The media in Liberia is one of the busiest stakeholders during election periods. This is because participants in the elections look up to the media to amplify their voices. The electoral body, the National Elections Commission (NEC), political candidates, observers, and other stakeholders utilize the media to reach out to their respective audiences with their messages concerning the vote. Thus, the behavior of the media in Liberia is expected to be always professional, especially during the political campaign period.
EISA is actively assessing the role of the media in its engagements with election stakeholders and carefully reviewing the associated legal framework against the practice during different aspects of the electoral process. This issue looks at how the media is performing during this campaign in the absence of an independent media regulatory authority.
Liberian laws give a right to a free press. Article 15 of the Country’s Constitution guarantees the right to press freedom, as well as statutes like the Kamara Abdullah Kamara (KAK) Act of Press Freedom, which decriminalizes Criminal Libel Against the President, Sedition, and Criminal Malevolence. These legal frameworks allow for the proliferation of media houses across the country. A wide variety of media platforms is a boost for Liberia’s democracy because it allows for the creation of platforms through which participants in the elections can communicate their messages. The media, meanwhile, has done well in the 2023 pre-election period to cover political campaigns by politicians and political parties in their daily newscasts, while also giving the NEC the space to convey information to all participants in the elections. EISA’s tracking of media in Monrovia has noted that there was more than one political campaign covered in a single newscast by several broadcasters, providing voters with a variety of information sources. The same holds for newspapers that EISA is tracking.
These legal frameworks allow for the proliferation of media houses across the country. A wide variety of media platforms is a boost for Liberia’s democracy because it allows for the creation of platforms through which participants in the elections can communicate their messages.
Social media platforms have enabled politicians to engage with a younger, tech-savvy generation, providing them with a direct line to potential voters.
The use of social media particularly by Liberian youth is a double-edged sword. It gives agencies to citizens, creating an opportunity for alternative voices and opinions and in some cases shaping voter turnout leading to organic dialogue and coverage of real-time events. Social media platforms have enabled politicians to engage with a younger, tech-savvy generation, providing them with a direct line to potential voters. On the other hand, the unregulated nature of social media platforms is prone to manipulation resulting in widespread misinformation, disinformation and fake news. EISA LTOs have noted that fake news about contesting electoral candidates has the potential to incite violence during elections. Social media can act as a powerful driver of important conversations on candidates, policies and electoral education, while at the same time remaining open to rapid and extensive sharing of misinformation which can undermine trust in and the peacefulness of national elections.
Coverage of political campaigns in newscasts alone is not sufficient on the part of the media to ensure access to credible, quality information. When media coverage of political campaigns focuses largely on events and engaging visuals like the launching of political rallies or campaigning, the candidates who are perceived to not have more constituents or are viewed as less popular amongst the electorate get less or no media attention. Similarly, political ownership also makes it difficult for all candidates in the Liberia 2023 elections to have equal access to certain media institutions. Radio stations and newspapers that are owned by politicians do not give their platforms to the opposition of their political owners. Neither do such media bodies broadcast the descending views to those of their political owners. To a large extent, the political ownership of the media is also negatively affecting media ethics as radio stations or newspapers owned by politicians do not fact-check misinformation or disinformation that favor their candidates.
Coverage of political campaigns in newscasts alone is not sufficient on the part of the media to ensure access to credible, quality information.
EISA Mission notes that the campaign period in Liberia is marked by a clash of ideas and sometimes heated exchanges among participants in the elections. In this case, how the media navigates between political parties, independent candidates, the NEC, and observers is crucial as all these different stakeholders bring different perspectives on the elections. The media is also expected to operate freely without any hindrance or fear of security. A free, engaged media provides a crucial foundation upon which healthy dialogue and informed discussion can strengthen and grow an electoral democracy. Managing the responsibilities that come with a powerful platform in the media is a key indicator of the commitment of a country to democratic principles and ideals.
About USAID Support to EISA-IEOM to Liberia: The USAID-funded EISA International Election Observation Mission (EISA-IEOM) Activity seeks to enhance the integrity of the 2023 Liberia Presidential and Legislative elections through the deployment of an independent international election observer mission (EOM) to monitor, assess and report on all phases of the electoral process in accordance with international and regional benchmarks. The IEOM is implemented in close coordination with the financial support of USAID/Liberia and will complement the efforts of other electoral stakeholders.