Media Gropes for Liberty

Published on 20th June 2006

Before the Executive Director of the Liberia Media Center, Lawrence Randell, on-going tour of the West African sub-region to study International Press Centres work in their democratic and human rights settings, and Monrovia's plans to invite the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded Toronto-based Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) to help train her journalists in human rights reporting, the prominent global human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) had argued that at the heart of Liberia's reconstruction is human rights.

Inside the heart of how human rights will drive Liberia's reconstruction is journalism ethics rooted in the Liberian culture, experience and history. Like the rest of Africa's education system, Liberian journalism is grounded deeply colonialist values. In this sense, Randell's journey to "carry out comparative media study analyses of media centers" should be informed by the culture, experiences, and history of Liberia and how this is reflected in the country's journalism and development process. This new found journalism vision should direct the future of the Liberia Media Centre. Randall's study of the "management structure, resources center management, financial and reporting procedures, core project formulation, funding sourcing" and implementation methods of the West African regional press centres should be seen in the context of Liberian history, experience and culture.

Like the rest of post-independence Africa, Liberian journalism attempts to ground its post-conflict values in human rights should be seen in the context of the country's long-running struggle for "Liberty." From "some voices," such as the American Colonization Society (ACS), "call for the return of African Americans to the land of their forebears," after years of "hardship and inequality" in the United States, the central value missing in

Liberian policy making and her journalism ideals is the human rights value of liberty as reflected in the Liberian "Coat of Arms" - "The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here."

Granted that the values of the "Land of the Free," are not reflected realistically in Liberia's development process, and the fact that the Liberia state was for long undemocratically a one-party state ruled by the ex-freed slaves through the dominant True Whig Party, the failure of Liberian elites and the general leadership to sow human rights values in the country's progress, is the challenge of Liberian journalism.

Despite the lack of ease in the formation of Liberia with the settler Americo-Liberians occasionally meeting rigid opposition from indigenous African ethnic groups whom they met upon arrival, human rights tenets are practically and explicitly missing in Liberia's journalism and development process. The missing human rights values here are not just any abstract international principles but rather how to connect the values to Liberia's indigenous values by unearthing the suppressed indigenous human rights values of the 16 ethnic groups that form Liberia by her ruling elites. Still, by failing to direct Liberia's progress in her much touted liberties, freedoms and the refining of the inhibiting aspects of the Liberian culture, Liberia has been stunted in her progress. Fluctuating rights violating regime changes worsened these: terrible tribalism, wrong-headed unLiberian imperial leadership, arrogantly brutal military regimes and destructive rebel insurgencies.

Just as Randall is drawing on West Africa's emerging democracy, human rights and open journalism in Liberia's reconstruction, it is instructive to bear in mind that Liberian journalism, through out Liberia's 14-year horrible civil war, did not take sides in the country's destruction. Randall and his associates, therefore, have this journalism value, experiences, and history to rely on to drive not only the attempts to invent the new Liberian journalism fertilized in human rights but also Liberia's progress.

Like what informs all journalism philosophies throughout the world – from the Western World's Libertarian, the Communist World's Authoritarianism to the Third World's Developmental Journalism - a new Liberian journalism philosophy motivated by human rights and born out of the country's environment, struggles, history, experiences, and indigenous culture is needed from Randall and his associates in the overall development process of Liberia.

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