Training the Watchdog – A Free and Fair Press

Written by Nadia Hakim

When discussing the issues in Africa, most immediately think of development and stability in the region. A free and fair press usually does not make it across as a pressing problem.

I know that I never gave it much thought until I attended a presentation by Ken Harper, a photojournalism professor at the Newhouse School of Public Communication. He travels to Liberia and trains journalists in the capital, Monrovia. After decades of civil war, the country is on the road to recovery.

In the United States, and most other successful democracies, there is the prominent belief that the media serve as a watchdog for its citizens. Journalists are supposed to present the news in an objective manner, and the people should be able to make their own decisions based on this information. In theory, this is how it works.

Liberia just received broadband a couple of years ago. Journalists are threatened, many critical newspapers and radio stations become targets of destruction, and less than 60 percent of the population is literate.

However, there are positive changes arising from their hardship as well. Liberian journalist Mae Azango, recently went into hiding after reporting on the tradition of female genital mutilation in the country. For the first time in Liberia’s history, the government took a public stance on the ritual and officials voiced their desire to stop it. A recent headline reads, “In Liberia, journalist Mae Azango moves a nation.”

So what to do? It will take more than delivering donated equipment and wishing them well to prepare Liberian journalists for the task of informing the people.

“Freedom of the press is not restricted to the operation of linotype machines and printing presses. A rotary press needs raw material like a flourmill needs wheat. A print shop without material to print would be as meaningless as a vineyard without grapes, an orchard without trees, or a lawn without verdure. Freedom of the press means freedom to gather news, write it, publish it, and circulate it. When any one of these integral operations is interdicted, freedom of the press becomes a river without water.” – Justice Musmanno

For more photos and information on Ken Harper’s Together Liberia project, please visit

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One Response to Training the Watchdog – A Free and Fair Press

  1. Mike says:

    While it is inspiring to read of Mae Azango’s success, I must disagree on the role of the media and journalism in not only emerging nations but in all countries around the world. The media is no longer viewed (if it ever was) as an objective tool for relaying information to an uninformed public but is a tool used by interested parties to promote their agendas. Objectivity can most obviously be called into question when viewing the reporting styles of CNN and FOX. If both were objectively reporting the same information, they could not reach such radically different conclusions as they do.

    Meanwhile, when considering another established nation like China, where the media is clearly controlled and in no way representative of the “free press” that we Americans hold so dear, it raises the question that perhaps journalistic independence is not a requisite component of an emerging society.

    While I hope that the Liberians can reach the theoretical ideal of objective press, it would be a feat that exceeds even some of the most developed nations in the world.

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