Lea Donosky introduces herself to two Liberian guests

Nine Liberian Legislators and Educators Discuss the Role of Media in Democracies

Nine Liberian members of the Parliament and educators learned about media coverage of government in the United States and the role of media in combating corruption during a session in the state Capitol in Atlanta in November.

“Corruption is an issue everywhere, but its negative impact is higher in developing countries,” Dr. Lee B. Becker from the University of Georgia told the Liberians. One estimated that increasing the corruption from that of relatively clean Singapore to relatively corrupt Mexico is the equivalent of imposing more than 20 percentage point increase in the tax rate, Becker added.

“The media and especially investigative journalism can play a significant role in combating corruption,” Dr. Becker added.

The speakers in the program, organized by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, were Drs. Becker and Tudor Vlad, director and associate director of the Cox Center, and Lea Donosky, interactivity editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The Liberian visitors complained about the inaccurate reporting that often is produced by journalists in their country and about media coverage that was biased. They gave examples of journalists who were bribed to attack politicians or to misinform about the work of members of the Parliament.

“Banning the media access to legislators’ meetings is not a solution,” Dr. Becker answered. “Free access to information is crucial for a society that aims to become a strong democracy.”

In many cases, journalists in developing countries don’t provide good coverage not because they have an agenda, but because they do not know how to do a good job, Dr. Becker said. “Maybe better education and training are what Liberian media need,” he said.

The Liberian participants in the meeting were senators Richard Devine and Daniel Naatehn, and representatives Martin Farngalo, Moses Kollie, George Mulbah, James Nuquay and Temo Yarsiah.

"If a journalist at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution accepted a gift he or she would be fired,” Donosky said. “ This would not happen because of rules created by legislators, but because of in-house regulations.”

“Don’t try to ignore or limit the access of the media,” the AJC editor advised. “At the end of the day, it is in your interest to have a strong press in Liberia.”

"Journalists after the fall of totalitarian regimes went to extremes," Dr. Vlad said about the situation in his native Romania. "You should work with media are that trying to establish credibility. Once readers begin trusting some media organizations, other less trustworthy media will have a decrease in their audiences."

One question on the minds of some of the Liberians was whether politicians in the U.S. often sue media organizations for inaccurate or biased coverage. Lea Donosky said that people in United States who run for government positions understand that, once they make this decision, they become public figures, and as a result, they would very rarely file a law suite against a journalist or a media organization.

Dr. Becker also talked about the importance of U.S. laws that give media and citizens access to information, such as budgets and records of revenue collection statutes and rules. “Freedom of information acts are an important precondition for effective public oversight,” he said.

This two-hour session on Nov. 18 was a part of a two-week program organized for the Liberian visitors by the Carl Vinson Institute off Government’s International Center, designed to give them the opportunity to learn about fiscal transparency and government accountability.

Following the meeting, the Liberians toured the facilities of CNN in Atlanta.

During their program in Atlanta, the Liberian visitors had training sessions with Carl Vinson Institute faculty and met with Georgia legislators.