MAINTAINING FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IN A Thriving DEMOCRACY – FrontPageAfrica

UNDP Guest Editorial

LIBERIA DECLARED independence in 1847 and immediately instituted a democratic form of governance. This, however, began as a one-party democracy that lasted over four decades, and was followed by almost a decade of military rule. Multiparty democracy through free and fair elections materialized in 2005 after a decade and a half of civil conflict that threatened the very existence of the nation and its democratic foundations. The country’s first democratic succession from one party to another took place in 2017 after more than 170 years of citizenship.

CHAPTER THREE, Article 15 of the Constitution of the country and the sub-sub-sections derived from it, set forth the fundamental principle and guarantee of the individual and collective rights to exercise freedom of expression in any form and a manner consistent with international best practice. The government continued to improve the legal and regulatory environment for freedom of expression by repealing the Libel and Sedition Act in 2018, passing several other laws, including the Freedom of Information Act and the Creation of the Independent Information Commission.

LIBERIA IS ALSO a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 19 of which enshrines the principles of freedom of expression.

In addition, the Press Union established a National Media Council in 2016 which developed a code of conduct for journalists and the media to self-regulate. The country has a vibrant media landscape, with more than 40 newspapers, including online publications, and 130 radio and television stations, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). This year, Liberia was ranked 75/180 on the Global Press Index, an improvement from 2021, when it was ranked 98/180. It’s impressive.

DEMOCRACY THRIVES where freedom of speech and expression is respected. It is therefore fitting that the UN, this year, devotes the International Day of Democracy to “Protecting press freedom for democracy”. The media is essential in creating a space for people to express their opinions, giving a voice to the voiceless, including groups such as young people, women and people with disabilities, who are all marginalized but essential to achieve the SDGs. The media is essential to facilitate the inclusiveness and participation of the whole of society in democratic processes and governance.

ONE OF THE INTRINSIC principles of democracy is that institutions of governance should be transparent and accountable, and governed with integrity. While the Liberian media is undoubtedly progressive in covering and highlighting issues affecting society, there is a need to intensify its watchdog role to help national institutions foster a more deeply rooted culture of transparency, responsibility and integrity.

Mainstream and digital media, including social media, should foster further investigation into the functioning of the country’s governance institution and its effectiveness in delivering services to the Liberian people.

WHILE LIBERIA has made significant progress in building institutions of integrity in its post-war era through the Anti-Corruption, Governance, Human Rights and Audit Commissions , these institutions have not yet reached their optimal potential. The media is in a unique position to raise difficult questions on behalf of the Liberian people about whether key institutions of governance are functioning optimally to improve the lives of ordinary Liberians and to achieve the goals set out in the Agenda in pro-poor for prosperity and development.

THE MEDIA should also take full advantage of the conducive working environment in the country to go beyond traditional reporting on civil and political rights, and seek to understand, explore and highlight Liberia’s progress towards achieving the SDGs, holding the various duty bearers accountable. . More reporting needs to be done on access to basic services such as clean water, quality health services, justice, etc., as this is the essence of the SDGs.

THE MEDIA SHOULD also proactively seek out and tell the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help solve the multiple development challenges facing the country. This can help motivate more citizen-inspired action. Beyond that, the media must also strengthen their role of informing and educating citizens; this can help empower people to take action and participate in the democratic governance of the country.

AHEAD of the 2023 presidential and general elections, we all have a collective responsibility to ensure that the civic space necessary for all citizens to freely express their opinions and ideas is preserved. It will be a great testament to Liberia’s maturing democracy to see a peaceful dialogue between all stakeholders – government, citizens, political parties, private sector and other interest groups – on the choices to be made to promote the country’s development. . The media can play an important role in promoting and mediating these debates and discussions.

FINALLY, we welcome the measures taken by the government to increase access to information on its programs and activities, including the budget. It is important to continue moving in this direction, which is essential to empowering citizens and enabling meaningful participation in discussions and decision-making on public policy issues.

DESPITE THE REMAINING CHALLENGES, Liberia is on the right track to strengthen its democracy. Continued investments to guarantee and safeguard freedom of expression and freedom of the media will not only help consolidate the country’s achievements, but will also contribute significantly to the achievement of the SDGs and the objectives defined in the PAPD. A credible press working in tandem with government, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders bodes well for the future of the country.

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