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, several television networks and a significant number of online publications, the Liberian media sector has enjoyed boom times for the past 20 years, amid the socio-political stability created by the end of the 1999-2003 civil war. Radio remains the major news source.
Taking advantage of a law that facilitates the creation of media companies, many politicians have founded companies which they assign associates to manage. This has not only contributed to the proliferation of media outlets, but it 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 legal environment has seen a notable improvement in recent years. A 2018 press law eliminated the crimes of defamation of the head of state and sedition. The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, of the press and of information. A law on access to information has been adopted. A National Media Council, created in 2016 by the Press Union of Liberia, the journalists’ trade union, allows press organisations to self-regulate by way of a code of conduct.
The economic outlook remains difficult, with a very tight advertising market. Media critical of the authorities get no access to advertising by the big state-owned companies, the contracts for which are handled by the Ministry of Information. Journalists are among the country’s worst-paid professionals, and news sites are often forced to run public relations pieces in exchange for financial support, 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 take on these subjects suffer threats, so self-censorship is fairly widespread.
Law enforcement agencies constitute the major source of security problems for journalists. In 2021, officers committed a series of attacks on journalists with complete impunity. In June and July alone, at least five journalists were victims of arbitrary arrests while doing their jobs, of physical attacks or of death threats.