US Govt Warns About Checkbook Journalism... In Liberia, USAID Gives Liberia $11 Million to Train Journalists

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Linda Thomas Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to Liberia pictured above from a YouTube video screenshot detail, warned journalists about checkbook journalism in a recent talk. (Credit: YouTube, "worldfocusonline")

Last month, the U.S. State Department paid for Liberian journalists to be trained by an American journalist, apparently a “regular practice.”  This month, a U.S. ambassador announced that U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has created an $11 million program for a civil and media program.

The U.S. ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas Greenfield, advised Liberian journalists against checkbook journalism practices and announced the USAID Liberian media program, the Liberian Observer reported.

“Do not allow yourselves to be used to bait people into violence by irresponsible individuals, who would use violence to promote their own selfish individual ambitions,” Linda Thomas Greenfield reportedly said.

“I implore you to be honest. You owe that to your profession and to the people of Liberia,” the Observer quoted Greenfield as saying. She also advised journalists in Liberia emphasize fact checking and avoid corruption from taking bribes.

“The goal is to empower the civil society to play an important role in democracy and good governance for the provision of essential services, promotion of the public interest and advocacy and serve as an independent ‘watchdog’ on the government and private sector,” Greenfield said, according to the Observer.

Greenfield’s advice mirrors that of University of North Texas interim dean Mitchell Land, who was sent by the U.S. State Department last month to train Liberian journalists prior to their general elections. Land told StinkyJournalism that he emphasized the importance of fact-checking and attribution as well as the avoidance of conflict of interest, bribery, and propaganda.

Greenfield also announced that USAID created a ” five-year US $11 million dollars civil and media program” in seven Liberian counties, the Observer reported.

Annette Aulton, a USAID press officer, told StinkyJournalism via e-mail more about the program.

Aulton explained that the program was launched in June and “is implemented” by nonprofit group Irex, two of its partners (the Carter Center and Social Impact), and Liberia’s YMCA and Media Center.

“The program’s goal is to sustain peace in Liberia by informing, and engaging, and giving a voice to Liberian citizens,” Aulton explained.

We asked Aulton if American journalists–like Mitchell Land–will go to Liberia to train the journalists.  Because the program has just been started, she told us that “it has not yet been determined whether or not U.S. journalists will engage with Liberian journalists.”

For more of our Q & A with USAID’s Aulton, see below.

StinkyJournalism has written to two representatives of the State Department — Steven Lauterbach of the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia and Bill Strassberger, director of the State Department African Affairs bureau  — for more information about this program. We will update with any response.

Q&A with Annette Aulton of USAID:

StinkyJournalism: Can you please tell me more about this “Civil and Media program?” What does it encompass?  Is it training?

Aulton: “In the context of Liberia’s shifting focus from post-conflict stabilization to development, strong civil society and media sectors are needed to drive the informed civic participation that leads to good governance, dynamic democracy, and economic growth. The program’s goal is to sustain peace in Liberia by informing, and engaging, and giving a voice to Liberian citizens. This program will focus on improving the skills, performance and perceptions of Liberian civil society organizations through training, mentoring, and small grant projects. Simultaneously, the project is working with the Liberian media industry to build capacity and professionalize both individual journalists as well as media outlets through training and grants.”

StinkyJournalism: What are the conditions of the financial investment and what spurred it?

Aulton: “This program is funded through Section 7019 of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2010 (Division F, P.L. 111-117). USAID receives its appropriation through this act to meet development assistance needs worldwide, including Liberia. All USAID programs, including this program in Liberia, are vetted with host country stakeholders, and are approved by the host government.”

StinkyJournalism: Is this type of program and interest in a country’s media (Land’s trip, this $11 million program) unique to Liberia, or do other countries also have similar journalism training provided by the US? If yes, which ones?

Aulton: “In response to the breakdown of virtually all systems and infrastructure during 14 years of civil war in Liberia, the U.S. Government has assisted Liberia in its post-conflict reconstruction and in the rebuilding of capacity at all levels and all sectors. Building the capacity of Liberia’s civil society and media is an important component of this goal. In 2010, USAID was supporting programs to assist the independence, professionalism, business-management capacity, and legal and regulatory defenses of media in at least 36 countries around the world, including 18 countries in Africa (Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe). Each country’s program, including this program in Liberia, is adapted to the unique needs of the local, national, or regional media system. In addition, as much as possible, programs use or build on the capacities of local journalism trainers and training institutions in the assisted countries.”



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US Govt Warns About Checkbook Journalism… In Liberia, USAID Gives Liberia $11 Million to Train Journalists

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