On 20th March International Alert hosted an expert roundtable of media practitioners in Monrovia to discuss the roles, responsibilities, challenges and opportunities of media in managing conflict in Liberia. The event was an opportunity to share the findings and recommendations of Alert’s new briefing paper, Sustaining the Conversation: Media, Information Flows and Conflict in Liberia, produced through the EU-funded Initiative for Peacebuilding – Early Warning (IfP-EW) consortium.
The roundtable also benefited from the presence of two journalists from Nepal, who were in Liberia for a week-long learning exchange facilitated by Alert. The Nepali reporters were able to share their experiences of post-conflict journalism and the particular challenges of the Nepali context with their Liberian colleagues and Liberia’s Deputy Minister of Information, Hon. Isaac Jackson. Alert Programme Officer Rabindra Gurung also presented some of the key findings from his recent IfP-EW briefing on Nepal, Journalism in Transition: Media, Information Flows and Conflict in Nepal.
Both IfP-EW briefing papers seek to understand the role of media and other information channels in influencing public understanding of the dynamics of violence and developing perceptions of security in post-conflict states. They analyse the role that media can play, positive or negative, in influencing people’s perceptions of insecurity and violence. They also address the obstacles or challenges which media face in playing a positive role within particular contexts. Based on research conducted through interviews and workshops in 2010-11, they seek to answer three questions:
- How do people access information about their communities and nation?
- How does the type of information they are able to access contribute to or undermine peace?
- What are the challenges to national and local media in providing reliable information within the present post-conflict context?
While access to information in Liberia appears to have been revolutionised by the post-war combination of liberal governance, technological advances and private investment in telecommunications, and international support for radio networks, there are many examples of how increased flows of information have provoked or stoked conflict as well as worked to prevent, manage or resolve it. Sustaining the Conversation documents some of these and concludes with four recommendations to donors in support of the Liberian media:
- Strengthen the professionalism and conflict-sensitive reporting capacity of Liberian media;
- Assist Liberian media organisations to develop business plans and sustainability strategies;
- Work with the Liberian government, media, civil society, the UN and other international actors to understand and anticipate the impact of the drawdown of UNMIL (the United Nations Mission in Liberia) on the provision of reliable information;
- Identify opportunities to harness mobile telephone networks and mobile internet for peacebuilding and conflict early warning and response.
Of particular interest to the roundtable discussion was the report’s focus on the aid dependence of the Liberian media sector, especially national and community radios on which most Liberians rely for information, and the potential impact of donor disengagement and drawdown by UNMIL as Liberia approaches its second decade of peace. Also of great interest was the challenge of promoting and sustaining professional journalism in the hinterland counties, the importance of recognising, responding to or rebutting incendiary rumours spread by text message, and the opportunities presented to disseminate and operationalise the new Freedom of Information Act, West Africa’s first.
Two Liberian journalists will also visit Nepal to learn from its experiences in May, when a synthesis of challenges and opportunities for conflict-sensitive media practice in fragile and conflict-affected states should be launched. This will draw on Alert’s research in Liberia and Nepal as well as on its IfP-EW partners’ work in Kosovo/Serbia (Eliamep), Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste (Search for Common Ground).
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