The Press Union of Liberia (PUL), along with a diverse group of Liberian journalists and media proprietors, joined the rest of the globe in commemorating World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2022.
The United Nations General Assembly designated this day as World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 1991, and it is commemorated every year to raise awareness of the importance of press freedom and to remind governments of their responsibility to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Traditionally, the focus has been on physical abuse of the media, but this year’s commemoration took a unique turn by focusing on the media’s economic independence, and we are delighted that this essential problem has taken center stage in the debate on press freedom. The media’s economic freedom is just as harsh and crucial as their physical freedom from tyranny and sanctioning.
Unfortunately, economic independence, which is critical to press freedom, has been undervalued throughout time. Physical violence against journalists has received a lot of attention, which everyone laments and condemns, yet many people are oblivious to the media’s economic freedom. They have forgotten that when the economy is in shambles, the media’s independence will be severely harmed. Most of the time, as we’ve seen in recent years, it jeopardizes independence, integrity, and even freedom.
The publisher of this paper once wrote an article lamenting the economic benightedness of the media in Liberia. So we are pleased that the global topic included media viability.
“Journalism Under Digital Siege” was the theme of the day, with three subtopics including: Digital Siege, Transparency as a public good, and Media viability and public trust.
The Monrovia City Mayor, Jefferson Tamba Koijee, who was the keynote speaker, tried honestly to proffer recommendations to deal with this very important issue of economic freedom of the press.
He said, in clear terms, that media viability is not an easy-to-grasp concept. “It consists of too many intricacies which vary in terms of tangibility.” Its prime focus has to do with the independence of the media. This squarely means that the media should be empowered by way of addressing the economic factors such as the income level of the audience, an environment that stimulates start-ups in the sector and the political stability in a region, country or area.
He was right when he said media viability has something to do with its independence, and it is also to address the economic situation that could empower the media. But he skidded off track when he said, “In Liberia, we may not be able to address the macroeconomic conditions at the moment, but we can safely and proudly boast of the political stability in our country that we can leverage for media viability.” While it is true that it is extremely difficult for one to predict political stability in the absence of addressing the economic conditions, we believe that our country and people can work together to adopt policy actions to mitigate our constraints and put us on the trajectory of finding innovative solutions to the issues affecting media viability. By and large, these actions are not only influenced by central government policies but also by factors outside of the central government’s control. And that is why I am proposing the formulation of a Media Advocacy Resource Plan that encapsulates the market economy of the media, including business models, training and manpower development, technology, specific issues of journalists and media welfare, and other key pillars of media viability.
We disagree on this point; first and foremost, the government’s policy is critical in addressing media viability, which borders on media independence. One approach to start is to make sure that no one advertises on the Executive Mansion Website, which is now the case. A policy to ensure that government agencies’ advertisements in media-funded institutions are delivered on time. This is a promising start that requires immediate attention. If this is not done as soon as feasible, the media’s independence will diminish over time, as many journalists would be at the whim of politicians who rely on subsidies to survive. It is note worthy to state that there is no press freedom without media economic viability.