Silencing Critical Voice?: Liberia’s State Broadcaster Removes Integrity Show Off Air
Monrovia – The management of the Liberia Broadcasting Systems (LBS) has taken off the air a flagship radio program ‘Integrity Hour’ produced and presented a group of students dubbed Students Against Corruption (SAC).
Report By Gerald C. Koinyeneh-0880881540/0777769531/[email protected]
According to SAC Executive Director, Daniel Dennis, he was informed by the management of LBS that the program has been replaced by another program from the Executive Mansion, the seat of the President of Liberia.
Integrity Hour, a popular live radio program supported by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, allowed young people the platform to campaign against corruption in their schools, community and in government.
Speaking to FrontPage Africa, Dennis said prior to the decision, the station’s management was not happy with the way the program was being aired.
“It actually did not come as a surprise because those appointed by the President (George M. Weah) had always complained about the way we spoke on corruption and corruption related issues which they said threatened their jobs,” Dennis explained.
“At times, while on air, the Director of Radio will rush in the studio to inform us that we can’t discuss a certain topic like Assets Declaration, [alleged missing] L$16 billion, US$25 million or any case of corruption in the country.
“At some point, we met with the Deputy Director General for Broadcasting, Tetee Gebro who told us to avoid discussing national corruption issues.”
When contacted for a response, Ms. Gebro said the management has already responded to Dennis’ claims in a statement issued and also published on Facebook.
In the statement, the LBS Director General, Ledgerhood Rennie noted that ‘Integrity Hour’ has been replaced with a Youth-oriented program called “High School Special’ that focuses on Students’ academic and extra-curricular activities, and not by a new content from the Executive Mansion as claimed by the head of the student group.
According to Mr. Rennie, ‘Integrity Hour’ has been running for about three years through the generosity of the Former Deputy Director General for Broadcasting Patrick Honnah, who perhaps thought then that the program proposal presented by Student Against Corruption would make a good broadcast content.
In the last 13 months, he indicated, the program has been airing without any professional broadcast supervision, programming focus, and direction that are fundamental prerequisites for quality broadcast content.
“Notwithstanding the poor quality of the “Integrity Hour” LBS Management allowed its continuance while mandating its Department of Radio and Broadcasting to work with the producers to improve the quality of content, presentation, and style, but the producers felt otherwise,” Mr. Rennie was quoted in the post.
The decision to remove the show off the air comes following the dismissal of two of the station’s county-based reporter. Emmanuel Deglian of Margibi County and Meloshe Roberts of Bomi County were dismissed by the state broadcaster, but the pair have argued that it was witch hunt due to their uncompromising reportage against county officials who are members of the ruling party.
Meanwhile, several Liberians including listeners of the program and members of SAC have condemned the LBS Management’s justification for shutting down the students’ program, especially at the time Liberia is joining the rest of the world in celebrating Press Freedom Day.
“This is just embarrassing to us as Liberians. Despite the President’s commitment to promoting free speech and freedom of the press, people in his government continue to abuse these rights. There is no justification for shutting down such an impactful program. Our children were being impacted greatly,” said Jesse Brewer, an avid listener of the program.
Joe T. Kennedy, a Liberian journalist based in the United States wrote on Facebook: “So you allowed a program to air for 13 months without “professional supervision, programming focus, and direction that are fundamental prerequisites for quality programming?” Besides, why would management even reference Patrick Honnah in its release when it has the unalienable authority to review all programs and make a determination about their air-worthiness? I think the entire LBS Management Team needs an overhaul.”
Another person, commenting as Jute Toee indicated that the notice was not timely.
What’s Next for the Students?
According to the student group’s leader, they are disappointed that the management of the state broadcaster that should have been in the vanguard of promoting the tenants of democracy including free speech, transparency and accountability, would resolve to take such decision.
Despite the setback, the group vowed it won’t remain silent.
“We will continue to do our work. We were doing an excellent job before the radio program. We will continue to establish integrity clubs in schools across Liberia, organized debate competition among our students to spread anti-corruption messages and expand our anti-corruption platform. We hope to get new partners and sponsors to help us in this endeavor,” Dennis said.
Also speaking, Janet Kwenah, Program Manager of SAC, added that “the campaign will go on”.
“There was no platform dedicated to engaging young people and promoting integrity like the program. We are grateful to LBS for the time. It was an eye-opener for us and the many students there were impacted. We will keep moving on and not be deterred,” she stressed.
SAC is a registered non-profit organization comprising of students from across Liberia and dedicated to fighting corruption through creating awareness via radio and other extra academic activities including debate competitions and establishment of integrity clubs in various schools.