In Liberia, it is difficult to say so for other countries, the Media is the Fourth Estate. There seems controversy over exactly in what series the Media is the fourth. But it is the fourth anyway, and it takes pride in that rank.
In the minds of the Founders of the Liberia Analyst Corporation, publisher of The Analyst newspaper, the question that assails the Media then and now is not whether or not it has a place in the growth and development of Liberia, but exactly what and what not it should be doing as partner. If the Media is indeed the Fourth Estate as media personnel and the governments agree it is, then what is its role? The answer to this crucial question varies from person to person, from professional institution to professional institution and from government administration to government administration. For some professional institutions, the Fourth Estate is supposed to be watchdog, the mirror of society that says exactly what government officials say, what the public says, and what the outside world says about the country. Like a dog, it is supposed to raise alarm so that the owner will be pre-warned and take action. Like a mirror, it is supposed to reflect the society. That is it reports bad news when the society acts badly and reports good news when the society acts good, bad and good being relative. In these roles, it may have an opinion; but in order to be impartial, its opinion must be subtly “positive”, lest it casts itself in aspersion. So most times, its opinions must be advisory and not positional, propositional, or postural because after all it is the master and not the dog that decides s what to do with the trespasser.
The Founders of The Analyst concede the Media’s reflection and pre-warning roles. And even describe them as noble under normal circumstances where the ruling majority is capable of making informed decisions and rendering opinions for the growth and development of society. But they disagree that the Media should be limited to these roles, given the circumstances and historical context of media development and growth in this country: the failures of the government and the conspiratorial silence of the so-called Fourth Estate to protect the people (the social responsibility). They think the time has come for the Media to annex a third crucial component that corresponds to its social responsibility mandate. That component is advocacy, which involves interpretation of event as they unfold from the backdrop of mainly government policies versus international laws and expectations regarding issues of women, children, HIV/AIDS and other epidemics and the fundamental rights and liberty of the people as provided for under the Constitution of Liberia.
In their view if hospitals and schools are not in place at the time the government said they would be in place, the media must say so and remind government of the effect of that policy failure upon the population so that it still decide what to do next. Where possible, the media must remind the government of what it said it would do, and which donor or donors have expressed interest in getting this achieved. The media should not wait for an opposition politician to say so or allow the people’s suffering to go unheard because the traditional advocates (government critics known locally as “trouble-makers”, human rights, and pro-democracy groups. etc.) did not think it necessary to talk about it. The founders of The Analyst want functional journalism not passive indifferent reporters of events even though they are products of society who suffer to the same decree the malfunction of society. For over 100 years, passive journalism had helped neither the government nor the people of Liberia. Instead, it has provided ground for the growth of dictatorship – for the suppression of one of the most important fundamental laws of Liberia as provided for under Article 15(a) and (e). This unfortunate development left the Liberian people to bury their heads in the sand for decades and pretended nothing bad was happening and left the government to associate total silence about its activities with patriotism and criticism with subversion and trouble-making.
The Founders of The Analyst believe that in a country with 80% illiteracy, where the intelligentsia, extracted from the 20% literate, seems to be in constant battle with the government over the proper way of handling and appropriating state power in keeping with class. The Fourth Estate, being the professional index of that intelligentsia, cannot remain idle and passive, sitting on the fence to earn a laurel for patriotism from government even as things go awry. The Media is as guilty as the politicians are from what happens to Liberia, its silence and passivism being equivalent to participation.
So, they thought it was a patriotic idea and professional innovation to establish The Analyst and mandate it to achieve the followings so that some evils of the past, which were attributable to the passivism of the Media, could be erased:
- Analyze news reports that border on public policy and that affect the majority interest of the Liberian people. The analyses though must take into account government position, public opinion, and international opinion, where applicable. The objective is to keep the government and the public on their guides about where they are with regards to the social contracts they signed to help move the nation forward.
- Report on verities of subjects ranging from crimes to social issues, relating these to law and public policy.
- Open a two-way conduit for the free flow of information: from the public to the government and from the government to the public, not as a passive conduit but as an active medium of moderation.
- Open a corridor for the expression of opinions and views on national issues from informed Liberians who are not necessarily in government or hold high public profile.
- Communicate with the President on crucial or critical national issues, putting at the disposal of the Presidency opportunities to compare what plans it has for addressing particular issues with alternative ways of looking at the same issues – the idea is to give the Presidency the opportunity to compare and contrast its public policy agenda with professional’s views or lay views. If one must say so
- Create a roadmap out of public policy agendas and remind the government of its obligation; in which case, the opposition will be guided into streamlining its comments and opinions instead of holding the administration to responsibilities assigned, neither by law nor by its political platform as it was fashionable to do in the past
- Provide a forum for the public to air its views: letter to the editor: forum. etc.
Work with those who strive for a better Liberia in which freedom and prosperity come naturally as the function of government policy and citizen’s participation.
- Above all, introduce new dimension to the Liberian media, given the proven inadequacy of the traditional roles of the Fourth Estate in this Glorious Land of Liberty.
The Analyst’s founders were convinced and are convinced that when it works this way, and hopefully other media houses followed, not holding on to old unworkable concepts about journalism, this nation will grow in democracy and the prosperity often associated with it. Of course, they intend not to be dogmatic; instead, they intend to put into practice and perfect these points from time to time based on annual self-appraisal and on friendly, applicable criticisms.