AD483: Liberians want a free media – within limits – and unrestricted access to social media

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Dispatches
2021
483
Maame Akua Amoah Twum

For media advocates, Liberia has been the source of both good news and bad news. In March 2019, President George Weah fulfilled his promise to pass a freedom of press act, which frees journalists and media houses from a major threat by decriminalizing defamation and insults (DW, 2019). But critics also accuse the government of a spate of attacks on media freedom, propelling the Press Union of Liberia (2018) to write an open letter to the United Nations to complain about the “pace at which official intolerance for independent journalism and dissent is escalating in Liberia.”

Social media users were outraged when the government ordered a shutdown of all social media platforms in 2019 in an attempt to quell anti-corruption protests (African Freedom of Expression Exchange, 2019).

More recently, the government has been criticized for limiting access to its media briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic to a select list of media houses (African Freedom of Expression Exchange, 2020).

The 2021 World Press Freedom Index ranks Liberia 98th out of 180 countries in media freedom, down three spots from the previous year.

The latest Afrobarometer survey offers a citizen-level view of Liberia’s media landscape, and it’s mixed as well. While radio remains king among news sources, almost four in 10 Liberians regularly get news from social media and the Internet. Most citizens say they want a free media that functions as a watchdog over the government, but large majorities also endorse the government’s right to limit the sharing of fake news, hate speech, and information that criticizes the president or that the government doesn’t approve of.

With regard to social media, most Liberians see it as a good thing even if it makes users more susceptible to fake news and intolerance, and they don’t want the government involved in regulating access.