“Towards a Modern Independent Broadcast Sector Regulator for Liberia”

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Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
All other protocols observed:

I thank the organizers of the Liberia Media Development (LMD) program for the invitation to speak at this two-day media law reform and regulatory reform stakeholders’ conference.
The broadcast media, like many other sectors of our society, stands to play a vital role in our country’s rebuilding process and in shaping the future of our maturing democracy. Seen as an independent voice and given the responsibility to accurately inform, educate and entertain society, it is imperative that the enabling legal and regulatory environment is provided to set standards and parameters for broadcasting while providing a framework to protect social values and norms and hold accountable, those given this cardinal responsibility as the gatekeepers of society.
In the overwhelming majority of African countries, broadcasting has been the most controlled medium for both technical and political reasons. The technological limits to the frequency spectrum and its allocation at both the international and national level have meant that unlike the Print Media, not just anyone can broadcast. The electromagnetic spectrum over which broadcasters send their programming signals is a finite national resource, which necessitates government’s intervention in the “public interest.”
As in most sectors of comparative nature and importance, the absence of an independent regulatory and policy framework to set the standards, monitor and ensure compliance; creates risks for abuse and disorder. Liberia cannot afford exposure to such risks and must constantly evolve its policy and regulatory frameworks to correct and improve our systems. The most obvious choice for us as an emerging democracy is to continuously align the Liberian broadcast sector with international best practices.
Towards a Modern Independent Broadcast Sector Regulator for Liberia – Remarks by Angelique Weeks, LTA Chairperson

Evolution of African Broadcasting
According to researcher Bruce Girard (2003) Twenty years ago – in 1988 – there were only ten independent (non-State) radios in all of Sub-Saharan Africa. Three decades ago, the African broadcast media landscape was mostly owned, controlled and censored by the state. State monopoly of broadcast media was the norm; and the excuse for such reasoning was that broadcasting was a public service with an agenda to promote development, national unity and culture. As such, under the guise of “public interest,” free expression of dissenting views and opposition to governments, were censored and literally disallowed with the broadcast media institutions primarily serving as propaganda agents of government.
By the 1990s, the emerging democratization of a host of African States drove the changes that sought to liberalize the broadcast media. As more African States took on democratic governments, pluralistic journalism, freedom of expression and diverse media gradually became the norm and state censorship experienced rapid decline. The beginnings of changes in broadcasting in Africa have been described as ‘liberalization of the airwaves,’ a reference to a process that has led to the emergence of private broadcasters and to a much lesser extent and in some countries such as Liberia, ‘community radio’ broadcasters. It has also included the emergence and growth of satellite and subscription or pay services. The BBC African Media Development Initiatives research across 17 sub-Saharan countries, found that local commercial radio grew by an average of 360 percent between 2000 and 2006 and that community radio grew on average by a striking 1,386 percent over the same period.
The liberalization of broadcasting has occurred in a context of political change from military and one party state governments of the period after independence, to multi party governments. The relevance of these changes to broadcasting is that pluralist politics is now linked to the existence of pluralist and diverse media systems as opposed to government and state monopolies. Freedoms of expression and the media, especially with regards to editorial and programming independence, have become central issues linked to the provision of alternative sources of information.
Today, the broadcast media in a large number of African countries has little in common with that of the past. Radio remains the dominant mass-medium in Africa with the widest geographical reach and the highest audiences compared with television (TV), newspapers and other information and communication technologies (ICTs). Overall, radio is enjoying a renaissance with the explosion of small local stations over the last twenty years, as a result of democratization, market liberalization and more affordable technologies. Radio seems to have proven itself as a developmental tool, particularly with the rise of community and local radio stations, which have facilitated a far more participatory and horizontal type of
Towards a Modern Independent Broadcast Sector Regulator for Liberia – Remarks by Angelique Weeks, LTA Chairperson
communication than was possible with the older, centralized broadcasting models of the 1960s and 70s. There seems also to have been a re-discovery of radio in the context of new ICTs, which has transformed radio into a more interactive two-way medium that provides a powerful tool for information dissemination and access, and public policy discussion especially for hard-to-reach rural audiences.
Radio stations can be divided roughly into four categories: state-controlled public radio; privately-owned commercial and non-commercial radio; community-controlled radio; and international radio. However, there is much overlap. Private commercial stations have bigger audiences than government radio in many countries, and, although dependable statistics for Africa as a whole are difficult to come by, it is clear that state radio is coming under increasing pressure from regional and local commercial radio throughout the continent, especially in urban areas. According to the World Fact Book, in 2008 there were 62 licensed TV stations in ECOWAS and, excluding Nigeria, 165 radio stations. Nigeria has hundreds of licensed radio stations.
During these two days we are considering the question “Where does the future of pluralist and diverse broadcast media lie, in light of the changing dynamics of digitalization in the information society and press freedom?” Technology and innovations of the modern world has in many ways helped in making the broadcast media more converged and efficient; thereby removing most of the geographical limitations previously imposed on broadcasting (i.e., internet broadcasting). Spectrum re-farming from Digital Migration has increased available frequencies and improved spectrum management. The internet and broadband connectivity has also increased access to broadcast media content in ways we could hardly dare to imagine barely two-decades ago. With the progress realized as a result of these changes, the broadcast media has modernized significantly. Information and its exchange can be achieved within microseconds and the birth of the Information Society has occurred and brought to the fore many new policy and regulatory challenges.
Satellite radio and Internet based radio and television broadcasting, which are outside of the jurisdiction of national governments but available and accessible locally, raises additional regulatory concerns. The changes to national broadcasting markets and increased commercialization and competition emphasize the urgent need for broadcast regulation by national governments.

In Liberia, there are presently 70 licensed radio stations broken down as follows:
Category Number
State Broadcaster 1
Private Commercial Station 21
Private Non-commercial Station 23
Towards a Modern Independent Broadcast Sector Regulator for Liberia – Remarks by Angelique Weeks, LTA Chairperson
Private Community Station 23
Short Wave Station 2

There are also 14 licensed TV broadcasters as follows:
Category Number
State TV 1
Commercial TV 8
Rural TV 1
Satellite TV 4
However, the existence of many broadcasters does not necessarily mean more choices in broadcast content/programs for audiences. Neither has private ownership excluded broadcast editorial controls for political and commercial reasons. Private broadcasters also enter the broadcasting arena as a legitimate commercial activity and operate their businesses in accordance with how they perceive they can make money. In many cases, this amounts to just playing popular music or showing popular imported television programs with very little local news or programs. It must be noted that building democratic societies characterized by pluralist politics and respect for human rights including freedom of expression, requires not only a pluralistic media system, but media diversity as well. Achieving both media pluralism and diversity requires deliberate policy development and transparent regulatory mechanisms.

Legal and regulatory issues
In the free world today, the need for freedom of speech and the outreach of the broadcast media highlights the progress achieved over the decades, for media independence from government control and censorship. However, media freedom and free speech should not be free to the extent that it is irresponsible and not independently regulated. Where free speech is not held accountable under the law, broadcast content tends to be skewed because business interests take precedence over professional journalism and the public “interest.”
The Broadcasting Sector, like all sectors, flourishes best in countries where the rule of law is respected, where media regulation is independent and even-handed.
The original reason for regulating broadcasting was simply to allocate limited spectrum frequency resources. However, there is a general consensus among policymakers that some regulation is necessary not only to allocate the spectrum but also to shape the important public space that broadcasting constitutes. Regulation is also required to increase access to the media and make sure that a greater variety of voices are heard. Regulatory tools for Broadcasting fall into two categories: Economic regulations and Content regulations. Economic regulations are content-neutral and Towards a Modern Independent Broadcast Sector Regulator for Liberia – Remarks by Angelique Weeks, LTA Chairperson
affect the broad shape of the broadcast industry by determining who gets to own a station. A content regulation, by contrast, involves the review of programming.

In this regard, Economic regulations address the broad conditions under which broadcasters operate, including:
Who owns the broadcaster;
What frequencies it uses; and
Broadly, the type of material that is broadcast.
Economic regulations seek to shape broadcasting indirectly by protecting against industry concentration and ensuring that scarce national spectrum resources are efficiently and effectively allocated.
Content regulation interventions, on the other hand, relate to the composition / substance of the broadcasts, such as requiring the airing of children’s programming and limiting the amount of advertising during such programs. Content regulations may also prohibit obscene programming and limit indecent and profane programming to specific hours and impose penalties for violations. Such regulations also seek to ensure that broadcasters air programming tha t serves the diverse needs of society as a whole, rather than those of a particular subgroup. Content regulations would include interventions for:
Inflammatory or defamatory broadcasts;
Political imbalance;
Advertising; and
How members of the public can complain about broadcasts.
The right to freedom of expression is the most important principle underlying the regulation of broadcasting. This right finds its clearest expression in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”
In this regard, practical fundamental principles of relevance to broadcasting regulators are:
Everyone has the right to seek and receive information and to have access to the sort of information that they need and desire.
Everyone has the right to impart information and ideas,
including the right of broadcasters to communicate with out interference and the right of the broader public to have access to the broadcast media.
Towards a Modern Independent Broadcast Sector Regulator for Liberia – Remarks by Angelique Weeks, LTA Chairperson
These rights apply “through any media.” This enshrines the public right of access to broadcasting. Freedom of
expression is not only exercised at the street corner, but also through the modern media.
These rights apply across borders, which is highly relevant in an age when the technical capacity to broadcast across frontiers is widely available.
While recognizing the need to protect freedom of speech, unregulated broadcasting can have adverse external effects and can be used to fan hostile attitudes and violence. It must never be forgotten that radio broadcasting played a part in fueling the Rwanda genocide of 1994 which ended in the brutal massacre of 800,000 men, women and children, mostly of the Tutsi minority . Effective regulation is required to prevent the broadcast of provocative or insulting material.

Approaches to Broadcast Regulation
In the United Kingdom the British Broadcasting Company, was established in 1922 as a private corporation. In 1925, upon the recommendation of a parliamentary committee, the company was liquidated and replaced in 1927 by a public corporation, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It held a monopoly on television in Great Britain from its introduction until 1954 and on radio until 1972. Independent broadcasting was established by an Act of Parliament in 1954 under the control of the Independent Television Authority (ITA). The ITA was renamed Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) under the Sound Broadcasting Act of 1972. After a series of radical changes in policies, the Broadcasting Act of 1990 established the Independent Television Commission (ITC) to replace the old Independent Broadcasting Authority and the Radio Authority.
In 2002 the Office of Communications (Ofcom) was created to regulate the communications sector, and in 2003 it evolved into a multisector regulator and took over the responsibilities of the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority as well as those of the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC), the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel), the regulator of the telecommunications sector, and the Radiocommunications Agency.
In the United States, broadcasting regulation is rooted in the First Amendment of the American Constitution which stipulates “that Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech or of the press”. Under this principle, Broadcast regulation is handled by the Federal Communications Commission ( FCC), which is charged with implementation of the Fairness Doctrine: a policy of the FCC introduced in 1949 that requires the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was—in the Commission’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced.
Towards a Modern Independent Broadcast Sector Regulator for Liberia – Remarks by Angelique Weeks, LTA Chairperson
In Nigeria, responsibility for Broadcast regulation is the responsibility of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which was established by Decree 38 of 1992, later amended by the National Broadcasting Commission (Amendment) Decree No 55 of 1999. NBC was established to perform the following functions:
Receiving, processing, and considering applications for the ownership of radio and television stations including cable TV services, direct satellite broadcast, etc;
Regulating and controlling the broadcasting industry;
Receiving, considering and investigating complaints from individuals and bodies regarding content of a broadcast or conduct of a station;
Upholding the principles of equity and fairness in broad casting;
Establishing and disseminating a national broadcasting code and setting standards with regard to content and
quality of broadcasting;
Regulating ethical standards and technical excellence;
Promoting Nigerian indigenous cultures, moral and
community life through broadcasting;
Determining and applying sanctions, including revocation of licenses of defaulting stations;
Ensuring quality manpower development in the
broadcasting industry by accrediting curricula and
programs for all tertiary institutions that offer Mass
Communication in relation to broadcasting; and
Intervening and arbitrating in conflicts in the broadcasting industry.
It must be noted that the Electronic Communications Act of Nigeria (2008) reserves the responsibility to regulate the radio spectrum designated or allocated for use by broadcasting organizations and providers of broadcasting services to the National Communications Commission (NCC), in accordance with the standards and requirements of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and its Radio Regulations, as agreed to or adopted by Nigeria. The NCC is the regulatory authority for the Telecommunications/ICT sector.
Within the ECOWAS region, Ghana took the lead to establish an independent commission to regulate media institutions by ratifying into law the National Media Commission Act of 1993. Sierra Leone in 2000 similarly ratified into law the Independent Media Commission Act, 2000. Both Acts established autonomous Commissions to regulate the broadcast industry and other mass media institutions. Broadcast regulation in Cote d’Ivoire is governed by the Council for Broadcast Communication (CNCA) while the National Communication Council (CNC) regulates broadcasting in Guinea. In The Gambia, broadcast regulation is governed by the Information and Communications Act, which placed broadcast regulation under the responsibility of the multisector Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA). PURA also regulates the Electricity, Telecommunications, Transportation and Water & Towards a Modern Independent Broadcast Sector Regulator for Liberia – Remarks by Angelique Weeks, LTA Chairperson
Sewage sectors. In all cases, frequency spectrum regulation falls under the ambit of the National Regulatory Authority (NRA) for the telecommunications sector.
Liberia is now moving towards regional parity in this regard. On our domestic front, based on LISGIS population data, approximately 73% of Liberia’s population had access to mobile telephone services in 2015. We also realized a record 56.69% internet penetration rate (also based on LISGIS population data of 4,027,142) in the same year. This tells you that mobile telephony and broadband connectivity are on a significant rise in Liberia and the broadcast media is certainly a beneficiary of growths in mobile and internet use. With these expansive growths globally and domestically, coupled with the popularity of online media which is on the rise, the broadcast media now enjoys unprecedented access to a global audience like never before. Equally so, Liberian audiences also have unprecedented access to international broadcasting services.
As a result of this progress of innovation, the broadcast media should now be more responsible and take serious care with the information it shares, given its global reach.
Now, in response to the challenges posed by current realities, the establishment of an independent broadcast regulator has gone a step further from being just an ideal, to legislation in process. This process began on April 18, 2008 when the Liberia Media Law & Policy Reform Working Group submitted to the House of Representatives, three (3) draft laws: The Public Service Broadcast Law, An Act to Establish an Independent Broadcasting Regulator for Liberia and the Freedom of Information Act. With lobbying and strong advocacy from civil society groups and other media institutions, the Plenary of the House of Representatives on Thursday, September 11, 2008 unanimously voted and passed into law, the Act to Establish an Independent Broadcasting Regulator for Liberia, along with the Freedom of Information Act. Following this passage by the lower House, the Independent Broadcasting Regulator Bill was sent to the Liberian Senate for concurrence. This Bill is still before the Liberian Senate and its concurrence is pending.
This Bill seeks to implement the policy objectives of the Government of Liberia as contained in the proposed Act to Establish an Independent Broadcasting Regulator for Liberia, which include inter alia:
a. to protect and promote constitutional principles; and in
particular, respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law;
b. to foster national unity and reconciliation;
c. to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression;
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Towards a Modern Independent Broadcast Sector
Regulator for Liberia – Remarks by Angelique Weeks, LTA Chairperson
f. to protect and promote the public’s right to know through promoting pluralism and a wide variety of programming on matters of public interest in relevant formats;
* * *
h. to promote accurate, informative and balanced
* * *
l. to promote the appropriate use of new technology.

Liberia’s Independent Broadcasting Regulator Bill is a well-crafted legislation designed to accomplish the specific policy objectives of the Liberian Government. However, the LTA is of the view that the inclusion in Part IV Section 12 Subsection 2(a) of responsibility “to develop and implement a Broadcasting Frequency Plan to ensure orderly and optimal use of the broadcasting frequency spectrum” as a function of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), is a duplication of the responsibility of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority.

Part VI Section 24(1) of the Telecommunications Act 2007 stipulates that:
“The LTA shall be responsible for the orderly and efficient management, allocation, assignment and use of radio frequencies, including all civilian, non-civilian and commercial uses of radio frequencies.”
The LTA has implemented this function since the establishment of the Authority and has the requisite skills and human capital to implement this responsibility. The LTA has worked with the ITU and has developed Liberia’s National Table of Frequency Allocations, the National Frequency Register and National Radio Spectrum Plan. We urge that Liberia is informed by international and regional best practice and retain radio spectrum management with the LTA to avoid regulatory uncertainty in the Telecommunications/ICT sector, duplication of functions and the waste of scarce national resources.
This will also allow the IBA to concentrate on achieving the core purpose of the Act to Establish an Independent Broadcasting Regulator for Liberia, of making provision for the regulation of broadcasting in Liberia with a view to promoting independent, pluralistic broadcasting in the public interest, while safeguarding the right to freedom of expression and the public’s right to a pluralistic broadcast media as fundamental human right protected under Article 15 of the Constitution of Liberia.

I thank you.


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