Promoting freedom of expression in Liberia in run-up to post-conflict elections in October
As Liberia’s second post-conflict legislative and presidential elections approach, UNESCO is supporting a number of events designed to strengthen freedom of expression in the region, within the framework of the Strengthening Freedom of Information in the Mano River States project, financed by the Danish government.
On 28 and 29 September 2011 a conference on Media Ethics and Conflict-Sensitive Elections Reporting was convened by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). Funded by UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), as well as USAID and the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), the conference brought together media stakeholders, government officials and political parties to address the theme “Stand Up for Good Journalism”.
In his address PUL’s President, Peter Quaqua, warned, “The recent escalation in rhetoric among political parties has sadly led some reporters to overlook ethical standards in journalism, with potentially dire consequences for our nation.” Tilly Reid, IREX’s chief of party in Liberia, stressed the need for a “united front among media in maintaining neutrality while covering the upcoming elections”.
UNESCO also supported two Freedom of Information Stakeholders Forums, coordinated by the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) and intended to increase the visibility and understanding of Liberia’s freedom of information legislation. The first Forum, which took place on 5 September 2011, was held in Monrovia and targeted the audience of law-makers, media executives and civil society organizations. The second, held in the rural town of Gbarnga on 12 September, targeted local county authorities and community radio journalists from the surrounding areas of Lofa, Bong, Nimba and Margibi.
Both events constituted the first phase of implementation of the UNESCO-funded project, Freedom of Information Literacy and Publication, and both addressed the theme “Increasing Public Information Flow and Freedom of Expression in Liberia”. In a series of interactive workshops and discussions, participants highlighted the enduring need to fully implement existing freedom of information legislation. However, the necessity for a balance between government action and citizen education was also recognized. The two sessions climaxed with the drafting, signing and reading of a communiqué that captured stakeholders’ commitment to provide the spur for effective implementation of Liberia Freedom of Information Law.
Finally, a media training workshop, organized by the Liberian Media Centre and funded by UNESCO, USAID and International Media Support (IMS), took place from 29 to 31 August 2011. The workshop aimed to re-affirm media’s essential role in enhancing and sustaining Liberia’s democratic process; establish the foundations and imperatives of conflict sensitivity in election reporting and improve professionalism of participating journalists. The event was part of a wider support programme, entitled “Strengthening Media for Transparent Elections”, which will provide media monitoring, training and technical assistance during the election period.