Our Pledge at 40

2
117

The Media Landscape forty years later, since the founding of the Daily Observer, has witnessed the expansion of the democratic space and consequently the expansion of media freedoms. But this has not come without a price.

Over the years since the founding of the Daily Observer in 1981, there have been persistent media reports of journalists being hounded, harassed, jailed and physically assaulted by state security forces with some even losing their lives.

History recalls that the Daily Observer was founded at a time when the country was under the rule of a military dictatorship that came to power in the 1980 coup d’etat following the violent overthrow of the Tolbert government.

Following the birth of the Daily Observer as Liberia’s first independent daily newspaper since 1980, several other newspapers have since come to share the newsstands with it. As a trail blazer, it has led an uncompromising fight against ills affecting the nation’s body politic. And it has done so without fear or favor to anyone.

But by remaining true to its mission and calling over the years, to do fair, truthful, accurate and balanced reporting, the Daily Observer has inadvertently found itself the target of often hostile official action. 

Twice since its founding, its offices were set ablaze and burned to the ground. Also, its staff have been arrested and imprisoned on several occasions. In 1990 the Observer was to suffer a fate probably intended to convey a distinct message that its end had finally come. Its offices were once again attacked and burned to the ground while its staff members were driven into exile.

During the period of the civil war, several journalists found themselves trapped behind rebel lines while others found themselves in Monrovia. During that period, local media coverage of events unfolding in Liberia were, it appeared, shaped to reflect the perspectives of either side of the divide.

Also worth noting were efforts made in 1995 by some former staff led by former Daily Observer reporter James Seitua to return the paper to the newsstands. This effort was however interrupted by the outbreak of fighting in Monrovia on April 6, 1996.

Following the cessation of hostilities in July and the gradual return of normalcy, the Daily Observer returned to the newsstands again in 1997 but folded up following the election of Charles Taylor as President that year.

The media landscape underwent significant change during that period. The vibrancy, critical and robust media reporting characteristic of the Monrovia press during the tenure of the Sawyer led Interim government had all but gone cold during the years of the Taylor administration.

During that period, most existing media institutions perhaps with the exception of a few resorted to the practice of self-censorship, fearful of attracting violent retribution from state security agents. And, in doing so, most media houses at the time resorted to the broadcast or publication of sensational stories.

Such strategy, it appeared was intended to shore up a shrinking revenue base in view of a severely constricted advert market dominated by the Government of Liberia and international NGOs.

While GoL could on the one hand deny advert opportunities to those media institutions it considered hostile to its interests, it could on the other hand, bring undue influence to bear on international NGOs to direct adverts only to officially approved media institutions, those it considered friendly. Such was the experience.

Today, the challenges facing the media including the Daily Observer, are huge; they include amongst others, a rapidly shrinking revenue base owing mainly to the dismal economic situation. Resultantly, most media institutions find themselves unable to offer attractive salaries to attract the best quality.

Further, it appears the media is becoming increasingly at odds with officials of this government. When lapses and inappropriate official behavior is reported in the press, it is often interpreted in official circles to mean that the particular journalist or media institution is against the government.

And despite the fact the Constitution of Liberia has enshrined provisions guaranteeing and protecting free expression and despite the fact that the government of Liberia has become signatory to international treaties and obligations protecting freedom of expression and of the media, including the Table Mountain Declaration, yet journalists have become frequent targets of abuse at the hands of state security.

As the Daily Observer celebrates 40 years of existence, it finds itself confronted with challenges threatening its very survival as an institution. There are indications that most other media institutions are also facing similar challenges.

In the face of a shrinking advert market occasioned by a poorly performing economy, the will to persevere has to be undergirded by a commitment to remain faithful to the tenets of good journalism which require fair, balanced, accurate and truthful reporting that will ultimately earn the trust and support of the public.

For its part, the Daily Observer, at 40 renews its pledge to stand by this commitment come what may. Times may, for now, appear or even be difficult, however, difficult times do not last always; they can be overcome and that is exactly what we are pledged to.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Webmaster Admin,

    Through you, allow me to congratulate the Daily Observer for tenaciously holding on through adverse tides and stormy winds to reach the maturity age. May the roads that lie ahead be less tumultuous with innovations and creativity.

    However, as your fervent reader, I would like to offer my objective criticism about your concerns of the shrinking advert market, which should be booming for a news outlet like the Daily Observer.
    I strongly believe you are not being innovative to breakoff with the archaic ways of doing business. Be reminded that we are now living in the computer age and so many things are directed through technology. You therefore need to innovative or become creative in exploring new markets. You have great journalists and doing fantastic job, innovative or be creative!

    My Suggestions:
    – Get qualified webmasters (at least 2) to creatively boost your website by integrating a payment system for sensitive or key articles, vital investment and related information, job and other public service announcements, etc. These people should also be able keep the site dynamic for occasional political, socio-cultural or sporting events like local and national election results’ tallies, musical or cultural events or county meets or AFCON or world cup score sheets.
    – Employ contractual sales agents to seek online publications at considerably reduced costs to incite even small businesses to sell their products on your website, etc.

    There are many things that the Daily Observer can do to attract new markets. You may serve as a platform where WASCE exams results can be published, or government recruitment announcements could be channeled, etc.

    Innovative, Daily Observer!
    You can earn more from online marketing while continuing to inform us about our country. Many companies can sell their products through you by making publicity on your site.

    By the way, you need to protect your website. Other foreign businesses use the Daily Observer website to make publicity of their products to the Liberian market without you getting proceeds from any of them.

  2. Ehkonbisieh, Daily Observer, and kudos to humble founders, Mr. and Mrs Kenneth Best, for succeeding in sustaining this public service cum business enterprise on our scary media topography. That Kenneth’s trailblazing uncle old man Albert Porte reportedly always had an emergency bag in anticipation of incarceration because of holding power accountable, says it all.

    An independent credible media outlet requires sufficient funds, and writers with insights, integrity, and intrepid. But these qualities aren’t easily marshaled, especially so, in our unsteady corner of the earth. Take for instance, the need for intrepid – courage. Working as a journalist in a country which emerged from a One Party System to Martial Law was like covering a (hot) war zone.

    As someone then present to watch that peculiar lot of the Fourth Estate, and that of Daily Observer, in particular, I must say congratulations to all members of staff who passed through its doors for the past four decades. Mr Kenneth Best and I enjoyed a honorable relationship between 1981 and 1986, and I still hold him in high esteem. Thanks, Senior Brother; hold the fort Counsellor Best and amigo John H.T Stewart Sr; and long live “Daily Observer”!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here