The president of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), Moses Sandy, told a gathering of journalists at the 2nd Annual Benefit Banquet recently held in Philadelphia in the United States that they remain committed to working with the Press Union of Liberia and political leaders to ensure a smooth transfer of power in 2017.
Mr. Sandy said ALJA would be an active participant in the 2017 presidential and legislative elections through the mobilization of logistical support for media monitoring and education.
Sandy re-echoed Prof. Prue Clarke, Executive Director of the Monrovia-based media project – the New Narratives – who had earlier said low income is forcing credible journalists to leave the profession to seek greener pastures.
“Anything that would make the press vulnerable to the highest bidder is unacceptable. To fight poverty in the media, ALJA would like to see the diversification of the income base of media institutions and the merger of those that have similar editorial policies,” noted Sandy.
Speaking on the theme “The role of the media in sustaining Liberia’s democracy beyond the 2017 Elections,” Prof. Clarke said that due to low salaries, “every story journalists write would be a puff piece – be it about the politician who pays them or the aid agency that pays them.”
“Make no mistake; if the aid agency doesn’t pay them for that story, the journalists know that they should write a puff piece to increase their chances of being chosen for the next workshop or trip – that’s where the big money is. No one is paying them to do independent and impartial journalism.”
Director Clarke said because of low wages, the Liberian media is witnessing a brain drain where trained, honest, credible, and qualified journalists are leaving the profession in search of better opportunities, though she did not cite statistics.
She noted, “Because of poor pay we are not always getting the best and smartest. If anyone has a chance to earn a good wage in government or aid agencies, they will go there. In many cases we are getting hustlers who see journalism as a way to get money before stepping into an aid agency or government job.”
On the role of the media in sustaining Liberia’s democracy after the 2017 legislative and presidential elections, Prof. Clarke said ALJA has a lot to give from the Americas to help shape the Liberian media landscape because the association understands the importance of an honest and independent press to Liberia’s democracy. “Not everyone understands this. And you have great power in forcing leaders in Liberia to do the right thing by reporters there,” she emphasized.
She said 2017 would be a critical period in the country’s quest for peaceful co-existence, adding that it has been “74 years since there was a peaceful transfer of power.”
To address the problem of low pay in journalism, Professor Clarke proposed the diversification of the income strings of the media through a “business model” in which media products through creative means like sales and advertisements could generate funds for the upkeep of journalists and media institutions.
PUL president Abdullai A. Kamara said the theme of the ALJA convention was not only meaningful for the media but all Liberians because 2017 would be a salient period in the country’s political history. He said the political transition that comes in 2017 and 2018 would show the world that Liberia has effectively transcended the period of conflict and is now moving forward in peace and development.
Mr. Kamara said the PUL remains committed to the transitional process. “We are committed to working with every group including ALJA for the attainment of a calm and safe transition in Liberia following the general and presidential elections,” he added.
During his remarks, the president of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), Wilmot Kunney, thanked the ALJA for striving to unify the US-based Liberian press corps, and urged the association to help bridge the communication gap between Liberians in the Diaspora and their people in Liberia.
ALJA is a body of current and retired Liberian journalists residing in the Americas. The organization seeks to foster companionship among its members, and is also dedicated to the advancement of press freedom through media development and good governance in Liberia. ALJA was founded in 1998 in Washington, D.C. by a group of US-based Liberian journalists.