Today a local Liberian icon - the Daily Talk news blackboard - was relaunched by U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Liberia, Christine Elder, with the support of Internews.
The Daily Talk blackboard in Sinkor, Monrovia has been an historic fixture since 2000 for citizens travelling along Tubman Boulevard. Throughout its history, Daily Talk has evolved along with the citizens passing by it daily; surviving civil war and welcoming new governments with feisty dialogue and open debate through an interactive blackboard.
One evening about two months ago, the Daily Talk blackboard and news booth were rammed by a car, and while no one was injured, this lively local hub of information, debate and discussion, was put out of action. The media and local citizens condemned the damage as an act of vandalism, and speculation about motivation circulated.
Alfred J. Sirleaf (no relation to President Sirleaf) founded his blackboard newspaper in 2000 because of his belief that a well-informed citizenry is the key to the rebirth of Liberia after decades of civil war. This is not the first time this Town Crier was put out of action. In 2005, government soldiers destroyed the blackboard, and this recent act of vandalism is a stark reminder of darker times for Sirleaf and local fans of the Daily Talk.
Sirleaf compiles his stories daily from newspaper reports and messages from volunteer correspondents. The Daily Talk is free to read and is funded by occasional gifts of cash and pre-paid cellphone cards. It has a suggestion box for readers.
Sirleaf believes, along with a thriving Liberian media sector, that access to information is the key to peace for Liberia. USAID and the US Government in Liberia also support a pluralistic, open and free media as a corner stone of this developing democracy.
To this end, USAID in Liberia has funded Internews to implement the Liberia Media Development Program. Today’s re-launch of Daily Talk was possible due to support from the LMD program. LMD supports a raft of media and civil society activities that contribute to strengthening a professional and vibrant media environment.
For example, the Daily Talk news update today shares information about a national electoral reform dialogue taking shape as a result of government, civil society, media and citizens feedback on the 2017 elections. This national dialogue is supported by USAID and would not be relevant to ordinary citizens if it were not for the diversity of media that exists across the entire nation, from local Town Criers such as Sirleaf to national newspapers, radio, TV, online media and local community radio stations.
LMD Chief of Party, Jan McArthur welcomed Ambassador Elder and Alfred Sirleaf to cut the ribbon at the ceremony launching the newly renovated Daily Talk blackboard and booth.
“USAID research tells us that Freedom of Speech is a value that all Liberian’s hold dear, from every corner of this nation,” said McArthur. “The gains the Liberian media, and citizens, have made over recent decades to protect freedom of expression and freedom of association have been hard fought, and shine out as unique, compared to many other countries in this region, and even globally. These gains should be treasured and not taken for granted."
McArthur added, “The role of the USAID LMD program is to support media in playing a responsible and constructive role in providing a public forum for open dialogue between citizens, community leaders and government.”
LMD partners with Liberian media to promote tolerance and ensure differing opinions are shared without fear of reprisal. LMD also supports a range of media agencies, lawyers, civil society leaders and community leaders to provide avenues for disputes resolution, including the newly established and voluntary National Media Council.
“It is our hope that the LMD media law work we are doing with Liberian media leaders, the PUL, CEMESP, the Judiciary, the Law School and Bar Association, will contribute to constructive dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflict that arises within, or in relation to what is reported in the media,” said McArthur.
(Banner photo: Jan McArthur, LMD Chief of Party; Ambassador Elder; Albert Sirleaf, founder of Daily Talk news board, at ribbon cutting ceremony. Credit: Crispin Tulay/Internews)