By Tamba Jean-Matthew
Liberia has dozens of professional journalists including Pulitzer laureates with decades of gainful work experience to their credit, but they are yet to be counted among the innovators on the country’s broadcast landscape.
This reality was unthinkable 36 years ago when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)-sponsored mass communication department of the University of Liberia patented the first batch of young professionals.
Attorney Annie Broderick who doubled as Miss Liberia and Miss Africa, was among the first corps of graduates in 1987 and made history when she became the first female journalist to successfully and simultaneously manage the Catholic-owned Radio Veritas and The Herald newspaper.
Unfortunately, Broderick’s organisations were swept away by the 14-year fratricidal civil war that Charles Taylor triggered in 1989 which killed an estimated 25,000 people by the time the carnage ended in 2003.
“It still pains me deeply whenever I think about that irreparable loss,” Broderick said in an interview with our Jamlab correspondent in Liberia.
She expressed dismay over the lateness of Liberian female media professionals to become innovators in the media industry in the country.
“If some of us could succeed in doing so, I’m sure my female colleagues can still do,” said Broderick.
A very good way to start is by cultivating local partners both institutional and private, and then by targeting foreign grant makers through calls for proposals.
She applauded the publishers of the Jamlab newsletter and described the outlet as “a viable conduit” to reach out to global grantmakers and sponsors of media projects.
Broderick now works with the Liberia National Election Commission.
Politicians as media owners
In Liberia as in many other African countries, the bulk of media innovations are clustered in the capital city of Monrovia, where an estimated 2 million inhabitants are fed by eight main media outlets with six of them owned by politicians.
Official statistics indicate that there are slightly over 50 registered electronic media outfits in Monrovia alone, out of which, only eight are regularly on the air and are owned by politicians, says Musah Konneh, a Liberian sociologist and media analyst.
Among the leading companies owned by politicians is HOT FM, owned by Bernard Benson aka DJ Blue, who has been running for a legislative seat for two consecutive times and failed as he pursues a third try come 10 October 2023.
Prominent among the other leading firms owned by politicians is BANA FM & Television which is owned by House Representative Abu Bana Kamara.
Kamara is a popular politician with massive investment in the media industry which he uses as the Trojan horse to attain his political ambition.
The other leading outlets owned by politicians are the OK FM, Truth FM, Voice of Liberia FM, and the Original Country Man (OCM) FM.
OCM FM is owned by Dr. Thomas Tweh who is among Liberia’s richest politicians and a medical doctor with medical facilities in the US. But Dr. Tweh has been sidelined from the legislative race for holding a dual (Liberian/American) nationality which allegedly contravenes Liberia’s electoral laws.
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Bending the rules
What makes it easy for politicians to own media outfits and manipulate them to soothe their whims and caprices is the special privilege accorded them by the Ministry of Information which accredits the media, says Walter O. Massaquoi, a longtime employee of the ministry.
“Actually, the entire process of obtaining a license goes through fairly long but pertinent stages, but for politicians, it’s just a matter of a simple telephone call and it’s done in minutes,” says Richard Noring, a retired worker of the ministry of information.
“Once they (politicians) own a broadcast outfit, they begin to indirectly campaign throughout the unofficial campaign period,” Thomas Fallah, a political analyst said.
Sources of income
The main sources of income besides investment funds come from supplements by advertisers, mostly business people whose interests are protected by politician-media innovators, Ruth Perry, a retired political science professor explained.
Hence on every national and international holiday event, these businesspeople are expected to mandatorily advertise supplements to the politician-owned media outlets.
The supplements range from birthday, wedding, obituary, thank you, safe journey, get well soon, and happy weekend compliments, to wishes for bigger jobs or promotions, etc.
Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab