The International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos-Nigeria has joined the West African Journalists Association (WAJA) to condemn the closure of some broadcast media in Liberia.
Director of IPC, Lanre Arogundade said, “the act of closing radio stations or any other media for that matter wasunbecoming of a government operating in a democratic environment.”
Mr. Arogundade said, “it was imperative to remind the Liberian government that it would be unfortunate if a country that set the pace for access to information law in West Africa would now turn around to set another pace in the suppression of freedom of expression using a tax system as excuse”.
In its own statement, WAJA said its attention has been drawn to the new pattern of aggression against the media in Liberia, terming it as a vicious and shameless attempt to rid the media of critical voices.
Full text of WAJA’s statement
“WAJA believes the Government’s purported vigorous collection of media taxes in the face of the looming political contestation ahead of 2017, is a circulated ploy to instill fear not only in the media landscape, but to scare political opponents.
Information available from WAJA affiliate, the Press Union of Liberia, suggest that in less than two months, the Government has shut two broadcast entities: Voice FM and Sarafina Ventures Incorporated, owner of LIB 24/Love FM 105.1 and Love TV, on claims that they failed to comply with regulatory and tax obligations.
Voice FM was closed on 4th July for reportedly high jacking the frequency – 102.7 originally assigned to a web radio, while Sarafina Ventures (LIB 24) was seized by a police squad on August 13 for allegedly defrauding the government of more than US$50,000.00 in unpaid fees dating back to 2008.
Ironically, the government waives taxes owed by multi-million dollars concession companies, but runs after small local businesses including the media.
In the two instances, the Ministries of Justice and Information, acting on alleged complaints from the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), used police dressed in riot gears and court officers to shut down the stations without hearings.
Reacting to the closures, Press Union of Liberia President K. Abdullai Kamara said: “By this action, the government has presented itself as an undemocratic and intolerant regime, pursuing schemes that are inimical to the principles of free expression and respect for divergent ideologies.”
The Union noted in a statement that the, “government’s claims of pursuing tax and regulatory delinquency in this latest clamp down is at most double standard, when the same government is the largest player in the economy and the biggest debtor of media services.”
The LTA Chairperson, Angelique Weeks, told a local station in Monrovia, FARBRIC Radio 101.1 that a list of non-compliant stations have been submitted to the Justice Ministry for action, but failed to name the stations.
She declared, “We have turned over the list of entities to the Ministry of Justice and we do not dictate to the Ministry of Justice when or how or where or who. They have their internal strategy… I don’t know their strategy, but yes indeed there will be more,” she explained in response to suggestions that the closures were targeted.
WAJA however observes that this undisclosed list of delinquent entities leaves the sector in a state of uncertainty and places a weapon in the hands of the Government to strike any station that is deemed unfriendly.
WAJA warns that this chilling operation by the government is ample indication that the LTA seems to lack the independence and sufficiency to regulate the broadcast sector – hence the need for reform.
“As it stands, the regulatory powers of the broadcast sector appears scatter between the LTA, the Ministries of Information and Justice, which opens the door for arbitrary and targeted actions,” added WAJA President, Peter Quaqua”
WAJA brings together 15 journalists unions/associations in West Africa.