United States Ambassador to Liberia, Christine Elder, on Monday, December 17, 2018, relaunched the much attention-driven “Daily Talk News Board” in Sinkor, Monrovia, to the excitement of onlookers. The Daily Talk has been a land mark fixture for citizens traveling along Tubman Boulevard since it first appeared in 2000.
Throughout its history, Daily Talk has evolved along with citizens walking and driving past it daily, surviving a civil war, welcoming new governments with feisty dialogue and opening debate through this interactive chalk board.
One evening, about two months ago, the Daily Talk news booth was rammed by an unidentified vehicle and, while no one was injured, this lively local hub of information, debate and discussion, suffered the injury.
The media and local citizens condemned this damage as an act of vandalism, and speculations about the perpetrator’s motive(s) circulated, suggesting malicious intent.
Alfred J. Sirleaf (no relation to former President Sirleaf), founded his blackboard newspaper in 2000, because of his belief that a well-informed citizenry is key to the rebirth of Liberia after decades of civil unrest.
This is not the first time this town crier was put out of action. In 2005 “government soldiers” destroyed the blackboard, and this recent act of vandalism is a stark reminder of darker times for Sirleaf and local fans of the Daily Talk.
Sirleaf compiles his stories daily from newspaper reports and messages from “volunteer correspondents.”
The Daily Talk is free to read, and is funded by occasional gifts of cash and pre-paid phone cards. It has a suggestion box for readers.
Sirleaf believes access to information is the key to peace for Liberia.
USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and the US government in Liberia also supports a pluralistic, open and free media as a cornerstone of this developing democracy with a thriving media sector. To this end, USAID in Liberia has funded Internews Network to implement the Liberia Media Development Program.
The re-launch of Daily Talk was possible due to support from the Liberia Media Development (LMD) program. LMD supports a raft of media and civil society activities that contribute to strengthening a professional and vibrant media environment.
For example, the Daily Talk news update shares information about a national electoral reform dialogue taking shape as a result of government, civil society, media and citizens feedback on the 2017 elections.
This national dialogue is supported by USAID, and would not be relevant to ordinary citizens across the nation if it were not for the diversity of media that exists across the entire nation, from local town criers, such as Sirleaf, to national newspapers, radio, TV, online media and local community radio stations.
LMD Chief of Party, Jan McArthur, welcomed Ambassador Elder and Mr. Sirleaf to cut the ribbon launching the ceremony of the renovated Daily Talk booth.
McArthur commented, “USAID’s research tells us that Freedom of Speech is a value that all Liberian’s hold dear from every corner of the nation.”
The gains the Liberian media and citizens have made over recent decades to protect free expression and freedom of association have been hard-fought, and stand out as unique, compared to many other countries in this region, and even globally. These gains should be treasured and not taken for granted,” McArthur said.
He added, “the role of the USAID-LMD program is to support and enable the media to play a responsible and constructive role in providing a public forum for open dialogue between citizens, community leaders, and government.”
McArthur continued: “It is our hope that the LMD media law work we are doing with Liberian media leaders, the Press Union of Liberia, the Judiciary, the Law School and Bar Association will contribute to constructive dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts that arise within, or in relation to what is reported in the media.”