Voice FM, one of the critical local radio stations which speak “truth to power,” is said to be operating illegally on the 102.7 frequency in the country.
The Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), in a release, listed at least 25 radio stations, which it says are legitimate operators on assigned frequencies in Montserrado County.
However, not listed among the 25 is the highly popular, censorious Voice FM, owned, operated and managed by Mr. Henry P. Costa. The ‘Costa Morning Show’, widely listened to locally and on the Internet, is frequently caustic in its criticism of government.
Also delisted is Nubian FM, owned and managed by Emeka Obiamiwe.
This is what LTA said: “Twenty-five radio stations are listed and four television stations. Those not on the list include entities which have not renewed their annual license fees despite continuous reminders.
“Also excluded are stations which have never registered with the Ministry of Information or the LTA, but simply erected communication equipment and started broadcasting,” the release said.
This newspaper was told that LTA assigns frequencies and issues licenses on an annual basis, while operating permits are issued by the Ministry of Information prior to licensing and are a prerequisite for licensing.
Speaking to the Daily Observer, Mr. Costa said he has the money for the permit, but the Liberian Government, through the Ministry of Information, has refused to accept from him the US$1000 payment required.
Costa stated that on many occasions in 2014 he had exerted all efforts to pay the fees but had been pushed around between the Ministry of Information and LTA. He stated that he can’t be closed down because he has not refused to pay the fees.
“My brother, LTA does not want to take her share of the fees. They say we should pay to Information first and Information is unwilling to take the money. What can we do? We have the money to pay once they are willing to take the fee,” said Costa.
During the last three years of the ‘Henry Costa Morning Show’, including before parting company with his previous employer, Hott FM, Costa won himself many admirers, especially among Liberians who profess change and want the economy to be placed in the hands of ordinary Liberians. Through his show, he was seen as a friend by some Liberians who respected his provocative on-air style. However, this has also earned him many “haters” in high places in government and his station’s frequency is always jammed when the Costa Morning Show is on air.
LTA Public Affairs head, Ms. Jarsea Burphy, told this newspaper that they have not refused payment from Voice FM but that the requirement of firstly settling with the Ministry of Information should be followed before getting to the LTA. She also disclosed that they as the regulator, have exhausted “all due process” in trying to amicably resolve the matter and since it can’t be from their side, they have forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice.
Meanwhile, LTA has placed a freeze, across the board, on the licensing of all new television and radio stations. “This decision comes in the wake of illegal stations persistently operating within the nation’s scarce spectrum and the interference they create for those who are legitimately in operation,” it said.
Chairperson Angelique Weeks said, “The LTA Board of Commissioners has decided to release this list of those in compliance now to send a message to the public to be forewarned who they engage for broadcast purposes because non-compliant stations may be shut down on short notice.”
The LTA’s Commissioner of Engineering Henry Benson said, “We are in the process of harmonizing the nation’s spectrum, which simply means, making sure there is uniform allocation of assigned frequency bands across our region in accordance with the specific ICT Function. Clearing the clutter of unassigned radio and television frequency will help ease this process.”
Licensing and Regulations Commissioner B. Anthony McCritty, stated, “We are here to facilitate compliance and make it easy for stations owners to stay operational.” He added: “We want to see a healthy, robust radio and television environment. However, we have to be good stewards of our assigned limited national spectrum. There is a waiting list of new stations which want to operate in compliance so WE have to act now to create an opportunity for them.”
LTA in their release stated that several meetings were held beginning in November 2013 and throughout 2014, urging stations not in compliance to come in and get their issues resolved so their audiences would continue to enjoy their programing. “Many stations responded with acceptable payment plans. Others simply ignored the offer and have remained out of status and are creating this congestion.”
“A major issue for those in compliance is the interference from stations operating on non-assigned frequencies,” LTA’s Commissioner of Engineering, Henry Benson, stated adding, “When we assign frequencies to stations, we want them to enjoy what they have paid for without any hindrance from anyone who is not authorized. This is their privilege.”
Among the 25 stations are Truth FM, Hott FM, Power FM and most of the religious stations.