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Television Access And Use in Liberia

In a country still suffering socio-economically from a 14-year civil war, most Liberians have insufficient home access to either electricity or disposable income for televisions in the home. In 2008, the average cost of a 14-inch television was the same ($50) as the monthly salary for the average civil servant. [1] Only about 30 percent of respondents in a 2008 BBC survey said they had watched television in the past week, while 87 percent said they listened to the radio.

Home access to a television is largely restricted to relatively wealthy residents of greater Monrovia. Radio is clearly a more effective means of reaching the 60 percent of the population living outside the capital.

Chart 1

That said, household access to a television is society can be generally classified as communal. Quite often, inidividuals who have access to a TV at home will allow community members to watch with them. This is statistically evident when we compare regularly use levels (weekly use) with that of household access and access to TV “anywhere”. In both urban and rural areas, we have found that the percentage of respondents who had watched TV in the past week far exceeded the percentage who reported having home access to a TV (See Chart 2).

Chart 2

Television was first introduced in Liberia through the state owned and operated ELTV in 1960. It was not until 1996 that the country’s first commercial station, DC TV, began broadcasting, followed by LCN TV in 1997. Both stations have since closed. However, there are now four privately-owned TV channels broadcasting out of Greater Monrovia- Power TV, Clar TV, Real TV, and Love TV. Through the help of the Chinese government, state-run ELTV has recently begun broadcasting a few hours a day after shutting down during the Liberian Civil War. [2]

Private TV stations rely on a substantial amount of foreign content from international broadcasters and neighboring countries such as Nigeria. For example, Clar TV does not have a studio of its own and only broadcasts a minimal amount of local programming, but it is able to run for 18 hours a day with programs from the BBC, CNN and other international channels. Power TV, on the other hand, employs over a dozen journalists and creates a majority of its content. A key inhibitor for growth for all stations and television use in general is the lack of a consistent electrical supply. Power TV, for example, relies primarily on a private generator for its own power. [3]

Paid TV, otherwise known as satellite TV, is becoming more popular among wealthy urbanites as they seek an alternative to lower-quality domestic programming, according to the Liberia Media Centre, a domestic media-development NGO. However, according to the 2008 BBC survey of Liberia, only about 10 percent of high-income individuals have access to cable or satellite TV. Access to this form of TV “anywhere” is more than double for those with a middle or high-income (See Chart 3). This again could be the result of communal viewing, even among more affluent Liberians.

Chart 3

As a medium with no literacy barrier, television does have the potential to play an important role in the socio-political development of Liberia, despite the medium’s socio-economic limitations. A key factor into whether television will begin to play a larger positive role in Liberian society is whether channels can begin to provide locally-based programming. Private television stations may have the opportunity to do this during the upcoming 2011 elections, where President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will be running for reelection.



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[1] Lawrence Randall, Lamii Kpargoi & Cosme Pulano. “Media Reach and Penetration Study: Summary Report”. Liberia Media Center. 2008. Monrovia, Liberia. http://liberiamediacenter.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/media-reach-penetration-study-lmc-zeon.pdf.

[2] “General Media Environment”. Liberia Media Center. Monrovia, Liberia. Accessed May 2010. http://liberiamediacenter.net/general-media-environment/

[3] “Strengthening Liberia’s Media: A review of media support in the post-conflict transitional period and recommendations for future actions”. International Media Support. Copenhagen, Denmark. 2007. Accessed April 2010. http://www.i-m-s.dk/files/publications/Liberia_webfinal%201202-2007.pdf.