Internews Liberia Media Development Program in conjunction with the Publishers Association of Liberia reawaken the media professional grouping, the Editors’ Forum, bringing together newsroom editors to get refresher insight of election coverage and conflict-sensitive reporting.
The reactivation of the Editors’ Forum took into account various topics including the role of the media in Civic and Voters’ Education, Election Coverage Avoiding Conflict, Security Implications and Precautions for Journalists Covering Election, and Ensuring Balance Media Coverage during Election, and was under the theme, “Strengthening Media Editorial Leadership During Elections.”
This professional occupational forum was very active from 2009 to 2013, but it has since been dormant with no impact felt in the media setting for unexplained reasons.
Given the cardinal role Editors and the media in general play in elections and in the society at large, Internews Liberia Media Development Program Chief of Party, Lien Bach at the first Editors’ Forum organized by the Publishers Association of Liberia on November 4, 2020, said Internews with support from USAID, attaches serious importance to the role played by the media in the society and they are glad to partner with the Liberian media.
On the first topic about the media’s role in civic voters’ education, Paul Wilson, Director of National Elections Commission Voter’s Education Department, explained the importance of civic voter’s education and noted that one major hindrance to voter education in Liberia is illiteracy, which he said centers entirely on the voting population.
Mr. Wilson said election becomes peaceful when the media reports electoral issues fairly, void of conflict. However, Alphonso Toweh, Publisher of of the New Republic Newspaper, feels that conflict in elections does not generate from reporting by media practitioners or discontentment raised by politicians, but also the NEC itself. Responding to a question regarding the role of the NEC in an election from Toweh, Mr. Wilson did not agree with the postulation that NEC can be a cause of conflict, but said the NEC has channels for complaint that those with grievances must follow.
On the topic of election coverage avoiding conflict, Thomas Kaydor, Assistant professor at the University of Liberia Graduate School, said the media is nowadays full of biases and insensitive to the voices of women in politics. Mr. Kaydor, who minored in Mass Communication at the University of Liberia, emphasized that because of the way media practitioners are underpaid and humiliated, they hardly give coverage to political players at an equal level but prioritize those with the cash to divide.
“I know that journalists are the most underpaid in Liberia and for that they are compelled to run after people who have the money. Sometimes people will hire the media to cover their stories or publish ads in the paper and do not pay. However, considering the cardinal role you play, try as much as possible to be balanced and report void of conflict,” said Kaydor.
Information Minister and media former media executive, Ledgerhood Rennie, also drew journalists to their consciences on fairness and balancing stories. Mr. Rennie said while journalists may try to balance their reportage, he has professionally observed that, in many instances, fairness is lacking. “How fair will you be in your reporting if you write several paragraphs accusing a person and the accused is only given a sentence?”
On security and safety for journalists, a security expert representing Lofa County Senator Steve Zargo said he sees no reason why government and security should target journalists because the journalist is only reporting stories that newsmakers are giving out. He, however, said journalists should not be always brave to open their chests to danger but take every necessary precaution to avoid danger.
“Be in communication with your head office, be identified, take as many photos as possible, and always avoid areas of danger,” he noted.
At the climax, the president of the Publishers Association of Liberia and publisher of the New Dawn Newspaper, Othello Garblah, acknowledged the role of Internews in lifting the Editors’ Forum and urged editors to do as much as they can in making newsroom active to build a good image of the media.
Jefferson Massah of Internews Liberia Media Development also distributed newsroom handbooks to the editors to use as a guiding tool in reporting on electoral matters as the country prepares for hotly contested elections in December.