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Media to Play Significant Role in Liberia's Upcoming Elections, but Coverage Limited in Rural Areas

  • James Butty

Political campaigning for Liberia's October 11 presidential and parliamentary elections has reached a feverish level. Voice of America's James Butty has been keeping an eye on the role of the media in covering the campaigns and prepared this report.

Many Liberians will tell you that their country today is not the same as it was before the civil war. They say Liberians are more vocal when it comes to how they want their country to be run. If theories hold, then the people's voices should be reflected in the media coverage of the presidential campaign.

Frank Sainworla, radio director of Radio Veritas, our Voice of America affiliate in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, said "I want to say that the media in Liberia, both print and the electronic, have done a fairly good job in covering the election, although there are some problems in terms lack of logistics, financial problems and other problems that the media in this part of the world continue to face."

Philip Wesseh, managing editor of the Inquirer newspaper, agrees. He says the media has made a significant contribution to advancing political dialogue in the coming election.

"I think the media is (are) doing fine," he said. "This is the first time that we have had debates among the candidates who are contesting for various positions in this country, and as a result of the debates, some people are now determined to make their choice."

However, Mr. Sainworla sees one problem. He says while the media coverage of the candidates has been strong in the capital, Monrovia, it has not been satisfactory throughout the rest of the country. Mr. Sainworla says this has created a bigger political crisis.

"The bulk of the rural population does not know more than five of the candidates by name, or have not heard more than five of the candidates or seen more than five of the candidates," he said. "And one reason responsible for this is that the lack of communication and the poor and very deplorable road condition."

Some media institutions, particularly a few print media outlets, have been criticized for their coverage of certain candidates, or for not checking facts before publishing. Mr. Sainworla says there are unscrupulous elements in every profession.

"In every profession, there are unprincipled elements; there are people who generally don't have the kind of integrity that good journalism requires," he said. "But on the overall, I think generally the media here are trying to do their level best to keep the public informed and to be as impartial as possible."

Mr. Sainworla says the Press Union of Liberia has begun an investigation into those few cases of professional lapses. He says the Press Union is also looking into media complaints against the behavior of certain candidates.

For his part, Mr. Wesseh says because of the media coverage, Liberians are no longer afraid to discuss their political affiliations.

"We in the media, we are demanding the publication of the platforms of the various candidates, especially the presidential candidates," he said. "We want something written that will hold them accountable tomorrow. So as I speak to you, perhaps by Wednesday, the newspapers in Liberia will not carry any story about the presidential candidates if they do not publish their platforms."

Mr. Wesseh says the Liberian media is determined to make the October 11 presidential and general elections free and fair and the results credible.

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