The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and the National Elections Commission (NEC) have trained up to 50 national and community radio journalists in western Liberia to provide professional coverage of the December 16 special senatorial election.
The training which took place in Tubmanburg, Bomi County from November 24-25 is the first in the series four regional training that will benefit journalists from the 15 political subdivisions of the country. The Tubmanburg gathering covered journalists from Bomi, Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount Counties.
The exercise, with support from the USAID-funded International Federation for Electoral Systems (IFES), continues in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County on November 27 & 28, targeting journalists from Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Margibi and Rivercess counties.
Speaking at the opening ceremonies Monday in Tubmanburg, NEC Commissioner with oversight on Communications, Davidetta Brown-Lassanah, described the role of the media as being very crucial in the ongoing electoral processes.
She said 2014 is the first time a special senatorial election is being held in the country under the 1986 Constitution and the media needed to understand the entire process while covering, informing and education the public on the process.
Commissioner Lassanah said NEC was pleased to partner with the PUL, with support of IFES, to conduct the regional training which will also be held in Gbarnga (Bong County) for central and northern Liberia and in Zwedru (Grand Gedeh) for southeastern Liberia.
IFES Program Manager Senese G. Freeman underscored the role of the media as being watch dog, educator and peace builder in the electoral process. He said IFES remains committed to working with partners, especially NEC, to promote and strengthen democracy in Liberia.
PUL Secretary General D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh said the senatorial election which is a constitutional fulfillment, is being held at a “chronically critical time” of the country’s history, when it is faced with the worst enemy of mankind—the Ebola virus disease that has claimed at least 2,500 lives in Liberia.
“This, then, calls for an increasing professional media role that will highlight both the dangers of the Ebola virus disease and also properly cover the election,” the Sengbeh noted.
He said this is why the Press Union of Liberia believes that the regional workshops and training to prepare journalists for the great task during the next few weeks, is the best way forward.
The training focuses on preparing journalists to understand the electoral process and to use the PUL Code of Conduct for the election coverage. The code was adopted by members of the Union in 2005, and revised in 2010 for the 2011 elections, and now 2014 for the special senatorial election. The new version includes components on the prevention of the Ebola virus.
Sengbeh warned journalists that the media can be a tool for fanning violence and conflict if not properly managed, and admonished journalists not to follow the path of radio Kigali during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, in mobilizing the population to participate in violence.
At the same time, the PUL chief scribe warned political parties and candidates as well as partisans not to see media practitioners as enemies, but a group of professional people serving humanity including the very political parties and candidates as well as voters.
“Unlike the past, journalists must not be treated as drums for beating,” Sengbeh said: “The PUL resists and deplores any and every form of attacks on journalists in the country, and those who do so will not go with impunity,” he noted, saying, “Complain our journalists to us; we will deal with them.”
He also declared that those journalists or media houses who violate the PUL election code will be named, shamed, fined, suspended or ostracized based on the gravity and number of offenses.
Meanwhile, Journalists are being drilled through general ethical issues in the media, the role of the media and civic voter’s educators in the 2014 special senatorial elections, polling staff and their respective functions, the media code of conduct for the 2014 senatorial election, and monitoring campaign platforms, among others.