document, with exclusions of those border on national security.

During the summer of 2006, Johnson-Sirleaf established a blue ribbon‖ committee in response to international concerns about the numerous attacks on journalists by police officers However, implementation of the law, as well as public awareness regarding how to use it. But the PUL has since described the blue ribbon‖ committee as weak.

The Liberian media has been relentless and reports on corruption and mismanagement in government and private sectors, but the patriots of yesterday who were once ordinary citizens and who now hold state power are furious that the media-on whose backs, they made their name and rode to power, is looking into their every life, actions and deeds as they abuse the people’s trust.

It can be recalled that West African Journalists Association (WAJA) on several occasions has criticized the Unity Party-led government for what  WAJA  described as “the unfortunate closure of media houses in the country”, accusing the regime of an unjustified attacks on free press. Corruption and briberies in the judicial sector also contribute to a largely unfavorable environment for journalists under this current regime.

Although no journalist is in detention, few media institutions have been closed through the legal process either for allegedly failures to pay tax or ethical transgression but several journalists have come under several attacks in execution of their professional responsibilities. The government is credited for press freedom and free press, free speech and media independence to report, but all have not been charming for the media.

Under this regime, police officers have also violated the rights of journalists, but some of these officers were punished while others unpunished by the government. During the first term of President Johnson-Sirleaf, she contributed US$100,000 to the Headquarters project of the Press Union of Liberia, but the status of the amount remains unknown.

However, several reports point to mismanagement by the media, this act has ruined the media and persistently sparked claims and counter-claims, thus haunting the Liberian media in general. Besides, the Sirleaf’s administration also hired the services of journalists; some are still occupying their positions in the government while others have since left to move into other professional discipline.

The media-government relations in most cases have been up and down with the president persistently accusing the private media of distortion, blackmail and sensationalism and called for media reform and adherence to higher journalistic standards. It must not be forgotten that President Sirleaf successfully sued the New Broom, and the New Democrat newspapers. The New Democrat was lucky and was able to settle out of court, but not the New Broom that was sued for five million United States dollars for ethical transgression and yellow journalism.

In 2013, the then chief bodyguard, Othello Warwick threatened the Liberia media when he said: “Any press member that surpasses his/her responsibility to get involved in presidential intelligence; trust me, we will restrict you,” Warwick said. “Be careful, because you have your pen and we have our guns. This conflict has manifested itself further through criticism of the administration by the press and physical assaults on journalists by officers of the national police.

In February 2013, three newspaper publishers were ordered to appear before the Supreme Court on possible charges of contempt following the publication of an article that accused the judges of embezzling funds. According to report, in February 2013, police attacked and threatened journalist Edwin Genoway of New Dawn after he attempted to photograph officers harassing motorists. In March the same year, the then acting Mayor of Monrovia, Mary Broh, allegedly ordered the beating of journalists Francis Nyan and Charles Yates.

On one occasion, dozens of armed police without a court order on August 14 2014 stormed the National Chronicle Newspaper offices on Carey Street an operation that caused panic in the streets of Monrovia.  Following the incident, the Paper’s publisher, Philibert Brown informed the Press Union in a complaint that three truckloads of heavily armed police from the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), threw tear gas in the office before breaking the door to the main entrance. The police is said to have taken away “two laptops and arrested two of the paper’s senior staff,” according to Mr. Brown.

The police action followed a series of publication of the paper, including one on the alleged formation of an interim government to replace the Johnson-Sirleaf administration.  Two days after the police action, the Ministry of Information revoked the Chronicle license to operate. After months of legal wrangling before the Supreme Court of Liberia over the force closure of the National Chronicle Newspaper by the Government of Liberia, the high Court later ruled in favor of a petition filled by the newspaper through the Press Union of Liberia ordering the reopening of the newspaper.

In November 2011, four radio stations and three television stations were found guilty of propagating hate messages but a court order to have these radio stations shut down was quickly rescinded.  The Frontpage Africa’s (FPA) editor, Rodney Sieh was also incarcerated for months on woozy libel charges wrapped up in political undertones. However journalist Sieh was later released after he wrote a letter apologizing based on the counsels of the paper legal counselors and other central figures in the body politics of Liberia. Mr. Sieh released was celebrated by journalists in the country.

Editor Rodney Sieh was taken into custody following a Supreme Court ruling that the paper should pay US$1.6 million for defaming the ex-Minister of Agriculture Dr.  J. Chris Toe. The FPA’s succession of publications on the subject were reported based on the audit reports of the General Audit Commission (GAC), but the Ministry of Justice under the then Minister, Christina Tah rejected  the audit findings.

The former Managing Director of the National Port Authority, Matilda Parker, also suit the FPA for 1million USD, after the paper reported that she lied to the Liberian Anti-corruption (LACC) Commission on her asset declaration forms.

According to media publication in the media, in 2014 traditional leaders reportedly threatened to kill reporter Mae Azango and her 9-year-old daughter for reporting on the health hazards of female genital cutting grabbed international attention. That story touched off urgent debates and forced the government and development organizations to act

It can be recalled that the then Liberian National Police Inspector General Col. Chris Massaquoi physically assaulted a journalist on the grounds of the Temple of Justice, which the home of the Liberian Supreme Court. The former police boss reportedly assaulted the journalist because the journalist took his picture and “the camera light flash in my face!”

Pundits believe the administration, frequent lawsuits against the media on a label charges is an attempt to silence dissent in Liberia.

Also a former Minister in the current government, Vaflor Gayflor threatened to sue the New Vision newspaper for exposing her reported corrupt practices. She demanded that the paper retract the story or face lawsuit, but the paper stood by its accurate report, it is over eleven years now since she issued the threats to file the legal action. Sadly, media houses that were threatened with lawsuit were persistent in reporting and investigation corrupt practices in the public sector. Theses newspapers have been busy investigating corruption cases and nepotism in the Liberian government.

Henry Costa, a radio talk show host was on March 21, 2014, arrested, detained at the Monrovia Central Prison and charged with “Terrorist Threat, Menacing, and Criminal Coercion”.; he was later released.

Reporting the incident, The Analyst newspaper said the arrest was based on a complaint filed against Costa by Fombah Sirleaf, Director of National Security Agency. The station, which is very critical of government, institutions and individuals was on several occasions interrupted before finally be close down by the government through the court for reportedly failures to settle its tax obligation.

Another Journalist George Borteh, the Acting Vice President of the Judicial Reporters Association of Liberia (JURAL) and a reporter for The New Republic newspaper, was thrown in prison on 12 October, 2012, after taking a photo of Police Director Chris Massaquoi at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia. Borteh was detained for over three hours. There have been several other cases of violations against the media by state security personnel; however, some of these accusations published are subject to further inquiries for exactitude. But in most instances, actions have been taken against state security officers that manhandled journalists while others accusers remain scot-free.

The Analysis: Taylor and the Media

To achieve his goals, Mr. Taylor used several techniques including the confiscation of rural radio stations and looted the equipment of the ones that the NPFL couldn‘t seize. They sometimes destroyed items that could not be moved. In certain instances, several broadcast houses out of the range of control were set ablaze. This was never limited to only radio stations but other private institutions and business houses. The ELBS and ELWA, just to name few, suffered seizure of broadcast equipment or destruction.

Just like Taylor, almost all the heads of the belligerent groupings wanted to create and operate their own media propaganda machinery to influence the population both under their controlled territories and other areas. People who resided in these areas were forced to listen to radio stations in their areas. Whenever they wanted news and radio programming from area out of faction control, they would lock themselves up in their homes and lower the volume of their radios.

The other factions were unsuccessful in matching the resources and scope of the propaganda that the NPFL leader created. Mr. Taylor‘s former Liberia Broadcasting Cooperation and KISS FM were effective in the propaganda to mislead the masses. In the rebels ‘territories, especially the one under Taylor‘s NPFL, it was a serious crime to listen to news and programming on radio stations operating from Monrovia. ‗Greater Monrovia,‘ as it was called was governed by the Interim Government headed by University of Liberia Professors, Dr. Amos Sawyer and a Cllr. David Kpormakpor. The interim government was fully supported by the peacekeepers. They succeeded in dislodging the various factions.

During the invasion and subsequent fall of Taylor‘s Gbarnga stronghold, ULIMO-K captured alive a renowned broadcast Journalist of the Gbarnga –ELBC Radio Station and chopped off his fingers and was later found dead. LPC which was also in a fierce contest with ULIMO-K for the control of Gbarnga captured a Bassa vernacular announcer, Philip Yogar, of the very radio station while escaping from the bullets and wrath of the advancing armed bandits when he fell in an LPC‘s ambush.

He was searched and the station‘s ID card was found with him and for that, his head was placed on a solid rock and smashed to death with an axe. Again, a journalist from Gbarnga who came to Monrovia to print his newspaper was seized by the INPFL and placed in a sealed container to be blown up with an RPG round, but through the grace of providence, a rescue team from the NPFL‘s Representatives stationed in Monrovia rushed to the scene and was released upon serious negotiation.

Due to the tactical strategy adopted from the NPFL wherein journalists picked up in conflict areas were incorporated into its public relations network thereafter while providing protection and some items to feed on, are used to provide coverage for their activities as well as promulgating the usefulness of their missions. These embedded journalists, especially when LURD and MODEL collectively mounted the war theater (battlefield) purposely to capture Charles Ghankay Taylor or to see his back were very mindful not to cross the thin red line in order to avoid being branded enemy journalists or spies.

As a result, violations of their rights or encroachment on their security or wellbeing remain an untold story due to little or no information simmering from those two warring factions. But let it also be made emphatically clear here that this does not mean in any way that it was all bread and butter or honeymoon for those journalists trapped in those two factions ‗web because while some were operating against their will, others had to swallow the bitter pills and often remain mute in the face of psychological threats just to save their own lives or the lives of their loved ones, relatives and friends. With trust and confidence in history, the actual saga shall truly be known by and by.

The limitation of journalist as a result of the civil crisis, led several of them to take sides with politician in supporting their cause. Also, because journalists were inefficient and not scheduled in conflict and peace reporting, the publics were left with nothing but to guess the true nature and cause of the civil crisis. (Gray, Moses J, 2006 Report to American Press in Washington, D.C).

Some of the difficulties are based on the thinking or the mentality of the executors of the conflict on the one hand and the public. The inability of the journalists under conflict to have access to communication vis-sa-vis the outside world in many instances making it extremely difficult for journalists to fairly report since they are allowed to use the facilities of the authority (either government of rebels) on the side they are stationed.

For example: journalist found it difficult to report fearlessly on the side of Mr. Taylor and other hand on the side of ECOMOG. What happens usually in such a dilemma is those foreign journalists fill the gap by reporting unbiasly as the conflict executors fear them far international reprisal. ( Joe W. Mulbah, interview on October 2, 2006)

For instance-BBC report on the 1996 Monrovia fractional fighting that former rebel fighter were burring people alive in central Monrovia. Local journalists who brave the storm by venturing in the former rebel controlled zone to hold an interview with the former rebel leader, were cut in the web, accused of sending unbiased report to international wires( Journalist Gray in his October 2006 report to American Press in Washington, D.C).

Several media companies were attacked and looted during the war, and tens of thousands of dollars in equipment was lost or damaged.  Radio Veritas was unable to resume broadcasting until the end of August, and then only on the FM band, since the station did not have the funds to repair its shortwave transmitter. Talking Drum Studios, a broadcaster funded by the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Search for Common Ground, lost an estimated $150,000 of equipment. The Liberia Institute of Journalism, a nonprofit journalism-training center, was stripped bare of its computers and broadcasting equipment.

On several occasions, the author of this article was held under gun point and on some occasion manhandled by irregular forces and rebel fighters on grounds that he was one of the local journalists who were accused of passing unbiased information regarding the ex-rebels ugly deeds over to the international wires.

Journalists who attempted to venture or reporting in conflict areas usually experience lots of difficulties, sometimes lost their lives or found themselves being either kidnapped or incarceration. Reporting in conflict zones is very difficult and dangerous because as a journalist, the side you find yourself in either rebel or government controlled, were expected you to report in their favor, report only good happening, and not the ugly side. Anything on the contrary, you will be hunted.

Also, if you are reporting from one group controlled area and that side is overrun by the other side is a gun battle, if you are caught in the web, you either be killed or severely manhandled. For instance, in 1994 when Charles Taylor’s NPFL former stronghold of Gbarnga fell to another rebel group, there was killing even where, a local journalist was captured and all his fingers were cut off. He was forced to commit suicide (1999 August Edition, The Forum Newspaper).

In the 3rd world, like Liberia ill-regular forces do not subscribe to the Geneva Convention. This poses a serious impediment for journalists play smooth role operating in hot spot. Both ill-regular forces and government soldiers are in most instances feel uncomfortable with journalist because they fear for international reprisal. Government usually engages in several tactics to force journalists to report in its favor by libeling the jargon “Yellow Journalism”.

The World (Yellow Journalism” is being so misused by state authorities to the extent it become a household word. In a conflict area, when a journalist report the actual story of happenings, that journalist is the labeled and referred to as enemy”” by the group the report is against. Sometimes, the public “lash out at journalists just the journalist, not reported exactly what they want to hear, (Journalist Moses M. Zangar,Jr, August, 2006 interview).

The growth of newspapers was reduced to a ‘mare praise’ singing tools for the government. During the decade of Samuel K. Doe’s rule which commenced in 1980, the press witnessed the proliferation of newspapers. Doe’s clamp down on the press was heavy. It sent a clear message to journalists that the proliferation of newspaper was not a definite progress of press freedom. For example, the late Rufus M. Darploh in 1988 was imprisoned in the infamous Belleh Yellah for investigation the Monrovia Central Prism.(J. Moses Gray October 2006 report to American Press in Washington, D.C)

The Samuel K. Doe Government closed down Daily observer at least five times between 1980 and 1990. The paper was founded in 1980 with Kenneth Best as Managing editor and Rufus D. Darploh as the first editor. It was published by the Liberia Observer Corporation. In March 1990, during the heat of the Liberian civil war, attempts were made to burn the office of the observer by men suspected to be agents of the government.  For instance, the late Rufus Darpoh who suffered state security abuses and assaults on many occasions is amongst dozens of local journalists with similar experience.

Just to name a few, the late Charles Gbeayohn was picked up from his home by members of the disbanded Special Anti-Terrorist Unit and subsequently killed for refusing to release a tape of the aborted coup attempt by General Thomas G. Quiwonkpa, 1985. The late Bobby Tapson and Jerome Dalieh of the News Newspaper, arrested for reporting government spending a pretty over US$50,000.00 to repair a Russian built helicopter.

Hassan Bility of the Analyst newspaper was mercilessly flogged and torture during the Taylor’s regime, for alleged acts of espionage and subversion, which of course have left journalist Bility virtually life time medical problem. Besides, journalists and human rights activists in Monrovia also suffered the worst reprisals in what appears to be the targeted and systematic looting, arson and rape of residents caught up in the conflict.

Hassan Bility, the ex-editor of the independent weekly “The Analyst,” was arrested on 24 June, together with three other Liberians; on suspicion of operating a rebel terrorist cell in Monrovia. The government has twice failed to honor a court order to produce the detainees in court.  Journalist Bility has been accused of plotting with anti-government rebels to kill former President Charles Taylor. Bility’s newspaper was extremely critical of Taylor’s regime, and has been shut down by the government twice this year. In the attempt to exercise their right to inform and express themselves freely, the media in Liberia under the former autocratic regimes found themselves on a roller coaster ride for the past decade.

For instance, journalist Lyndon Ponnie, Editor of “The Concord Times” newspaper, was a constant victim of harassment and death threats. He was accused of allegedly embarking on a campaign to discredit former President Charles Taylor’s government. In 1999, “The Concord Times”, relying on the auditor general’s annual report, published a series of articles that pointed to corruption in the government. The paper was banned by Taylor’s government in 2000. Independent journalist Lyndon Ponnie narrowly escaped death when armed men attacked his home on 12 June 2003 and robbed him of all possessions.

On June 22, 1988, Washington Post correspondent, Blaine Harden was banned from Liberia after publishing a story on corruption in the Liberian government. On June 15, 1989 ELWA was closed by the government for broadcasting ―false news.‖ Also on January 23, 1998, a group of eight Liberian police officers led by Saa Gbollie, an Assistant Director of Police flogged and beat Hassan Bility, Managing Editor of The National. The Ministry of Information under Taylor on October 19, 1998 stopped newspapers and radio stations from posting contents on the internet. On the 21st of the same month, Taylor accused the media and human rights groups of seeking to destroy Liberia‘s image.

Two former reporters of the INQUIRER, Josephus Moses Gray and Jerue Gibson in April 1996 were arrested by Taylor‘s fighters during the late night hour and tortured. The fighters demanded that both journalists, who were arrested in different locations in the district of Gardnersville, give them money. Their homes were looted, forcing the two to flee their homes. On May 11, 2002 Emmanuel Mondaye, formally a reporter of the INQUIRER newspaper was arrested, tortured by Taylor‘s body guards. The guards who attempted killing the reporter but later decided to detain him for three days in Bong County accused Mondaye of being a spy for the rebels.

The brutality against journalists and media practitioners affected several others including Sam Dean, formally of the Monrovia Guardian newspaper who on August 20, 2001 was detained by former Police Director, Paul Mulbah. He was arrested and detained for printing an article critical of Director Mulbah.. The attacks on media institutions also affected The News and the Monrovia Guardian newspapers which were shut down on November 1, 2001 upon the order of Taylor, while on February 12, 2002 two journalists, Stanley Seakor, and Ellis Togba of The Analyst were arrested. They were accused of printing articles against the interests of the Taylor administration.

On October 22, 1998, former Justice Minister Eddinton Varmah said that the government‘s prohibition on internet broadcasting was illegal and the same month the Ministry of Labor ordered Star Radio administrators Jeanette Carter and George Bennett to leave the country on grounds that they were working illegally.

In December 1997, Alex Redd, a former reporter of Radio Ducor was abducted by plain clothes security officers after covering the funeral of Samuel Dokie. Redd was harassed, beaten, abducted, arrested, and tortured by state security officers in late 1997. In 1999, Isaac Menyongaiwas held without charge after refusing to disclose a source he used for an article on a South African businessman with ties to the Liberian government. Some detentions were apparently calculated moves ordered by Taylor, including, for example, the arrest of PUL ex-president Suah Deddeh in March 2000 as he left the Executive Mansion.

In January 1992, Issac Bantu and Dan Browne were detained and held at the INPFL‘s Caldwell base. By 1999, Monrovia was home to ten newspapers, which was many more than existed in 1997. Charles Taylor, however, was no friend of the independent press, and the Liberian media soon faced a level of repression reminiscent of the years under President Doe.

Two Nigerian journalists – Christopher Imodibe of the Guardian and Tayo Awotusin of the Champion Newspapers, respectively were starved to death by the NPFL, 1990 on Jan 25. Taylor blamed the murders on a ―rebel within the NPFL. The two Nigerian journalists were tortured and flogged twice a day, morning and evening and were denied food, water and open air. Taylor‘s NPFL accused them of espionage.

On January 11, 1996 Taylor‘s police stormed the offices of the Inquirer, looking to arrest Jacob Doe, former Pruction Manager of the paper in relation to an article titled ―Jungle Justice at Police Station‖ about the arrests of two editorial staffers of the paper, James Seitua and Stanton Peabody. The same year, Sando Moore, ex-publisher of The National, and editor Keabah Kortu were summoned by the former Minister of Justice, Francis Garlawulo regarding an article published on NPFL and Lt. Gen. Jack the-Rebel. Moore was beaten and detained.

A year after, former Information Minister Joe Mulbah on November 19, 1997 announced that the New Democrat newspaper would not be allowed to publish in the country. While on January 10, 1996 Stanton Peabody was arrested while attempting to intervene on behalf of James Seitua. In 1997 six men believed to be former NPFL fighters operating under the alleged instruction abducted one Chris Teah, an associate of Al-Jerome Chede, forcing Chede to flee the country to the USA for fear of being killed. He ran a populace Radio Talk Show, “Issues in the Press”. On December 1, 1997 seven journalists from The Inquirer were taken to the Taylor’s residence, where they were interrogated and received death threats. They include Bana Sackie, D. Emmanuel Nah and A. John Kollie; Nah and Kollie are deceased.

On November 23, 1998, a group of ex-combatants stormed the offices of the Sabannoh Printing Press, attacked employees and journalists, destroyed machinery and copies of The News and the Inquirer. Sheriff Adams and Nyekeh Forkpa of The News on January 13, 1999 were charged with criminal contempt, while Judge William Metzger had previously placed two other journalists from the New Democrat in contempt of court. On March 1, 1999 Philip Moore, formerly of  The News was arrested on charges of ―criminal malevolence‖, while on March 5, 1999 Isaac Menyongai of the Heritage was detained without charge for refusing to disclose the source of a story.

Four international journalists from Britain‘s Channel Four Insight News on August 22, 2000 were arrested. David Barrie, Timothy Lambden, Sorius Samura and Gugulakhe Radebe were arrested by the Taylor‘s government and charged with espionage. They were later released. On September 1, 2000, all the editorial staffs of New Democrat were forced to escape the country after receiving death threats for an article published, while three newspapers (the New National, The Analyst, and the Monrovia Guardian) had their equipment seized by police.

Four journalists of the News newspaper, Bobby Tapson, Joseph Bartuah, Abdullah Dukuly, and Jerome Dalieh on February 21, 2001 were arrested and charged for publishing an article questioning fiscal policy in government. The article uncovered that the government had spent US50, 000 on a helicopter, whereas that money could be used on projects seeking to better the lives of Liberians.

Under Taylor regime, the media was “undersized” while the state-owned media, LBS “attempts with much difficulty to dominate public opinion agenda-setting.” Prior to Taylor’s rule, media workers were embroiled in a seven-year civil war, forced to either flee the country or become party to the conflict.

The Liberian media were attacks on several occasions while some journalists including myself were taken to a graveside to be killed but later released through the intervention of a member of the ill-regular forces.  Death threats were regularly used to silence the independent media, (CPJ 2003 report on the Liberian media). Over the past, Independent journalists have faced newspaper closures at the order of the Information Ministry and “have had a full share of incessant, unpredictable and violent harassment by security personnel. Perhaps, for the security a force, the only condition for peaceful coexistence with the media was when the latter stop being critical and independent.

On 25 August, Liberian authorities released four journalists for Britain’s Channel Four who were detained for a week on espionage charges. On 18 August, Sorious Samura of Sierra Leone, Gugulakhe Radebe of South Africa, and David Barrie and Timothy John Lambon of the United Kingdom were arrested and indicted on espionage charges under claims that they intended to produce a documentary that was “damaging and injurious” to the country.

During the decades of civil war, journalists and human rights activists in Monrovia have suffered the worst reprisals in what appear to be targeted and systematic attacks on residents caught up in the conflict. Former two former investigative reporters of the independent newspaper “The News”, the late Bobby Tapson and award winning feather writer, Bill Jarkloh, as well as Joe Watson of the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), were abducted on 12 June by the disbanded LURD rebels. They were released almost one week later.

On 5 June, Stanley McGill, another former reporter with “The News”, was brutally assaulted by armed men who also confiscated his laptop(CPJ 2003 report on the Liberian media). One week before, on 27 May, he was attacked by three armed men wearing uniforms of the presidential elite guard, the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU). The men robbed him of his personal effects, and left with a “promise” to “get back.” The mother of Patrick Wolokpor, a former reporter with the newspaper “Inquirer”, was shot and killed by elements of the ATU when she protested the killing of her dog by the soldiers; Patrick died in 2011.

Mr. Taylor, during his six-year rule ruthlessly cracked down on the political opposition and civil society activists to consolidate his power. As the last remaining openly critical sector of society, the Liberian private media, which ex-president Taylor regarded with a mix of suspicion and contempt, was continually subject to government repression.

The Taylor government’s tactics for silencing critics were varied; police banned independent radio stations perceived to have an “antigovernment” editorial line, and, using pretexts such as tax evasion and closed newspapers that exposed government corruption or rights abuses. As the war between government forces and LURD intensified, the Taylor regime tightened its grip on information, imposing censorship policies that required all news stories on the rebellion to receive approval from the Information Ministry before publication or broadcast.(CPJ 2003 reportontheLiberianmedia).

When formal censorship policies were insufficient, journalists were co-opted with bribes, driven into exile, or cowed into self-censorship with threats of imprisonment or physical assault. The tactics of intimidation culminated in brutal attacks against two journalists in 2002.

The Nigerian Union of Journalists mounted a legal challenge to Taylor’s asylum, but the suit was dropped after Taylor arrived in Nigeria. The journalists’ union is still seeking redress for the death of two Nigerian journalists: Krees Imodibe of the Nigerian Daily Champion, and Tayo Awotusin of The Guardian. While fighting to depose ex-president Doe, Mr. Taylor’s rebel forces murdered the two journalists, who were working in Liberia in the early 1990s.

As the war between Taylor’s government forces and LURD rebels approached Monrovia in the spring of 2003, it became increasingly difficult for journalists to do their jobs. The fighting hit a fever pitch in July, and almost all of the Liberian media shut down. Journalists went into hiding for fear of being targeted by either side or hit in the crossfire. The only independent news source that still operated in the capital in late July was the Catholic Church-owned Radio Veritas. The broadcaster was finally forced off the air on July 21, when a mortar shell hit its transmitter.

Mr. Taylor had a virtual monopoly on the airwaves beyond Monrovia. Though some “amateur” and community stations existed outside the capital, authorities banned at least five of them in the spring, according to journalists in Monrovia, because of fears that they were mobilizing the rural population against the government. He allowed the state media service, the Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS), to deteriorate, preferring to disseminate propaganda through his private media empire—the Liberian Communications Network—which comprised several radio stations.

On February 8, the same year, Mr. Taylor declared a state of emergency that broadened authorities’ powers to limit press freedom. The journalists were released the next day, and the newspaper was allowed to resume publication. But The Analyst was closed again in April, when officials ordered it to cease publication “indefinitely” and police ransacked its offices. Taylor interfered with the print media in other ways as well.

Ex-president Taylor banned the private Star Radio in 2000 and revoked the shortwave broadcast license for the Catholic Church–owned Radio Veritas in 2001 for alleged “anti-government reporting,” leaving once Kiss FM and Radio Liberia International, both of which the president used to own, as the only stations with nationwide range.

About the Author: Prof. Josephus Moses Gbala-hinnih Gray, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the University of Liberia Graduate Studies Program. He is a native born Liberian, hails from the Southeastern village of Kayken Chiefdom in Barclayville, Grand Kru County. He is an author, professor, journalist, diplomat and scholar with a wealth of rich credentials including a Doctorate in International Relations and Foreign Policy Studies from Paris, France. He has authored two books, published Two Graduate Theses and a 600-page Doctoral Dissertation on the theme: “Geopolitics of African Oil and Energy: China and America New Strategic Interests in Africa”. He has written extensively and published over 60 articles on variety of contemporary issues. He can be contacted at Email: graymoses@yahoo.com

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About Cholo Brooks 11589 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.