Strengthening Press Freedom in Mano River Union Countries

Parade in Monrovia on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2012 - © UNESCO

With support from Danida, UNESCO has worked to strengthen press freedom in Mano River Union countries in West Africa, which have experienced decades of violent conflict that have created challenges for the media.

The first phase of the project, in 2011/2012, focused on Liberia, with interventions aimed at media electoral support and media sustainability. A regional conference was held on press freedom which attracted participants from across the sub-region.

In the second phase, 2013-2014, the focus is on media legislation in Sierra Leone and Liberia; and women, media and conflict in Côte d’Ivoire.

Overview of activities

Liberia

During the 2011/2012 electoral period in Liberia, UNESCO helped to establish a media monitoring centre, trained media monitors, and promoted implementation of the 2010 Freedom of Information Act. The media monitoring centre contributed greatly to transparency during a tightly-fought election, which had risked sparking violent conflict if parties were not convinced of the fairness of the elections. This moment illustrated the role of media in enabling democratic transitions in post-conflict situations. People had more access to information, as opposed to rumours, because the media was organized around an election centre to obtain timely information to disseminate before, during and immediately after the elections.

Due to the destruction caused by conflicts, media in Liberia have depended on very low budgets, posing threats to journalistic independence. In collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), UNESCO brought in a fellow to train the media houses in the capital city, Monrovia, on the business side of their work. Monthly dialogue sessions were also established between media houses and the budding businesses. This interaction and business training helped some media houses to start online versions of their editions. In one instance, a newspaper’s website received one million hits within the first six months of operating online, with increased income through advertising. It is estimated that there is an equal number of Liberians in the diaspora as in the country, which makes online journalism not only attractive but also profitable.

Côte d’Ivoire

Partisan violent conflict in 2010-2011 in Côte d’Ivoire threatened freedom of expression and media freedom, as journalists were largely split between the two warring parties. Following successful elections, UNESCO worked with the Media Foundation for West Africa and other partners to support the media after the war. The starting point was media ethics, with the development of an ethical code of conduct to address issues of professionalism. Then an assessment of media development following UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators was conducted. One of the issues identified was the limited gender mainstreaming in terms of what is reported and among the composition of journalists/reporters themselves. This gender imbalance, it was argued, was clear in the type of reports in mainstream media.

Working with the Panos Institute for West Africa, UNESCO has embarked on a project with the support of Danida and Canal France International (CFI) to train media professionals in Côte d’Ivoire on media gender mainstreaming. The idea is to use UNESCO’s Gender-Sensitive Indicators for Media to support newsroom gender policies, work out ethical guidelines on gender in a post-conflict setting, and analyse mainstream media reporting as it concerns women. These activities are ongoing through June 2014.


Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, UNESCO, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is supporting a series of media development activities. One major outcome of this work has been the passage of the Freedom of Information Law in 2013. There are also ongoing advocacy efforts to repeal the criminal libel provisions of the Public Order Act of 1965.

Development partner

Project timeline

June 2011 December 2012

(First phase: Liberia)
January 2013 30 June 2014

(Second phase: Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone)

Countries

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