Since the mid-2000s, the political stability that flourished in the aftermath of the Liberian civil war has favoured the growth of the press. Nevertheless, attacks on journalists continue with complete impunity.
With more than 40 newspapers and magazines, some 130 radio stations, a few TV channels and a significant number of online media outlets, the Liberian media sector has enjoyed a boom for the past 20 years, aided by the socio-political stability of the post-civil war (1999-2003). Radio continues to be the main news source.
Many politicians have taken advantage of a law facilitating the creation of media companies, and have put relatives or close associates in charge of the media they created. This has not only contributed to the proliferation of media outlets, but has also strengthened politicians’ power to influence their content. The government continues to exert control over state-owned media, while local officials often control the content and operations of community radio stations.
The legislative environment has seen a notable improvement in recent years. A 2018 press law eliminated the crimes of sedition and defamation of the president. The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, press, and information. A law on access to information has been adopted. A National Media Council, created in 2016 by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), the journalists’ trade union, enables media outlets to self-regulate with a code of conduct.
The economic environment continues to be problematic and the advertising market is very tight. Media critical of the authorities get no access to advertising from large state-owned companies, which is allocated by the Ministry of Information. Journalists are among the country’s lowest paid professionals, and news sites often have to publish PR pieces in return for financial assistance – a practice that compromises media independence.
Some topics are still considered off-limits in the media, especially female genital mutilation and matters involving freemasonry. Journalists who tackle these subjects face threats, making self-censorship fairly widespread.
Law enforcement is the main source of security problems for journalists. Several police attacks on journalists in 2021 went completely unpunished. Between June and July 2022, a female investigative journalist was sentenced to a month in prison on a charge of “disorderly conduct” in an incident involving a politician, and three other reporters were attacked by security personnel or a presidential aide.