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Liberian Journalists Struggle to Escape Cycle of Corruption


Earlier this week Liberia was sited as an example of great progress on World Press Freedom Day. But working conditions are still tough and many journalists resort to corruption to keep themselves afloat. For VOA, Franz Wild visited a radio station in Monrovia to find out what it is like to be a journalist in Liberia.

To enter Sky FM's offices on Monrovia's thronging Broad Street you have to walk by its thundering generator, which throbs away 24 hours a day to keep the station's electricity supply going.

David Targbe is the director of news at Sky. He says while having press freedom is a step in the right direction, Liberian journalists are still struggling.

"The challenges here are very great," he said. "We are working under extremely difficult circumstances. There is a lack of requisite facilities. There is a lack of requisite benefits as a journalist. And there is a lack of equipment to make sure that our broadcasts are made easier."

Targbe's office is a desk in a separated area of the lobby. He does not have a computer and has to write all his scripts out by hand. Sky does not supply any phones, so he has to make any calls from his own cell phone. Useful numbers are scribbled onto the wall next to his desk.

Targbe says that this lack of equipment means that the quality of their output suffers dramatically.

"The problem we have is that we always have poor quality of sound," he noted. "The kind of facilities and tape recorders we use are substandard. We use cassettes. When the guests are on air it does not always sound that good. And we always get bad feedback on that from our listeners. They complain that our news is good, but our sound quality is bad. That is embarrassing for us as a station."

Raymond Zarbay trains Liberian journalists with the U.N. He says journalists here have equipment problems, but also need to develop their techniques.

"Technique and equipment are both problems," he explained. "They have a lot of analogue equipment here and there is a need for them to have some digital equipment so that they can keep up with the kind of work we are doing with them."

At Sky FM Targbe earns about $100 a month. Other journalists at the station earn about half that. These low salaries lead many journalists to look for other sources of income.

Corruption within the media is rife. Politicians will pay for positive coverage.

"There are a lot of independent newspapers, but this independence can be influenced by money coming from politicians or other invisible hands," he explained. "A politician calls you and tells you to come and see him in his office. He asks you to write a piece for him and gives you an envelope. That influences your work as a journalist. This is the point where the issue of ethical standards comes in."

Targbe is certain this was especially the case during last year's elections, when many candidates were paying vast sums of money in the hope that this would increase their chances of being elected.

He says many journalists made a small fortune over the election period.

"There was a lot of cash running around," he added. "There was a lot of cash for journalists who were willing to get the cash and for those who were willing give their favorite politicians good coverage. In fact, after the elections some journalists bought cars. Some are now building their homes, because they have accumulated a lot of money."

Targbe says this corruption will characterize Liberian journalism as long as journalists remain underpaid. The only other option is to join an international media organization, which can pay higher rates.