Liberia





Basic Data

Liberia

Official Country Name: Republic of Liberia
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 3,225,837
Language(s): English, ethnic group languages
Literacy rate: 38.3%
Area: 111,370 sq km
Number of Television Stations: 2
Number of Television Sets: 70,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 21.7
Number of Radio Stations: 10
Number of Radio Receivers: 790,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 244.9

Background & General Characteristics

The Republic of Liberia is slightly larger than the state of Tennessee in the United States. Liberia is a democratic country situated on the western African coast and borders the Atlantic Ocean along its entire southwest coastline of 579 kilometers. Much of Liberia is covered with tropical rain forest while 10 percent is water and the country's terrain ranges from coastal plains to plateau to low mountains. Liberia's climate is tropical.

A low literacy rate of 38.3 percent (male 53.9 percent and women 22.4 percent) makes radio the preferred medium of communication, with about 800,000 radio receivers nationwide.

The legal and constitutional frameworks exist for a free and independent press in Liberia, but the reality is that government routinely shuts down independent media houses. Journalists who are critical of the government are frequently jailed without due process. Most press activities are concentrated around Monrovia, the capital. The press exercises self censorship and continues to criticize the government at their own risk.

In 2002, Liberia was home to two independent daily newspapers, the Inquirer and the News . Another independent newspaper, New National , publishes biweekly. A fourth independent newspaper, The Analyst , published sporadically until police closed it down on April 25, 2002. The government's Ministry of Information publishes the New Liberian bi-weekly . The ruling National Patriotic Party publishes the Pepperbird sporadically. Two government ministers own the Monrovia Guardian and Poll Watch , respectively; both are bi-weekly. Three other independent newspapers, The Journalist , the Concord Times, and the Daily Times remain closed.

Economic Framework

A seven-year civil war which began on Christmas Eve 1989 ended with elections in July 1997 and brought President Charles Taylor to power. The years of fighting coupled with an unsettled domestic security situation has led to the flight of most businesses and has disrupted formal economic activity. The rebuilding of the social and economic structure of Liberia is stagnant. An United Nations-imposed sanction is in place until May 2003. The government relies on revenue from its maritime registry and lumber exports to provide the bulk of its foreign exchange earnings. Eighty percent of Liberia's 3.2 million people live below the poverty line and unemployment is 70 percent.

Most newspapers print a maximum of 1,000 copies and the advertising rates are abysmally low. A full-page ad costs about $100 (U.S.) in a daily newspaper with 1,000 circulation. All newspapers are printed in English, the official language. Beside English, Liberia has sixteen ethnic groups and four language families.

The currency exchange rate between the American dollar and Liberian dollar is about 1:50. Newspapers pay approximately $200 (U.S.) or $10,000 (L) to print 1,000 copies of an 8-page paper. Newspapers typically retail for $20 (40 cents U.S.), the same price of a pint of rice, Liberia's food staple.

Sabannoh Printing Press had a monopoly on newspaper printing until March 2002 when the government granted a permit to the Press Union of Liberia to operate Liberia Printing Incorporated.

Press Laws

The Liberian Constitution guarantees press freedom. Article 15(a-e) states:

  1. Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression being fully responsible for the abuse thereof;
  2. The right includes freedom of speech and of the press;
  3. There shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries;
  4. Access to state-owned media shall not be denied because of any disagreement with or dislike of the ideas expressed;
  5. This freedom may be limited only by judicial action in proceedings grounded in defamation or invasion of the rights to privacy.

Liberia, in theory, has an independent judiciary but the president exercises strong executive powers that frequently cross the lines that separate it from the legislative and judicial branches.

Censorship

Self-censorship is very common. A Communication Act promulgated by government on August 28, 1989, empowers a National Communications and Regulation Commission to "devise policies and/or regulations to govern the creation, establishment and operation of all electronic and print media within the territorial confines of the Republic of Liberia."

State-Press Relations

There is mutual suspicion between government and the independent press. The Press Union of Liberia, established in 1964, is dynamic and defends the rights of journalists.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

Foreign journalists need a clearance from the Ministry of Information. There are documented cases of foreign journalists who were charged with espionage, detained and had their equipment and tapes confiscated. All were released after appeals from the international community.

Broadcast & ELECTRONIC News Media

The Liberia Communications Network (LCN), owned by Liberia's president Charles Taylor, has a nationwide reach and broadcasts on FM and short wave frequencies. There are three other stations with short wave frequency capability; two of which are religious stations. The first of these, Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) has broadcast in Liberia off and on since 1954. The second, Radio Veritas, owned by the Catholic Diocese of Liberia, has been shut down frequently because of Veritas's stance on human rights and social justice issues. STAR Radio, another independent radio station with short wave transmittals remains closed.

The government-owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) is heard only around Monrovia as are the privately owned FM radio stations DC-101, Liberia Christian Radio, and LOVE-FM. Stone FM is heard mostly around Harbel, near the Firestone rubber company. There are two television broadcast stations plus four low-power repeaters. Private video clubs proliferate. The Liberia News Agency (LINA) rarely sends out wire stories.

The only public Internet service, Data Tech, launched in early 1999 is controlled by a family with close personal ties to the president (World Reporter).

Education & TRAINING

The University of Liberia awards a bachelor of arts in mass communications. Civil strife has led to frequent closures of the University. A brain drain has mitigated the quality of trained journalists in the country. The Liberian Institute of Journalism, the Press Union of Liberia, and some diplomatic missions offer occasional in-service training. Many journalists acquire skills through apprenticeship.

The Press Union of Liberia gives annual merit awards to individuals and media institutions.

Summary

Liberia's current president, Charles Taylor, tolerates minimal criticism yet the independent press remains strong partly because it is unified by the dynamic Press Union of Liberia. Press freedom is protected by the constitution, but like most developing nations, the press laws in Liberia are only as good as the government that enacts, enforces, and interpret such laws.

Bibliography

Allen, William C. "Soaring Above the Clouds of Mediocrity: The Challenges of the Liberian Press in the '90s." Liberian Studies Journal (XV:1, 1990):74-84.

Best, Kenneth Y. "The Liberian Press: Quo Vadis?" Liberian Studies Journal (XXII:1, 1997): 45-67.

Burrowes, Carl Patrick. "Modernization and the Decline of Press Freedom: Liberia 1847 to 1970." Journalism & Mass Communication Monographs 160 (Dec. 1996).

Central Intelligence Agency. "Liberia." The World Factbook . Available from www.cia.gov .

Constitutional Advisory Assembly. Constitution of the Republic of Liberia. Monrovia, Liberia: Sabannoh Press Ltd., 1983.

Freedom Forum. "Liberian battle for control of short-wave radio heats up." September 5, 2001. Available from www.freedomforum.org .

——. "Liberian journalists freed after more than a month in jail on espionage charges." April 2, 2001. Available from www.freedomforum.org .

Nelson, Estella. "PUL Regrets Action Against Press Freedom." The News [Monrovia]. May 6, 2002. Available from http://allafrica.com .

——. "Journalists Seek Close Collaboration With Government." April 21, 2002. Available from http://allafrica.com .

Rogers, Momo K. "The Liberian Press: An Analysis." Journalism Quarterly (No. 63, 1986): 273-281.

——. "The Press in Liberia, 1826-1996: A Select Chronology." Liberian Studies Journal (XXII:1, 1997): 95-120.

——. "Liberian Journalism, 1826-1980: A Descriptive History." Ph.D. diss., Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 1987.

World Reporter. "Liberia's naked ambition?" October 30, 2001. Available from www.worldreporter.org .

Dr. William C. Allen

Also read article about Liberia from Wikipedia

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