The leadership of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) has disagreed with the Government of Liberia (GoL) on its suspension of some media houses’ operating licenses as a means to ensure that those media houses succeed in acquiring their licenses void of irregularities.
In its disagreement note, the Union said it is shocked by the latest action of President George Weah’s Administration to suspend operating licenses of some media outlets, citing technical and administrative irregularities in the acquisition of their permits.
The Liberian government in a release on June 18, announced the suspension of all media licenses issued between January 1 and June 18, 2018.
A press release from the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) said that during the period, duplication of frequencies to radio and television operators, and incorrect designations and submissions occurred and due to this observation an immediate warranted revision of its regulatory regime has been instituted.
According to the ministry’s press release, signed by Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe, new frequencies and operating licenses will be issued following the review process, which it says will commence today, June 20.
“The Union welcomes the government’s attempt to clean up its own system, but disagrees with the arbitrary and targeted actions. There must be fixed timeline attached to the pronounced review and list of media outlets affected made public to determine what it is setting out to achieve,” PUL’s press statement, signed by its president Charles B. Coffey said.
The Union’s statement further noted: “There is an astonishment deeply rooted in government’s abrupt move to introduce another difficult twist to the ongoing media reform initiatives aimed at enabling the legal and operational environment of the media in the country without the inclusion of views from stakeholders and experts in the sector.”
The PUL said the Union is careful that this could be the reintroduction of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration’s tactics employed, to intimidate a section of the Liberian media into silence. “Two radio stations remained shut down after a crackdown successfully executed by the government under the guise of tax collection enforcement,” the release said.
The Union emphasized that media pluralism and critical voices must be embraced as the bedrock of the ongoing democratic growth in the country. It advises against the selective application of the law and machinations aimed at restricting participation in the media industry.
“These actions profile Liberia in an unfortunate manner internationally,” the Union cautioned, noting that administrative decision must always consider the greater good of the public.
Meanwhile, the PUL has called on all media institutions concerned to act within the confines of the law as it is engaging authorities at the very top of government to end the impasse.
Government’s proposed plan to shut down some media houses is said to have affected those that have not complied with its regulatory mechanism; therefore it has been received with mixed reaction from the public, more so with broadcast journalist and former ELBC talk show host Patrick Honnah introducing his own radio station, named and styled “Punch FM.”
Honnah, as in the case of one of President Weah’s most ardent critics, strongly campaigned via ELBC against his presidency and wished former Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai had won the 2017 presidential election.
He, however, wrote President Weah admonishing him not to be afraid of his plan to establish and run Punch FM. Honnah said the President is not his target, but providing jobs for fellow citizens through a media outlet is what he hopes to achieve.