The Costa Quagmire Vs. The Irony Of Professed Free Speech In Liberia

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LAST WEEK, the George Weah-led government issued a word of caution to Radio Bushrod(D-15 Radio)not to allow its platform to be used to host the disbanded Henry Costa Morning Show.

MR. COSTA, it may be recalled, fled the country in 2020 after a writ was issued for his arrest amid allegations from the government that the talk show host allegedly, fraudulently obtained a laissez passer travel document.

THE GOVERNMENT, in a strongly-worded statement informed the station’s Management that Mr. Costa was a fugitive from Liberian justice who should not be given a voice on a local radio station to host to communicate to Liberian audience while in the United States. “Any act contrary to said notice will be a violation of the terms of the permit issued by the Ministry of Information and licensing conditions promulgated under the Telecommunications Act of Liberia,” the government’s statement averred.

SEVERAL CRITICS and media watchdogs wasted no time in slamming the administration for its position on the issue.

THE PRESS UNION OF LIBERIA has already begun consulting its lawyers for legal opinion to inform its position on the government’s statement against Radio Bushrod (D-15) regarding the Costa saga.  

THE PUL SAYS the outcome of the legal consultation will pave the way for the union’s next course of action which could include but not limited to legal action before the Supreme Court of Liberia for interpretation of the Weah Administration’s statement.  

THE UNION SAYS IT SEES the protection of free speech and freedom of the press as its code mandate and will do everything in protecting this sacred fundamental right enshrined in article 15 of the Constitution of Liberia. The Union is at the same time in advance conversation with the management of D-15 and the Ministry of Information aimed at finding an amicable way forward in the interest of the country’s reputation.

It appears that Mr. Weah is continuing the trend set by his predecessors regarding freedom of speech, reminiscent of the dictatorial tendencies that leave many unanswered questions about the President’s words vs. actions and promises versus implementation.

THE LATEST SAGA involving the Weah government and Mr. Costa raises a lot of questions and contradicts every commendable declarations Mr. Weah has made both prior to his election and its  aftermath.

FOR EXAMPLE, the President, delivering his Annual Message last January declared the following:

“Every citizen has the right under our Constitution to have dissenting views, and to express them freely and peacefully under the guidelines provided therein. And so we welcome these exercises of democratic rights and freedoms, and consider them as positive proof of a healthy and functioning democracy.  We, as a Government, are duty-bound by the relevant Articles of our Constitution, to protect the rights of our citizen, including those that are not involved in the demonstrations and protests, and will continue to do so under the Oath that I swore.  Let me assure you that I will always look for ways and opportunities, and create the necessary forums, for peaceful dialogue among our citizens who may have differing points of view, where, even if these differences cannot be resolved, we can agree, amicably, to disagree. I therefore call upon you, my fellow Liberians, to work with me towards achieving a reconciled,  united, and prosperous nation.”

THE IRONY of President Weah’s contradicting position raises questions, especially since Mr. Weah made good on his promise to pass a new freedom of press act which came into law in March 2019. The act decriminalizes defamation and insult, voiding a law that had previously resulted in the rampant arrest of journalists and excessive prison sentences and fines for media houses.

The Bill, which was submitted on May 31, 2018, seeks to amend Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978, repealing Sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President; 11.12 on Sedition and 11.14 on criminal malevolence.

IT SEEMS EVERY TIME the government does something worth commending, it does something equally condemning.

THIS WAS EVIDENT when in 2018, the Press Union of Liberia wrote the United Nations warning of the “pace at which official intolerance for independent journalism and dissent is escalating in Liberia.”

UPON TAKING office in January 2018, Mr. Weah affirmed his commitment to freedom of expression, saying: “We could not have arrived at this day without our voices been heard loudly, and all our views, no matter how critical, being freely expressed in an atmosphere void of intimidation and arrest.”

THREE YEARS LATER, it appears that Mr. Weah is continuing the trend set by his predecessors regarding freedom of speech, reminiscent of the dictatorial tendencies that leave many unanswered questions about the President’s words vs. actions and promises versus implementation.

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