Some 50 journalists from print, electronic and online media institutions from Liberia and Sierra Leone will take part in a three-day international media training for senior editors and reporters scheduled to take place in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.
The training program is geared towards widening journalists’ knowledge, improving their reporting skills and equipping them with requisite techniques on international criminal proceedings in general, and the proceedings of the Charles Taylor Trial in The Hague in particular.
The objectives of the training exercise which will run from 24th to 26th April is aimed at providing basic training on international tribunals and international criminal law in general to foster a better understanding of international proceedings, including the purpose of the Taylor trial, the role of the Prosecution and Defence, and the rights of the accused to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.
The course is also expected to provide detailed training on the Special Court and the conduct of the Charles Taylor trial in The Hague.
Discussions are scheduled to be held on the mode of addressing the principle concerns and objections to the trial including the impact on the current political and justice situation in Liberia.
The programme is also to equip journalists with tools to better manage public expectations surrounding the trial and to create a network so that in future sources of information provided for example by fellowships in The Hague can be effectively shared by the media ensuring accurate and up-to-date information.
Meanwhile, the inability of the media to accurately and adequately cover the trial has however already taken its toll on public interest and engagement with the trial. Since the proceedings commenced on 4th June 2007, the majority of reporting in Liberia has been based on international wires, or press releases from the Special Court, both of which sources are removed from the local context and are perceived as lacking objectivity by Liberians.
The task of relaying the crucial developments of this historical trial to the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia therefore falls to the media.
However due to problems facing the media in West Africa and the challenges in developing its capacity after a long period of war, the press in Sierra Leone and Liberia are now encountering the multiple problems of physical distance, the unprecedented format of a trial whose jurisdiction belongs to a hybrid tribunal but whose facilities are those of the ICC, and general lack of capacity to report on legal proceedings of an international nature.
“ In this respect the removal of Charles Taylor’s trial from the Liberian context to the jurisdiction of the Special Court, and the physical relocation of the proceedings to the ICC in The Hague, are significant factors detracting from the already limited ability of the Liberian and Sierra Leonean people to witness the trial” a release states. The exercise is organised by the United Kingdom Legal Community Charity, Advocates for International Development (A4ID), in collaboration with a West Africa media right group, International Centre for Media Studies and Development (INCEMSADWA), with funding from the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), and the Soros Foundation Network Media Program (NMP) based in London.
Madam Afua Hirsch of the Advocates for International Development and Doughty Street Chambers, based in London, United Kingdom and Mr. Josephus M. Gray, a professional Liberian journalist and Assistant Minister Designate for Public Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs are the brains behind the training exercise.