WHAT DOES IREX WANT? U.S. Taxpayers Money Must Impact Liberian Media


– FPA EDITORIAL Source: FrontPage Africa

Ahead of the 2011 elections in post-war Liberia, the local media is in dire straits in need of tools, practical training and resources in preparations for election coverage. With $US11 million in hand, what does the International Research and Exchanges Board(IREX)has in store to impact the local media? Same old workshops and training? We Have Had Enough!!!

IN JUNE 2010, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), launched a five-year development program for Liberia.

AS PART OF THE FIVE-YEAR plan, IREX has at its disposal US$11 million American taxpayers money aimed at mobilizing the Liberian media development and bolster and hopefully equip them for the 2011 elections.

The media component will also work to extend the reach and enrich the content of community radio stations in the seven targeted counties.

IREX, founded in 1968, has supposedly been involved in similar projects in other countries around the world and according to its website, has since been providing leadership and innovative programs to improve the quality of education, strengthen independent media, and foster pluralistic civil society development. IREX works in more than 50 countries, including Somalia and Rwanda.

THE LAUNCHING of IREX in Liberia comes at a time when at least 80 percent of local print and radio journalists lack the basic skills in typing and computer usage to perform their daily functions. Newspapers find it difficult to transport dailies to some parts of the country due to lack of adequate transportation. Those with their own printing facilities struggle to import technicians from nearby Ghana and Nigeria whenever they encounter problems. Newspapers and radio stations still have to pay high taxes to import their equipment and goods into the country when nearby Ghana has a tax-free program for import of media equipment and goods.

LAUNCHING THE EVENT, media executives and practitioners were informed that the five-year program will be implemented by IREX in seven counties – Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Lofa, Bong, Nimba, Grand Gedeh and River Gee involving training and resources to Liberian civil society and media organizations to increase citizen participation in and ownership of government policy.

SOME ELEVEN media outlets reportedly submitted applications through a vigorous process which required submissions of several documents. After weeks into the process, IREX sent out another communication stating that nine were qualified for review by the CSML Selection Committee. According to IREX, during the application review process, the Selection Committee approved one media outlet for consideration. The remaining eight outlets did not adequately address the issues stated in the RFA, according to IREX.

AS A RESULT the process was extended and applicants once again asked to reapply as IREX explained that the process was being simplified to the dismay of many of those who had originally applied. Some media outlets, in protests have declined to go forward with the IREX plan, still unsure about IREX’s true intentions

WHILE IREX explained that the re-launch was an attempt to ensure that media outlets have the opportunity to take full advantage of this initiative that offers training, mentoring and coaching in media management, business development and basic journalism, we find it difficult to believe how much of an impact IREX hopes to make that would dramatically make the news media coverage of the 2011 elections any different than it was in 2005?

WHAT THE LIBERIAN media needs right now is real practical training in typing, field reporting, computers and modern media technology. Newspapers need assistance in training of technicians to run their presses and get them ready in time for the elections; media outlets need assistance with transportation to transport their reporters between various assignments which will get even worse when election season gets into full blast.

Newspapers could also use assistance with transportation to help boost delivery of papers to other parts of Liberia, other than Monrovia.

IN CONTRAST TO IREX, organizations like the New Naratives has partnered with FrontPageAfrica and other radio stations to offer local female reporters practical training in bringing to light stories very rarely brought to the reading and listening public. As a result, stories like prostitution, teen-age sex, malnutrition and street beggars are being highlighted on a shoe-string budget six-figure below IREX millions.

IT IS NO SECRET that many newspapers and local radio stations are barely getting by. IREX can help relieve these problems by trickling down its millions where it matters most, to the heart and soul of those struggling to put out a daily paper, or finding it hard to find fuel to keep their radio stations on the air. Assistance in business management and practical training will go a long way in ensuring the Liberian journalists are armed and ready to cover the 2011 elections. IREX must ensure that every penny of the $11 million American taxpayers money make a real big difference. Liberian journalists are fatigued when it comes to workshops and training, especially in the classroom. They need more practical training, perhaps exchange programs with journalists from other parts of the world, and lessons in grammar, not more imported lectures and lecturers from abroad.

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