African News

Liberia, Human Rights and Journalism

11 July 2006 at 13:07 | 492 views

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, in Accra, suggests ways by which Liberian journalism could ground its practices and functions in human rights reporting.

Before the Executive Director of the Liberia Media Center, Lawrence Randell’s recent tour of the West African sub-region to study how the various International Press Centres are working in their various 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: this is to be driven by journalism ethics rooted in the Liberian culture, experiences, and history. Like the rest of Africa’s education system, Liberian journalism is not grounded deeply in the country’s indigenous culture, experiences, and history but the colonialists’ values.

In this sense, Randell’s West African 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. And so 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, experiences, and culture.

Like the rest of post-independent 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 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,” as the name Liberia means, are not reflected realistically in Liberia’s development process, and lack of which resulted in the implosion of Liberia, despite the almost 133 years after independence and the fact that the Liberian state was for long undemocratically a one-party state ruled by the ex-freed slaves Americo-Liberians 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 one of the challenges of Liberian journalism, in the climate of West Africa’s emerging democracy, press freedoms and human rights, to use its unique power of communications to entrench a “culture of rights,” just as Journalists for Human Rights aims at growing in Africa via Ghana, in Liberia’s progress.

Despite uneasiness of the formation of Liberia with the settler Americo-Liberians occasionally meeting rigid opposition from indigenous African ethnic groups whom they met upon arrival, and Liberia’s history until 1980 being largely peaceful, 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 human rights principles but rather how to connect human rights values to Liberia’s indigenous values by unearthing the indigenous human rights values of the 16 ethnic groups that form Liberia that had been suppressed by her ruling elites for so long.

Still, by failing to direct Liberia’s progress fully in her much touted liberties and freedoms and the refining of the inhibiting aspects of the Liberian culture that have been entangling her progress, 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.

Randall should be drawing on West Africa’s emerging democracy, human rights and open journalism in Liberia’s reconstruction, especially Ghana where the emerging natural link between journalism and human rights is being increasingly created. 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 through out the world - from the Western World’s Libertarianism to 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.

Photo: President Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia

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