Renowned Liberian broadcast journalist, Aaron Kollie, has said that it is a must that the current perilous conditions under which the Liberian media operate must change; and it is up to the Liberian government to make that change.
Serving as one of the three panelists at a two-day Media Law and Regulatory Reform Stakeholders’ Conference organized by the Press Union of Liberia and partners in Monrovia, Mr. Kollie said the free press, which government continuously boasts about, must not be measured on the basis of the proliferation of media houses and “free talk,” but on the formulation of laws and policies that safeguard that freedom in line with a constitutional foundation.
He said the Liberia media reform initiative, which the PUL and partners are undertaking, is not just commendable, but an irreversible strategic action initiative to safeguard what he termed as “the sacred journalism profession.”
Mr. Kollie told his colleagues and partners at the conference, “Our meeting here today is to look directly in the eyes of policymakers and insist that the direction has got to change.”
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf delivered the conference keynote address, while Senate Committee Chair on Information and Broadcasting – Milton Teahjay – spoke briefly during the opening ceremony.
Mr. Kollie noted, “Repeated public reference to tolerance and the receipt or ceremonial embrace of friend of media award are not sufficient accolades in the absence of tangible steps and laws to protect press freedom.”
This was in reference to an assertion made by the President that her administration has made significant contributions to the respect and sustainability of the media, including the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act of 2010 – for which she was honored as “Friend of the Media” by the Africa Editors’ Forum.
The Power TV CEO also said that the establishment of an Independent Broadcast Regulator in Liberia is not negotiable. “It is not just an integral part, but an indispensable facet of our current democratic dispensation that aligns directly with the precepts of free and open societies,” he said, adding, “This prolonged advocacy that has witnessed sustained and hectic interventions at the legislative level must be brought to fruition now.”
He noted that the LTA, as structured, is not effectively positioned or qualified enough as a body to regulate such a specialized sector.
“The LTA concentrates heavily on the telecommunications arena, has relegated the Liberian broadcast sector as a side-track, interested only in spectrum and annual registration fees. That has got to change,” he said.
Moving in the direction of reform, he said the government must demonstrate good faith by embarking on the process of deregulation, wherein the Ministry of Information will henceforth cease to regulate and collect annual license or registration fees from media houses.
He noted that the Independent Regulator should not be a government parastatal, adding: “It must be a quasigovernment administrative agency with no direct governmental control.”
“Aside from budgetary allocation, the administrative cost for the upkeep of the regulator must come from diverse sources, including partners and stakeholders. This is intended to serve as an effective safeguard against any manipulation or undue political influence.
“When it is structured as such, decisions taken by the body will be deemed credible and enforceable. In the event of dissatisfaction, the recourse to litigation comes into play,” he noted.
LTA Chairperson Angelique Weeks said the need for freedom of speech and the outreach of broadcast media highlights the progress achieved over the decades for media independence from government control and censorship.
However, she said, “Media freedom and free speech should not be free to the extent that it is irresponsible and not independently regulated,” adding that “where free speech is not held accountable under the law, broadcast content tends to be skewed because business interests take precedence over professional journalism and the public’s interest.”
The broadcast sector, like all sectors, flourishes best in countries where the rule of law is respected, she said.
Journalist Kollie is the CEO of Power TV. The conference was held under the theme: “The Liberian Media and The Law.”
Other panelists were Minister of Information, Eugene Nagbe; Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) Chairperson, Angelique Weeks; and UL Vice President for Administration, Weade Kobbah Wureh, who served as the moderator for the panel discussion.