Election coverage damaged Liberian media
LIBERIAN JOURNALISTS are generally dismayed by the media's performance during the 2011 General election and the re-election of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Scores of promises for better roads, clean water supply, better health care and education as well as scholarships and positions in return for election "services" did serious harm to the media's reputation.
“It is fair to say there was quite a lot of partisan journalism going on during the election,” says radio producer Raymond K. Zarbay Jr. at the UNMIL Radio in Liberia. "The electorate got words of war from the media. Media too often did not tell the public when a program was sponsored by a particular party, and there were tensions in conversations and defamatory remarks about people and so on."
Zarbay stressed the need for media to investigate and find the truth about all candidates, not to blemish or break politicians down, but provide truthful information about the full scope of a candidate’s ideas.
The comments came as part of a conference was sponsored by The Media Project and hosted by LICJONET, the Christian Journalist Association in Liberia in partnership with Liberia Media Center (LMC) and the Press Union of Liberia. More than 20 Liberian journalists with experience in election reporting gathered and voiced their deep concerns related to media’s role in the general election.
The group noted the challenge from media owners with little understanding of media ethics and journalism, as well as the whole political game taking place between parties and individuals. Journalists were saddened by reports of election fraud with voters from one district being bussed to other election districts. The participants also criticized politicians taking advantage of media, talk shows inviting representatives from only side of the debate, as well as journalists publicly declaring their affiliation to a particular political party.
Several participants utilized LMC's report about the media in the 2011 election. The lack of decent salaries was reiterated, as well as the lack of respect for reporters in the society.
Also Zenu Miller, the former editor of Truth FM/Real TV News stressed that media institutions are based on interest, and that the editorial policy of each institution sets a framework for journalists and their work.
Even allowing for the important role of editorial policy, others pushed individual reporters to take responsibility for their reputations.
“Journalists have no real alternatives. You really decide what kind of journalist you want to be! Do you want to be bought?” asked Newsroom Chief Wade C. L. Williams of FrontPage Africa.
“As a journalist you are in charge of your own reputation. Don’t get too close or familiar with your sources, otherwise you will get compromised. Don’t allow people to decide what you write as you will be hurt,” said Williams.
She admitted the media’s reputation was damaged and remains tarnished from the election, and she thinks media now need to rebuild trust and reputation in Liberian society.