Ganta, Nimba County- Internews Liberia, the prime implementer of Media Activity (MA), a five-year comprehensive media development program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced the accomplishment of a major milestone with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of support to 30 selected radio stations nationwide.
The stations include Radio Gbarnga, Voice of Sanoyea and Radio Jorwah in Bong County, Radio Bomi in Bomi County, Radio Cape and Radio Piso in Grand Cape Mount, Wee Radio and Radio Gbehzohn in Grand Bassa, Smile FM and Peace Radio in Grand Gedeh County.
Others are Radio Gee in River Gee County, Radio Karn, Voice of Peace, Radio Sehnwai, Voice of Tappita and Radio Kergheamahn in Nimba County, Voice Sinoe located in Sinoe, Voice of Grand Kru in Grand Kru, Voice of Pleebo in Maryland, Rivercess Broadcasting System situated in Rivercess, Radio Kakata and Peace FM in Harbel selected from Margibi County, Alternative Youth Radio, Radio Kintorma, Radio Tamba Tikor and Vaihun Radio located in Lofa County. In Montserrado County, Internews is partnering with OK FM, Prime FM, Lux FM and Voice of Rural Montserrado as well as Radio Kongbai in Gbarpolu.
Under the partnership agreement, USAID Media Activity will support the selected radio stations to boost their capacity in quality journalism; enhance their effectiveness in serving as a conduit for citizen voices and government response, strengthen management, provide financial viability and revenue generation to improve their sustainability; and maintain current media freedoms to reliably carry out responsible journalism, and drive reforms.
The MOU requires partner radio stations to increase the quantity and quality of programs and news contents on matters of importance to the community which will enable the community to be well-informed and knowingly engage in public discussions on important issues of the day.
Before the signing of the MoUs in Ganta, Nimba County at the weekend, station managers, Board members and other officials from the thirty (30) community radio stations gathered from across the country for an intensive two- day orientation on issues of collaboration and support to these community radio stations.
Speaking at the opening of the orientation, Madam Suzanne Truchard, Director, Office of Democracy, Rights, and Governance USAID/Liberia described the signing of the MoU’s as the first step in strengthening the capacities of media outlets by providing technical equipment, training, mentoring and media business support.
“My hope is also that during this event each of you will establish networks with the new Media Activity partners as well as other partner community radio stations”, said Madam Truchard.
She said the U.S. Government has been a proud partner to Liberia in supporting a free and open press.
Madam Truchard added “However, several barriers still remain that prevent the media from functioning effectively as it could a conduit for citizen voices and to promote accountability. USAID’s new media Activity will be an important partner in this effort and will help strengthen the capacity and improve the sustainability of community radio stations newspapers and other media outlets, enhance the quality of journalism, and expand opportunities for citizens to engage with their leaders through media”.
Free Media Necessary To Combat Corruption
The USAID official indicated that as Liberia continues to take steps to strengthen its democracy and combat corruption, an even more vibrant and free media is necessary.
She assured that the U.S. government, through USAID, will be a committed partner through this new Media Activity.
“We look forward with all of you to promote a vibrant, free, and sustainable media sector in Liberia”, she noted.
Providing an overview of the orientation, Madam Lien Bach, Chief of Party of USAID Media Activity and Country Director of Internews Liberia said few months ago, a team from Internews, Association of Liberia Community Radio (ALICOR), Press Union of Liberia (PUL), USAID Liberia DRG Office and the Female Journalists Association of Liberia (FeJAL) travelled all around Liberia and conducted a nationwide assessment of the current state of radio stations in the country.
She said the team assessed 163 radio stations in the entire country and following the assessment, a rigorous process was carried out which led to the selection of thirty (30) Community radio stations for partnership over the next five years.
Madam Bach said each radio station was selected based on certain criteria including independence and Internews will work with the selected community radio stations to build their capacity, through training and mentoring with a well-established sustainability plan for each radio station.
“You have been selected to work with us for 5 years and we want to do very comprehensive mentoring and training program and to assist you be sustainable in the future”, said Madam Bach.
Internews Senior Media Advisor, Jefferson Massah providing a detailed explanation of how the thirty (30) Community radio stations were selected said the process was free, fair, and transparent as a committee was setup with ALICOR, USAID Liberia, FeJAL, and PUL including Internews Radio staff serving as members on the vetting committee.
Mr. Massah said over the next five years, Internews will work to provide capacity building through training, providing logistical support such as solar panel and other equipment and working on sustainability model for the long-term growth and revenue generating capacity of these 30 community radio stations.
He said the selection of the 30 radio partners was based on data collected during the National Radio Assessment and there were several criteria considered including community ownership of the radio station; community involvement and participation in the management of the radio stations, including the inclusion of marginalized groups, addressing gender equity, ensuring youth engagement and community generated content, with an emphasis on local cultures and identities, independent broadcasting, and transparency and accountability in practice through oversight by independent boards; staff capacity; commitment of the radio leadership to make a viable and sustainable change; geographical location (including, providing services to underserved areas, rural/urban presence, and proximity to other stations, among others), positive experience with previous external support, and would benefit from further support; and Population size served by the radio station.
Why Support Liberia’s Radio Sector?
Radio remains the single largest source of information for both rural and urban populations in Liberia. Community radio stations have an audience of close to 300,000 listeners per day on average and a share of 37% of the national listenership as indicated in an Internews media rating survey conducted by GeoPoll in February 2022.
Despite the upsurge in social media usage in Liberia, radio remains the most reliable source of news and information for 85% of Liberians because it is affordable, cost-effective, accessible to most people as well as being broadcast in their language.
Without national coverage by neither the state radio, Liberia Broadcast Service (LBS), nor by the Economic community of West African States (ECOWAS) Radio, community radios are counted on not only to provide the local communities with local news, but also to fulfil the very central role as the only information source in rural communities across Liberia.
Community radio remains a critical sector in supporting peace consolidation and democratic governance as Liberia emerges from the impasse of 14 years of civil conflict that ravaged nation and derailed its development quest. The community radio sector has also largely been used as a tool for local development through educating, sensitizing, and informing local audiences about issues that affect their lives: health, agriculture education, water, human rights, etc.
At the MOU signing ceremony to formalize the partnership with Internews, the selected radio partners lauded USAID Liberia and Internews for the unique opportunity to form part of a network of radio stations earmarked to benefit from targeted support under USAID Media Activity project.
The partner radio stations pledged to fully implement the terms and conditions of the partnership agreement in driving their respective institutions to vibrancy and sustainability by leveraging opportunities associated with the project.
“We are committed to ensuring that this MOU is realized. We urged our managers to put their feet on the ground and ensure that they live up to the expectations of the MOU because it is a milestone opportunity for community radio stations to get such assistance that will help them report reliable information to the people within their respective communities. We are hoping that the results will be positive because we cannot allow this golden opportunity to go without good results”. Madam Willimai W. Geninyan, Board Chairperson of the Alternative Youth Radio in Zorzor, Lofa County emphasized.
For Marcus Malayea, Manager of Radio Gbarnga in Central Liberia, he sees the partnership as an exciting news for the community radio sector in Liberia to celebrate and embrace. “To be selected amongst more than 160 radio stations is a big deal and we must put our best into it to improve our quality as community radio stations. I have not seen such a big project where this high number of community radio stations from across the country will be selected to benefit from such huge package. We want to thank Internews, and USAID and we promise to do our part to make this project a success”. Mr. Malayea expressed.
USAID Media Activity is a five-year comprehensive media development project designed to enhance the effectiveness of Liberian media in serving as a conduit for citizen voices and government response, strengthen media sustainability and enrich the human and institutional capacity of the media while advocating for and maintaining current media freedoms to reliably carry out responsible journalism, drive reforms, and increase revenue for community radio sustainability.
It is implemented by Internews Liberia with a consortium of seven local media CSOs. These partners include the Press Union of Liberia, Association of Liberia Community Radio (ALICOR), Female Journalists Association of Liberia (FeJAL), Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP), Youth Media Action, Liberia Media for Democratic Initiatives and Talking Drum Studio.