— Veteran journalists warn
Frank Sainworla and Philip N. Wesseh, two well experienced, respected and veteran Liberian journalists, have frowned on the Liberian government for placing a “Prior Restraint” on Henry Costa for his proposal to relay his talk show, the ‘Costa Show’, on Radio Bushrod (D-15 FM) in Monrovia. Philip Wesseh is the Publisher of The Inquirer newspaper, while Frank Sainworla is the Publisher of News Public Trust, an online news outlet.
On the ‘OK FM Morning Rush,’ a hugely followed early morning talk show, Sainworla and Wesseh said that government should have acted through quiet diplomacy rather than coming to the public through a press statement from the Ministry of Information.
“Gov’t has raised the bar on Costa unnecessarily. In media law and ethics, they did what we call prior restraint,” the two journalists and publishers said collectively.
“Costa has planned to do his show on a radio station here in Monrovia, even though he is in America, he is not a journalist and as such whatever he says must be sanctioned by that radio station instead of government threatening the station,” Sainworla said.
He said the government’s concern about Costa’s style of broadcast may be legitimate, “most especially when it comes to hate speech and vulgarism (insults) on leaders,” but that is not sufficient ground to deny him from being heard.
“Costa started something that has spread like cancer. Bad taste of radio broadcast but why is the government not also going after Sekou Sheriff who was at Freedom FM? In fact, I am told that some big hands have given him huge support that led to the establishment of a new radio station called Voice of Liberia (VOL),” Mr. Sainworla added.
Sainworla recalled that the former ruling Unity Party (UP) made the same mistake by threatening media entities and closing down a few of them simply because of the critical voices that were heard on them.
“Former President Sirleaf made the same mistake. Under her watch and by her approval, the National Chronicle Newspaper was shut down. Its publisher, Philibert Browne, was harassed and even arrested and intimidated by state security,” Mr. Sainworla recalled.
“CDCians, who were by then in opposition opposed Sirleaf’s action. They stood by Costa when he was once arrested and taken to jail. Those in power today frowned on Ellen and called for the establishment of a war crimes court so that those who committed atrocities in the country and are here passing around could be tried. Sadly, they are no longer interested in executing what they wished to have seen happen in the past,” he said.
Philip N. Wesseh, publisher of The Inquirer Newspaper, said the Weah administration is dismally performing in its public affairs and communication strategies.
“This government is lucky. They have a whole media empire but it is a sad thing that they struggle with ideas to handle many public information and activities without the need for the kinds of reactions they are experiencing,” Wesseh said.
He said the Weah led government needs to work on its strategies, coordination, cooperation and collaboration as it engages the public with its actions, decisions and plans.
Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, phoning in, said the Ministry of Information has up to Thursday, January 21, 2021 to give concrete reasons why Costa should not be allowed to air his program on Radio Bushrod (D-15).
Dillon, who is the chairman of the Board of Directors for Radio Bushrod, said his station has entered into an agreement with Costa not to insult or cause chaos.
“They say he is a fugitive but there are no court records showing that he was indicted. But even if we were to agree that indeed he was indicted for whatsoever, his right to the freedom of expression cannot be restrained as the government is proceeding,” he said.
Meanwhile, Eugene Fahngon, Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, said rain or shine, Henry Costa will be brought to justice the moment he returns to Liberia.
“We are not discussing the vulgarity. We all know that Costa can cuss. He did same during Ellen [Sirleaf’s] time and now. That’s not the issue. Costa was still in the confines of the law and preliminary investigation was still ongoing when he ran away from the country,” Fahngon said.
“His lawyer signed for him and promised to bring him back the next day, but he fled the country and went to Sierra Leone and created the impression that if he had come back, he could have been killed. He is a fugitive because he has escaped from answering to the law.”
Fahngon added: “Even if Costa flies a 747 jet and his shirt tail comes within the airspace of Liberia, we will get him.”
He warned that any attempt by Radio Bushrod to host Costa as a talk show host will lead to the immediate closure of the station.