After being paralysed for three months because of the war, the press is struggling with some success to get back on its feet and resume work. But former President Charles Taylor’s news media have not survived.
The war that raged during the summer of 2003 between forces loyal to former President Charles Taylor and the rebels of the LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) and MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia) had serious repercussions on the Liberian press. All the newspapers stopped appearing at one point or another. The premises of the main privately-owned daily newspapers and radio stations were destroyed or ransacked by combatants. Many journalists fled the capital and went into hiding or abroad. Even the news media that escaped ransacking suffered catastrophic financial losses as all of the country’s economic activities were paralysed for three months.
Nonetheless, some 15 newspapers were back on sale a few weeks after the war ended. Most opted to publish weekly because they could not afford a daily edition. Advertisers became so scarce that air time on a commercial radio station could be obtained for 10 dollars a minute in September.
Shortly after being appointed to lead the National Transition Government of Liberia (NTGL) at the end of August, Gyude Bryant lifted a ban on the privately-owned Star Radio dating back to March 2000. He asked the press to go back to work in order to inform the public about the peace process now under way.
However, the press group owned by former President Charles Taylor, consisting of a daily newspaper, a radio station, a TV station, a printing works and an Internet Service Provider, collapsed after he went into exile. Some employees, who had not been paid for several months, stole the most valuable equipment.
Three journalists injured
Patrick Robert, a French photographer with the agency Sygma Corbis who was working for the US news weekly Time Magazine, was shot and seriously wounded in the abdomen and an arm as he was covering fighting on the outskirts of Monrovia on 19 July 2003. After receiving first aid at the US embassy, he had a kidney and part of his intestine removed by Red Cross emergency services. He was then taken to Côte d’Ivoire from where he was medevacked to France.
Tom Masland, a reporter with the US magazine Newsweek, suffered minor injuries from shrapnel during fighting at the port of Monrovia on 21 July. He was treated at the US embassy.
Jerome Toe of The Independent newspaper was shot in the leg on 1 August by a LURD commander who mistook him for a looter.
Four journalists kidnapped
William Quiwea, a correspondent for radio Talking Drum Studio, was abducted by members of the LURD in Zwedru, in the southeast of the country, in early April 2003. He was released safe and sound a few weeks later and went back to work at the end of the war.
Bobby Tapson and Bill Jarkloh, two investigative journalists with The News, a daily newspaper, and Joe Watson, a producer with the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), were kidnapped by LURD rebels on 12 June. They were released almost a week later.
A journalist imprisoned
Sundaye Buku George, a freelance journalist, was at the port of Monrovia on 20 May 2003 covering the arrival of refugees fleeing fighting in the southeast of the country when he was arrested on the orders of Gen. Wannie, deputy commander of Charles Taylor’s Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), and put in the cell of a nearby police station. He was held for more than two weeks.
Two journalists detained
Teah Doegmah, a journalist with radio Talking Drum Studio, was manhandled and arrested on 14 May 2003 in Monrovia on the orders of the deputy police director, Col. Leo Jerbo. He was held for several hours at national police headquarters before being released.
Janga Sando, a presenter with the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), was arrested by the security services on 23 June and held for two nights before being released. During the programme he presents on Sundays, Sando had sent a greeting to a small, pro-democracy group known as the Movement for Democracy and Elections in Liberia (MODEL), which the security services confused with the rebel group also known by the acronym MODEL.
Three journalists physically attacked
Soldiers roughed up Philip Moore of the weekly The Independent and members of his family at the end of June at the newspaper’s premises where they had sought refuge from the fighting in the capital. The soldiers forced them to leave the newspaper.
Government troops fired on the home of Radio Veritas journalist Michael Toe on 27 July in a Monrovia suburb and then manhandled him and members of his family before leaving. They had suspected him of being a member of the LURD rebels.
Members of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) beat Caesar Padmore, the sports editor of the newspaper The Analyst, on 18 September when he showed them his press card at an identity check. The soldiers hit him several times, accusing his newspaper of vilifying the government.
Four journalists threatened
Tom Winston Monboe, general secretary of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), reported on 2 February 2003 that members of his union constantly received threats from state security agents. Men in the uniform of the national police and the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) visited PUL journalists late at night to ask about their movements.
Moses Sonkarlay, the news editor of the Liberia Communications Network TV station, said defence minister Daniel Chea threatened to kill him on 10 May for not running the minister’s press release about the circumstance in which Sierra-Leonean rebel commander Sam Bockarie died.
Three armed men in ATU uniforms approached Stanley McGill, a reporter with the newspaper The News, on 27 May, threatened him and took some of his personal belongings including his mobile telephone. They let him go but promised to come back. McGill received another visit on 6 June from ATU agents, who attacked him and took his laptop and documents. Fearing further harassment, McGill fled his home and went into hiding on 10 June.
Janet Johnson of the Catholic-run Radio Veritas said she was the target of constant threats after her return to the country at the end of August. She had fled to Nigeria on 19 June to escape Charles Taylor’s agents. She believed they had her in their sights because of her reports criticising the government. She said her programmes led to her dismissal by her two preceding employers, the state-owned radio station and Kiss FM, a radio stationed owned by Taylor.
Harassment and obstruction
Six FM radio stations based in Bong County (in the centre of the country) and Margibi County (40 km east of Monrovia), including Y-FM, Bright FM, Jet 89.9, The Voice of Kakata and Voice of YMCA, were closed at the start of June 2003 by the government on the grounds that their "intentions" and their area of coverage were not clearly defined. These stations had however received government permission to operate.
Radio Veritas was hit by mortar fire from government troops on 19 July and was unable to broadcast for several weeks.