Yesterday’s Wrong Can Never Be Today’s Right

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PRESIDENT GEORGE WEAH told the world during his inaugural address back in January that his incoming government owed Liberians some measure of clarity on fundamental issues such as the land beneath their feet, freedom of speech, and how national resources and responsibilities are going to shift from this capital to the counties. “The people expect better cooperation and more action from their government. We can do better, together. Today, we Liberians have reached an important milestone in the never-ending journey for freedom, justice, and democracy; a search that has remained central to our history as a nation.”

TO THE CONTRARY, the actions since the new government have been a far cry from anything resembling a strong effort to preserve the fundamental principles of the constitution of the Republic.

ARTICLE 15 IS CLEAR: “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution.”

These rights, according to the constitution, encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. “It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.”

WHAT WE ARE SEEING unfold before our very eyes in the past few weeks contradicts everything Mr. Weah’s Coalition for Democratic Change(previously Congress for Democratic Change) despised as the key leaders of the opposition yesterday.

THE ISSUE INVOLVING the government’s suspension of all new operating licenses and authorizations issued to media operators from January 1, to June 18, 2018 is the latest in a string of recent wave of attempts by the new administration to stifle the press and free speech.

WE FIND IT A rather strange coincidence that the government’s actions come in the wake of the pending launch of Mr. Patrick Honnah’s Punch FM.

MR. HONNAH is a former Deputy Director General at the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System(LBS) and one of Liberia’s talented talk-show hosts.

DURING HIS tenure at LBS, Mr. Honnah’s Bumper Show was one of the highly-rated shows on the station and one of the best in the nation. Despite the fact that it was a state-owned station, opposing views were often given a chance to be heard, a rarity for state-owned broadcasters in Africa.

THE GOVERNMENT’S assertions that it is reviewing the regulatory regime due to technical and administrative anomalies including duplication of frequencies to radio and television operators, and incorrect designations and submissions, speaks volume and points to a trademark feature most government’s use when they intend to go after critical media.

SUCH MOVES suggest that the government has no intentions of ensuring passage of a free speech bill recently presented to the national legislature by the current administration.

IRONICALLY, Mr. Honnah’s One Media Incorporated paid a total of US$2,900.00 as application fee for the commercial radio station and went through legitimate processes climaxing with a license that was signed by the Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism.

THIS IS A man who has made investments and poised to make contributions to his country. He played by the rules and was licensed by the government to operate. So, what has changed now? Why has the government suddenly decided that is needs to review licenses of new media operators.

DURING THE PREVIOUS administration, a number of media entities were shut down and editors and talk show host jailed.

IN MARCH 2014, MR. Henry Costa, a radio talk show host for the popular Costa Show on Hott FM 107.9, was detained at the Monrovia Central Prison and charged with “Terrorist Threat, Menacing, and Criminal Coercion” based on a complaint filed against Costa by Fombah Sirleaf, Director of National Security Agency and son of the former President.

THE SHOW which is very critical of government, institutions and individuals was said to have been interrupted that day by management of Hott FM and Costa was forced to exit the station. Before his arrest, Costa was set to start the show on another station Voice FM on March 24.

THE SIRLEAF-ERA also has as part of its legacy, the twice imprisonment of the editor of FrontPageAfrica.

IN FACT, On September 6, 2013, former President Sirleaf, during commissioning ceremony of officials of her government, went as far as labeling journalists as hustlers and blackmailers.

SAID SIRLEAF: “Today, you are assuming public service and responsibility in a difficult political environment: when those who wrongly accuse, defame and attack you become the victors; when you adhere to the principles of your upbringing and your faith you become a victim of blackmail and extortion; when hustlers become heroes through poisonous pens; when you refuse to join the clamor of rumor mongering and lies, your silence is mistaken as weakness to be exploited.”

SOUNDS FAMILIAR? This is the same refrain the current government is using to label and despise critical media just as it was done yesterday.

DURING THE ERA of Samuel Kanyon Doe, the government warned that any journalist or news organization that violated the ban would be considered and treated as “rebels.”

THIS WAS EVIDENT in the aftermath of the failed 1985 invasion led by Major General Thomas Quiwonkpa when veteran newscaster and journalist Charles Gbenyon was killed. Mr. Gbenyon was arrested and butchered to death upon orders of then military ruler Samuel Kanyon Doe, reportedly for what was deemed “antigovernment” reporting.

GBENYON WAS arrested in the wake of a failed military coup to depose Doe, which turned very violent and bloody as Doe’s regime unleashed a brutal wave of reprisal against real and perceived enemies. It was an act of courage that Gbenyon chose to go out into the field and report unfolding developments amid the mass chaos that was dangerously life threatening.

DOE’S WRATH also took aim at the Catholic Church and its radio station, ELCM.

The station had reported in the aftermath of a football match between Liberia and Malawi that deaths occurred after the stadium collapsed. The next day, the Doe-government shut down the station indefinitely. Doe said the station had engaged in “political sabotage by its negative reporting of events in the country.

IT IS SADDENING that today, many who are sympathizers of the Weah-led government are today trumpeting the decision by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism suspend media licenses, knowing fully well the history of Liberia and how many before this generation laid the lives on the line in pursuit of freedom and free speech.

THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER is we cannot continue to celebrate oppression of anyone regardless of how we feel about them or about their views.

THIS IS WHAT our democracy is built on and why so many before us fought to preserve. Yesterday, it was the like of Gbenyon, Albert Porte, Tuan Wureh and Kenneth Best. Today it is Mr. Honnah. Who knows where tomorrow may lead. Those now trumpeting could very well be on the firing line tomorrow. But we cannot suppress speech because of a difference of opinion or because someone spoke ills of us yesterday.

PAYING EVIL FOR EVIL is what got Liberia here in the first place. We must move beyond this not only because it is the right thing to do but because we owe it to ourselves as a nation to hold governments accountable and ensure that they do not resurrect old wounds for the sake of revenge politics.

RECONCILIATION MUST begin and end with our leaders who must take the high road and discourage finger-pointing of critics by those sitting close to the powers of the day.

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