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Liberian government suspends media operating licences

Liberians listen to the radio for the results of the presidential ballot, in Monrovia, 13 October 2017
Liberians listen to the radio for the results of the presidential ballot, in Monrovia, 13 October 2017

CRISTINA ALDEHUELA/AFP/Getty Images

The Government of Liberia has with immediate effect suspended operating licenses and authorizations issued media operators between January 1-June 18, 2018

Liberia's Ministry of Information Culture Affairs and Tourism announced the decision in Monrovia on June 18, 2018, prompting pubic outcry and huge condemnation on radio stations and social media.

The government argues, the new measure will allow a new revision and regulatory regime due to "technical and administrative anomalies including duplication of frequencies to radio and television operators, and incorrect designations and submissions".

The government's pronouncement has been criticized by many who believed the move is a smart way of silencing a pluralized media thereby denying those who have sought the government of Liberia's permission to open new media houses.

There is contention over a plan to prevent the opening and operation of PUNCH FM which is owned by Journalist Patrick Honnah -a staunch critic of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.

Honnah, a Former Deputy Director General of the Liberia Broadcasting System, campaigned for the failed bid of Unity Party Presidential Candidate Joseph Boakai in the October 2017 elections.

Members of the ruing CDC believed Honnah has link to the past regime and they have not forgiven him for his role in the 2011 election when he worked for privately owned radio Truth FM.

Hours after the new broadcast regulation was announced by Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe. Honnah who is currently out of Liberia took to Facebook to denounce the decision.

"I sent President Weah a message on WhatsApp on this issue. I know he has seen it because WhatsApp indicates when a message has been seen. He is yet to respond to my message. This is not fair and must not be allowed to go on," he said.

According to journalist Honnah, the government's decision was a form of creeping dictatorship which if care is not taken could cripple the country's emerging democracy.

He described the action as a deliberate attempt to target the opening of PUNCH FM and TV, which has being paraded on social media to be a strong opposition voice entity.

The new regulation shocked many especially when the government weeks ago re-submitted an Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Era bill to the legislature with the professed aim of decriminalizing speech offenses

Commenting on the Government;s pronouncement, The Executive Director of the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding Malcolm Joseph says the move could be a calculated attempt on the part of the Weah-led administration to silence critical voices.

He said the right to freedom of expression and of the press must be respected at all times. Mr. Joseph wondered why the Government chose to suspend licenses it issued media outlets on the eve of the opening of Punch FM/TV of critical journalist Patrick Honnah.

In-spite of all, the Information Ministry insists, government approved new frequencies and operating licenses would be issued following the review process, which is expected to begin on June 20.

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