Religion & Media in Liberia's Civil War
Like most of their colleagues in the sub-region, the Liberian media was confronted with intimidation, death and destruction before the outbreak of the country’s civil war, but the pains and agony caused by the war on the media community will forever remain memorable in the history of journalism in the country.
Let me cite a few instances where the Liberian media suffered harassment and intimidation before the outbreak of the civil war just for the record and to educate you that the suffering and pains media personnel have undergone just did not start from the war.
It will interest you to know that Liberia is probably the only country or one of the only countries in the region, where a journalist has stayed in jail for up to 15 years for his independent writing. That journalist was C. Fredrick Taylor, Editor of the Independent African Nationalist Newspaper published in Monrovia in the 40s.
His crime was writing an editorial opposing the re-election of former Liberian President Williams V.S. Tubman in 1948, when it became increasingly clear that the President was seeking a second term. He was imprisoned in 1951 and was later released with other political prisoners, who the government claimed were trying to assassinate the President.
Others like the late Tuan Wreh, a young and talented journalist who later became a politician, was arrested and imprisoned on similar charges. Soldiers forced him to carry human feces around Monrovia until the process nearly drove him insane.
Additionally, Journalists like Charles Gbeyon, a television producer with the state owned Liberia Broadcasting System (ELBC/TV) was gruesomely killed while performing his journalistic duties, during the infamous 1985 failed coup/invasion against the government of slain President Samuel Doe.
Some of the nation’s leading publications, the Daily Observers, The Inquirer [where Patrick was employed] and the New Democrat Newspapers were attacked with arson and ordered to cease publication by successive Liberian administrations as a move intended to silence the independent press in the country.
These are just a few of many cases I could cite to demonstrate the Liberian media's struggles and hard times, which were difficult even before the civil war compounded the problem.
The war years themselves paralyzed the work of the media to a large extent. It divided the media, and made the media not appear credible, dependable and trusted. Journalists suddenly found themselves on various sides of the conflict and under territorial control of a belligerent faction, and to preserve their own safety, they were forced to promote the ideology of these groups, thereby compromising independent journalism.
In fact the media was divided primarily into two groups during the first course of the Liberian civil crisis in the 90s. Those who were considered “Monrovia Journalists,” because they operated in the control area of the interim government backed by the ECOWAS peace keeping forces centered in Monrovia. The remainder were part of what was referred to as “Greater Liberia Journalists” who operated in the area held by Mr. Charles Taylor and his forces in rural Liberia.