…..Says the media has an incredible role in shaping public opinion

By: Jerromie S. Walters

In a trickle-down period to Liberias next general elections, Ms. Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Country Representative, has encouraged the need for gender-sensitive reporting, as she believes that the media has an incredible role in shaping public opinion.

At a panel discussion held on the medias critical role in promoting gender-responsive reporting during elections on Thursday, March 16, 2023, female aspirants earlier in their elaboration pointed out several challenges they often confront with the media, basically ranging from stereotyping, badmouthing, and denigration from both the social and mainstream media.

Ms. Comfort Lamptey, UN Women’s Country Representative, while speaking at the occasion, appealed to heads of media houses and media practitioners in general to ensure fair and gender-sensitive accessibility of the media.

As shes enraged with the ideology that the media has an incredible role in shaping public opinion, disseminating correct information to the public, and supporting the public to understand and embrace the values of inclusivity and gender equality,

This, she said, is so cardinal for Liberia, especially to deepen the democracy of the state and to spread the visions and aspirations of women that are involved in politics.

As the occasion assembled female aspirants and heads of media institutions, Mrs. Comfort Lamptey,

characterized it as one of the best ways to bring women aspirants together with the media.

Judging from this backdrop, the UN Women’s Country Representative wants the media to make a commitment and take responsibility for giving equal opportunity to both women and men.

According to her, shes strongly anticipating seeing more women in the pending October elections.

Moreover, Madam Lamptey emphasized that there has to be coordination among international NGOs, especially with opportunities made available to women and how they are supported in elections.

“That is a call to action for us to also look at how we can be better coordinated and how we support women,” she said.

At the same time, she applauded their international and local partners and pledged UN Women’s support for gender-sensitive reporting and women’s political participation.

In an official welcome statement at the event, Mr. Malcolm Joseph, the Executive Director of the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building, said media institutions and individuals have a greater onus on setting the agenda for public discourse, and as such, he believes media practitioners must intentionally generate topics that focus on womens leadership ability and their track records within their communities and constituencies.

He encouraged the essence of women being provided the opportunity to take up key reportorial and editorial duties in newsrooms and in leadership positions in the media.

However, he noted that women political actors must be given media literacy skills that can enable them to understand the workings of the media and effectively engage with journalists.

“It is my hope that as we continue our deliberations, we as media practitioners will take deliberate actions to support the positive portrayal of women in politics”, he said.

In her deliberation, UN Women Liberia’s Deputy Country Representative admonished the media to serve as a civic educator in elections.

According to her, the media can promote public awareness and take actions to mitigate gender-based stereotypes and violence against women in politics, develop media campaigns, and increase the visibility of womens empowerment initiatives to tackle violence against women in politics.

She has the thought that men are more visible and dominant in elections, while women are often targeted because of how their stories are told by the media, even though they are often not afforded the opportunity to spread their messages.

As disclosed by the Deputy UN Women Country Representative, one of several ways to promote gender equality in elections is to address gender discrimination and other awkward situations that are manufactured against women during electoral processes.

As such, she advised the media to abstain from spreading negativity against women in elections and seek stories that will improve their political participation.

At the same time, she applauded their international and local partners and pledged UN Women’s support for gender-sensitive reporting and women’s political participation.

From her end, Alice Johnson Howard, Deputy Gender Minister, said women have been discouraged and made to believe that they are not of essence to political processes due to the horrific media reports.

She believes the media is powerful, and as such, she encouraged the prioritization of women or a fair platform for both males and females.

The Deputy Gender Minister highlighted “visual communication” as one that shows the images of political actors, which she said the media often portrayed negatively on female candidates, something she said has the propensity to place an impression on the voters.

She encouraged media management to strengthen capacity at their respective institutions to correct gender biases and portray a fair role in elections.

Elaborating on gender bias and negative portrayals of women in politics, Ms. Carolyn Myers, a gender and media development specialist, said women dont exercise their full political rights because of discrimination and other major factors.

She believes that because very few women have the opportunity to cover politics, better and more accurate images are not being portrayed.

Additionally, she highlighted sexism in the media as some of the countless suppressions on women’s involvement in politics and alluded to the fact that women’s achievements are often undermined and overlooked.

She said during political processes, women’s accomplishments and experiences are often ignored by the media, as they often tend to focus on personal lives, histories, and physical appearance.

Ms. Myers called on the media to focus on the womens agenda, adopt gender responsive reporting, and avoid only displaying a negative picture of women.

Moreover, she highlighted the need for more education to be provided to media practitioners to ensure a better display of women’s involvement in politics.

Speaking on her personal experience, Ms. Cornelia Kruah Togba, a Montserrado County District #13 aspirant, encouraged women to be focused on their agendas, as their male counterparts will often make unnecessary claims.

She suggested that a lot more needs to be done to liberate women from a state of fear, as most of them often turn down media engagements, and further recommended the need for their security, especially as elections are just a few months away.

Ms. Kruah, along with her colleague Karishma Pelham Raad of District #10, called on the international community to invest more in women’s campaign processes instead of regular training.

At the same time, aspirant Raad cautioned women to be resilient, noting that the power of the media lies in their hands; as such, they should be prepared and embrace it.

As one of the few candidates who has had a smooth relationship with the media, the young aspirant encouraged women in politics to consider branding, early preparation, and the most needed training.

She joined her colleague to emphasize the significance of their protection and security, as she explained that it is paramount.

UN Women, in collaboration with its implementing partner, the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP), is hosting a high-level panel discussion on the medias critical role in promoting gender-responsive reporting during elections in the digital age on Thursday, March 16, 2023.

The panel discussion was held as part of the commemoration of International Womens Day (IWD) and Womens Month.

This year, IWD is commemorated under the global theme “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality” and the national theme, “Innovating with technology to promote gender equality.”

UN Women believes that despite Liberia producing Africas first female president and currently having a female vice president, women are still grossly underrepresented in the legislature.

Women make up less than 11 percent of the 103 seats in the National Legislature. Out of 73 members in the House of Representatives, only nine (9) are women (12.3 percent), while there are only two women among the thirty (30) senators (7 percent).

Additionally, only five of the 19 cabinet ministers, 24.5 percent of deputy minister positions, and 25.9 percent of assistant ministers are women.

Many African countries like Rwanda are providing women with more spaces and bigger opportunities to lead in parliament, in active ministerial roles, as well as at local levels.

Liberia is encouraged to emulate such standards or even do better. Supporting women in leadership provides a clearer pathway for good governance and better development outcomes.

In Liberia, several factors hinder womens effective participation as citizens in governance and decision-making processes, as well as in politics. A few of the issues are the lack of enforceable temporary special measures, discriminatory norms, attitudes, and practices, including violence, and a lack of political will.

UN Women Liberia, in collaboration with local partners, held a high-level breakfast meeting between women leaders and key media actors, including managers of media institutions and editors, to discuss the medias role in promoting gender-responsive reporting during elections in 2023.

The intervention is supported by a fund and the government of Sweden.

The panel discussion was attended by representatives from the UN and government officials, USAID, women leaders, and aspirants, as well as the media and our civil society partners. Panelists comprised Ms. Cornelia Kruah Togba, a Liberian politician; Ms. Karishma Pelham Raad, an aspirant for District 10 in Montserrado County; Mr. Bai Best, Managing Director at the Liberian Observer Corporation; and Ms. Tetee Karneh, Manager of Spoon FM, with Ms. Carolyn Myers, a gender and media development specialist, serving as moderator.

UN Women is the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress in meeting their needs worldwide.

Conspicuously, the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding is a civil society organization working to promote democratic tenets through free media, freedom of expression, peace consolidation, and participatory governance, with a goal to promote and advocate for peace and justice at community and national levels.

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