We already know that the U.S. government trains foreign military. But now, the U.S. government is facilitating the training of foreign journalists?
That’s what happening in Liberia right now.
UNT News Service explained that a U.S. journalism school dean “was recruited by the U.S. Department of State” to train Liberian journalists prior to the nation’s Oct. 11 general election. Liberians are voting for their president, all of the House of Representatives and half of the Senate.
The dean, Mitchell Land, will be in Liberia from Sept. 26 to Oct. 8 “through a partnership between the Press Union of Liberia and the Public Diplomacy Section of the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia,” North Texas Daily, the University of North Texas’s student newspaper, reported.
Land is the interim dean for the University of North Texas Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism and has written a book on media ethics, Contemporary Media Ethics (2006). He has spent 15 years in Africa working “in media development for the Francophone countries of Africa.”
And he has previously helped train African journalists. From 2002 to 2005, he “led the Mayborn School in helping Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique launch an undergraduate journalism program” and journalism graduate courses to train journalism instructors, his biography details.
“It’s going to be very important for these journalists to understand how vital their role is,” NorthTexas Daily reported Land said. “Not to cover it as a horse race but to press the candidates to address the issues that are of concern with the voters.”
North Texas Daily also reported that Land’s UNT media ethics will see footage of his work in Liberia. “I want the students to see some of those interviews and take this for a learning opportunity for both the students and me,” Land is quoted as saying.
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The Committee to Protect Journalists reported in June that “While Liberia is certainly not a repressive environment compared to other countries in matters of free speech and press freedom, the profound lack of resources that the Liberian media has at its disposal creates a kind of de facto censorship. Outlets cannot cover the candidates to the depth necessary, and are vulnerable to the ethical lapses that often occur in media environments where survival trumps professional journalistic practice.”
As an example, CPJ noted that Liberian newspaper The New Democrat’s website was “brought down by hackers” twice in one month. Also, the government has brought multimillion dollar libel suits against the newspaper.
The New Democrat’s publisher, Tom Kamara, calls the libel lawsuits “an attempt to silence the independent media through the manipulation of a legal system,” Voice of America News reported in February.
“Past Liberian governments would arrest and jail journalists accused of publishing what the government would consider as libelous information,” CPJ also reported.
iMediaEthics has written to Mitchell Land, the State Department, African Affairs bureau director Bill Strassberger, and the Press Union of Liberia for more information and will update with any response.
UPDATE: 09/30/2010 7:14 PM EST : Bill Strassberger wrote in an e-mail to iMediaEthics that the State Dept. selected Land “through the normal process used to provide U.S. speakers when requests are generated by our embassies abroad.”
“It is important to know that this is a regular practice—the Public Diplomacy programs at U.S. embassies regularly provide such training. Our policy is to promote free, fair, and transparent elections, and an important part of that is ensuring that the media is prepared to meet its responsibilities,” he added.
Strassberger confirmed that the U.S. government is paying for Land’s travels to train the Liberian journalists and added that “providing speakers to embassies around the world is a regular program.” He also attached the April 9, 2010 “speaker/specialist” request Land responded to.
The request from the State Dept. called for “a news media consultant with a focus on elections reporting to come to Liberia to facilitate workshops for journalists. The workshop facilitator will be expected to impart knowledge and skills on objective and balanced reporting. This training will prepare Liberian journalists to support free, fair, and transparent national elections in 2011.” Further, the request noted the workshop “audience will be made up of editors and reporters representing major the media houses in Liberia.”