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 togetherliberia.org.