Media Freedom/Independence not the Reality in Liberia
Liberia’s Freedom of Information Law passed by the Legislature in September 2010 and signed into law by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on September 16, 2010 at 3:30pm may have been seen as a major step towards media freedom in Liberia.
The speed at which the FOI Law was signed by the President may have also been in recognition of the positive contributions by the media to making her administration better, being cognizant of the fact that FOI was crucial in ensuring information/communication flow between her administration and the citizens, regarding what was being done, who, what, how, when and where through the media.
Even when she signed the Table Mountain Declaration in 2012, it made headlines the world-over considering the intent directed at stopping insults and criminal charges against the media- a decision for which the President was hailed in Liberia and abroad for her sensitivity to press freedom privileges considering Liberia’s bitter past as far as media suppression was concerned- even though domestic laws against the media are yet to be decriminalized.
In a true sense, despite the fact that these actions may have had the good intentions of making the sector more viable at all levels, the media continue to experience the worst of it all- probably because of the scrutiny to which the President and entire government have been subjected.
The fact that the media in Liberia may be broadcasting and publishing speeches/information expressed by citizens may not necessarily be in consonance with the FOI law or Table Mountain Declaration enacted by and signed into law by the Government of Liberia. It may be for some reasons- to which the media is being resented.
The practical fact of the matter is that the Liberian Media is not independent as wished by the FOI and TMD. The suppression by the government characterizing media independence continue to strangulate and retard the growth of the media to the detriment of the primary objectives of the FOI and TMD.
When the Government of Liberia deliberately delays or refuses to meet up with its financial obligations to the media institutions, it becomes very needless to boast of Press Freedom or Media independence in Liberia; When the government, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning decides to even pay media houses in ‘piece-meals’ over a long period of time just to avenge the scrutiny to which public officials are subjected, Press Freedom or media independence becomes questionable; and when the government, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning decides to cut down or reduce the total amount of money by more than half it owes each media house in Liberia for services rendered, the government’s commitment and credibility in upholding media freedom and independence also becomes very questionable- that the problem with which the Liberian media is confronted.
And unless the government can conform to these principles characterizing its relationship with the media, its commitment to upholding the Press Freedom or Media Independence in Liberia will continue to be a ‘lip-service’ and mere international PR.