Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Civil Law Court ‘A’ in Monrovia, on Tuesday, January 7 ruled authorizing the government (respondent) to immediately open Punch FM (petitioner). The ruling happens to be a key step in favor of one of several demands made by the Council of Patriots (COP) to President George Weah in June 2019.
Gbeneweleh’s judgment comes just a day after a mass peaceful protest organized by the Council of Patriots on Capitol Hill on January 6 that later turned chaotic in the evening hours of the day as officers of the Joint Security immediately began using teargas and a water cannon to disperse the crowd.
The actions by the joint security, according to organizers of the protest, were precipitated by the protesters’ insistence to cook their food and remain at the protest venue night and day until some of their demands are met or addressed by President George M. Weah. One of their demands was to grant the broadcast license for the opening of Punch FM.
Further to his ruling, Gbeneweleh explained that the application of the petitioner, dated December 29, 2017, was not approved by the director of the National Communication Bureau, because petitioner Articles of Incorporation was not annexed.
According to Gbeneweleh, the petitioner later obtained its Article of Incorporation on January 5, 2018, and the respondent granted a permit to the petitioner on January 10, 2018.
“This court perceives no deception and misrepresentation under the fact and circumstances in this case and that the permit granted the petitioner on January 10, 2018, is valid,” Gbeneweleh declared. “Wherefore and in view of the forgoing it is ruling of the court that the petitioner’s petition for declaratory judgment is hereby granted and the resistance thereto is denied.”
Therefore, Gbeneweleh ruled that “the petitioner is entitled to its permit as a matter of law
The One Media Incorporated, which owns Punch FM (petitioner), on December 29, 2017, filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming that the Ministry of Information has denied it an operational license to broadcast on the station for more than two years, under a scam of reviewing operational licenses for new media organizations.
In counter-argument, the government (respondent) said that the application filed on December 29, 2017, on the basis that the petitioner was a body corporate, which turned out to be untrue and respondent exercise its administrative rights to convenience that the petitioner did not meet the basic legal requirements to be granted permission as a matter of law.
“That your honour will deny and dismiss the petition because same will not terminate the uncertainty of controversy giving rise to the proceedings and more so, the petitioner is using the application for permit as a publicity stamp both in the print and electronic media as well as, the social media, mainly to discredit respondent and damage its credibility locally and internationally.
It can be recalled that on October 15, the station filed for a Petition for Declaratory Judgment to the Civil Law Court. The management asked the court to declare and restore its rights to operate.
It claimed in the petition that more than one year has elapsed since it completed its registration to operate radio and television stations, but has been denied by the information ministry, under the disguise of reviewing its license application.
In June 2018, the ministry announced that it had suspended all new operating licenses and authorization it issued to media operators between January 1 and June 18, 2018.
The government claimed that it was reviewing the regulatory regime of media operating licenses and authorization due to technical and administrative irregularities, including duplications of frequencies to radio and television operators, and incorrect designation and submissions.
It said the process, however, would not affect media entities that were in existence prior to January 2018.
The Punch FM management further disclosed in the petition that it was surprising that the notice of the review process was issued after it had already paid US$2,900 in annual license regulation fees to the Liberia Telecommunications Authority.
According to the petition, while the review process directly affected its station, other media outlets, such as Spoon FM, were already opening and operating.
The petition cited the constitutional clause “ensuring for all citizens, without discrimination, opportunities for employment and livelihood under just and humane conditions, and towards promoting safety, health and welfare facilities in employment.”
Meanwhile, the Government has filed an appeal of the Judge’s ruling to the Supreme Court of Liberia.