Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Liberian government shuts down “critical” radio

By Kemo Cham
Journalists and media rights campaigners have condemned the closure of a radio station by Liberian authorities.
The Monrovia-based Voice FM, considered as critical of the government, was ordered shut down last week Monday by the Justice Ministry through the Civil Law Court in Monrovia, on the request of the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA).
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists in a statement called on the Liberian government to reverse the decision.
LTA, which issues radio frequencies and regulates the media in Liberia, claimed that the station failed to register correctly.
The Civil Law Court also ordered owners of the station to appear later this month for a “declaratory judgment.”

Reports added that the sheriffs from the court also took away some materials belonging to the station when they shut it down.
Voice FM, which has been in operation for two years, is accused of failing to register properly as a commercial station, thereby denying government much needed revenue through taxes and other fees.
But journalists and campaign groups believe the move to shut it down was politically motivated.
The station is owned by political commentator, Henry Costa, co-host of its flagship programme ‘The Henry Costa Show’.
Costa is based in the US, from where he presents the programme via the internet. He denied that he owed LTA any outstanding payment.
Voice FM is also linked to another station, LIB24 105.1, which is owned by Businessman and opposition politician Benoni Urey who has expressed interest to run for the presidency. Liberia goes to the polls next year.
Both stations air ‘The Henry Costa Show’ which is said to command a huge following, hence the wider interest in the closure of the station.
“The government is using the telecommunication authority to silence political criticism,” Kerry Paterson, CPJ Senior Africa Associate, said in a statement on Thursday.
“This is not acceptable in a democracy like Liberia. The authorities must allow Voice FM back on air immediately,” she added.
LTA has however argued that Voice FM was operating on a frequency that had been allocated to a different radio station whose license expired in 2014. Henry Benson, Commissioner responsible for Engineering & Technology, who is currently acting as head of the Authority, also warned that the LTA intended to shut down all stations operating without the appropriate registration licenses.
He explained that 102.7 frequency was legitimately secured in 2012 by Liberia Web Radio, a non-commercial station which fulfilled all the requirements to operate. He said LTA wasn’t aware of any transfer of license in this regard.
But many people, especially journalists, are convinced that the move by the government is politically motivated. And this suspicion was further fueled by the statement by the LTA official criticizing radio stations for their constant condemnation of the government.
“People continue to take the airwaves without any regard; LTA sees that as a clear violation, for which the LTA was established by law to regulate and will continue to do so…,” Mr Benson was quoted saying at a press conference in Monrovia.
Woods Nyanton, co-host of the Costa show, explained that they were in partnership with the Liberia Web Radio, the official owner of the frequency, and that there were legal documents to prove that.
“We have been behind the government to regularize our status but MICAT [Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism] has set up a difficult process because we are critical of the government and the people of Liberia can attest to that,” he said.
Frong Page Africa, arguably Liberia’s leading daily, published a strongly worded editorial on the issue criticizing the government’s action.
“This is the oldest trick in the book used by oppressive governments to go after critical media, one which if left unchecked has the propensity to have grave impact on the media,” the paper writes on its online edition last Wednesday.
© Politico 12/07/16

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