Monrovia – US Ambassador to Liberia Christian Elder on Monday declared herself a “big fan” of the Daily Talk chalkboard newspaper while assuring her support to the media outlet.
Ambassador Elder expressed her gratitude to the Daily Talk team for their outstanding work over the years.
“If this needs to be rebuilt a hundred times, we will do it a hundred times. We see tremendous value in what you do and how you do it,” she said at the relaunched on the popular chalkboard newspaper located at 24th Street intersection.
The Daily Talk blackboard has been an historic fixture for citizens travelling along Tubman Boulevard since 2000. Throughout its history, Daily Talk has evolved along with the citizens walking and driving past it daily; surviving civil war and welcoming new governments with feisty dialogue and open debate through this interactive blackboard.
Alfred J. Sirleaf (no relation to President Sirleaf), founded his blackboard newspaper in 2000 because of his belief that a well-informed citizenry is the key to the rebirth of Liberia after decades of civil war. This is not the first time this Town Crier was put out of action.
In 2005 government soldiers destroyed the blackboard, and this recent act of vandalism is stark reminder of darker times for Sirleaf and local fans of the Daily Talk.
Sirleaf compiles his stories daily from newspaper reports and messages from volunteer correspondents. The Daily Talk is free to read and is funded by occasional gifts of cash and pre-paid cellphone cards. It has a suggestion box for readers.
During the night of October 17, the board was rammed by a unmarked car. While no one was injured, this lively local hub of information, debate and discussion, was put out of action. The media and local citizens condemned this damage as an act of vandalism, and speculation about motivation circulated.
Sirleaf along, with a thriving Liberian media sector, believe access to information is the key to peace for Liberia. USAID and the US Government in Liberia also support a pluralistic, open and free media as a cornerstone of this developing democracy.
Speaking Monday, Sirleaf recalled that when the board was broken down, “hope was lost, and I told people this hope will come back and it will be more than before and today, you can see it.”
Earlier at the launch, the US Ambassador hailed the chalkboard for its reporting of the 2017 election.
“People understand what the delays were about and where things stood, and who was up and who was down. That helps to contribute to an informed citizenry and in that way also a peaceful citizenry when they understand what was happening and I think it helps all of the institution of government,” she said.
She thanked Mr. Sirleaf and his team for “being direct to the people” in the way he reports the news.
“You’ve been doing this for long time and we are also here and a way to acknowledge your decades of work in doing this and all of the enthusiasm and plans you have to work with the young people.”
“The reconstruction of the new board was funded by USAID through Internews under the Liberia Media Development Program. LMD supports a raft of media and civil society activities that contribute to strengthening a professional and vibrant media environment,” according to a release from Internews.
For example, the Daily Talk news update during its relaunch shares information about a national electoral reform dialogue taking shape as a result of government, civil society, media and citizens feedback on the 2017 elections.
This national dialogue is supported by USAID and would not be relevant to ordinary citizens across the nation if it were not for the diversity of media that exists across the entire nation, from local Town Criers such as Sirlief to national newspapers, radio, TV, online media and local community radio stations.
At the relaunch, LMD Chief of Party, Jan McArthur welcomed Ambassador Elder and Alfred Sirleaf to cut the ribbon of the newly renovated Daily Talk blackboard and booth.
Said McArthur: “USAID research tells us that Freedom of Speech is a value that all Liberians hold dear, from every corner of this nation. The gains the Liberian media, and citizens, have made over recent decades to protect freedom expression and freedom of association have been hard fought, and shine out as unique, compared to many other countries in this region, and even globally. These gains should be treasured and not taken for granted.”
Said added: “The role of the USAID LMD program is to support media play a responsible and constructive role in providing a public forum for open dialogue between citizens, community leaders and government.”
LMD partners with Liberian media to promote tolerance and ensure differing opinions are shared without fear of reprisal. LMD also supports a range of media agencies, lawyers, civil society leaders and community leaders to provide avenues for disputes resolution, including the newly established and voluntary National Media Council.
McArthur added “it is our hope that the LMD media law work we are doing with Liberian media leaders, the PUL, CEMESP, the Judiciary, the Law School and Bar Association, will contribute to constructive dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflict that arises within, or in relation to what is reported in the media.”