Liberia: Govt Suspends Operation License of New Media Outlets; Fear Grips Citizens over Media Censorship
Monrovia – Renowned and controversial talk-show host, Patrick Honnah, is at the verge of opening a new radio station, but his plan has been thwarted after the government of Liberia announced the suspension of all media licenses issued between January 1, 2018, and June 18, 2018.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
Minister of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism, Lenn Eugene Nagbe made the disclosure of the license suspension in a press release Monday afternoon and posted same on social media.
“The government says 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,” the press release stated.
According to the Information Ministry, new frequencies and operating licenses would be issued following the review process, which is expected to begin on June 20.
The sudden move comes shocking to many and viewed as a clampdown and censorship on the media. It also questions President George Manneh Weah’s move to decriminalize speech for which he has already submitted a bill to the Legislature.
Responding to the government’s decision, Honnah, who is currently in the United States to procure equipment for his radio station, told FrontPageAfrica that move is a “very bad sign”.
“This is something very serious this government is starting. We don’t know how far they intend to go with this, but this is a very bad sign,” he said via phone.
Patrick Honnah paid for his license for his new radio station and was granted. He was critical of Weah during the last elections.
He shared with FrontPageAfrica the permit from the Information Ministry issued to One Media Incorporated to operate Punch FM. The permit was issued on January 10, 2018, and was signed by Minister Nagbe.
Also in possession of this FrontPageAfrica is the authorization letter received from the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, giving his firm the right to operate on frequency modulation of 106.3. The authorization letter from the LTA is dated February 13, 2018, and signed by the acting chairman of the Board, Maria G. Harrison.
Receipt displayed to FrontPageAfrica show that One Media Incorporated paid a total of US$2,900.00 as application fee for the commercial radio station.
Patrick wondered why after going through all the legitimate processes, his license would be suspended just when he is making final preparations to go on air.
“I sent President Weah a message on WhatsApp on this issue. I know he has seen it because WhatsApp indicates when a message has been seen. He is yet to respond to my message. This is not fair and must not be allowed to go on,” he said.
Below is a full transcript of the message Patrick sent to Pres. Weah.
Hi Mr. President, I saw your message through the Ministry of Information and LTA barely a week after I announced the opening of my “legacy project”, to provide jobs for our people. I am hesitant to believe that you are targeting me because you have power today in your hands.
I have all of my papers correct. I paid every single fee into the government’s account. What is the fear? You know that I have never conducted myself in a manner disrespectful to anyone. Not my style. I believe in what I believe in and I am always willing to bear the consequences of my decisions with no regrets. U know I have never played games for jobs.
I respect you. Besides politics, we have common friends and just last year we were calling one another. Remember? Am I an “enemy of the state” all of the sudden? If this is targeted at me, the Liberian people will know. Since I made the announcement of the opening of my station, your people have been insulting and threatening me. I have all the screenshots.
No one can scare me out of my country, not even NSA or your powerful armed men. Let me be great please, stop targeting me with this flimsy press release from Eugene. You will soon realize your true enemies. Very soon.
They are not far from you, I am not the one, not even your critics but your friends and people you trust. Jesus and Judas, Caesar and Brutus can relate. I am not opening a station to target you. Why are you targeting me? I hope you intervene and allow me to be great outside of your government. If not, trust me, I will still do my shows online. I have the right to live and speak. That is my God-given gift, something you too, appreciate. Any plan without God is no plan! God bless Liberia!
The new directive has raised many eyebrows especially, in the opposition bloc.
Boakai Jaleiba, a former assistant minister in the Johnson Sirleaf administration, posted to Facebook, “Wow! So the Government of Liberia is suspending operating licenses and authorizations issued to media operators beginning January 1, 2018? Well, it runs well into the last administration and this is so retroactive. Hahaha… Punch FM targeting?”
Robert Kpadeh, a staunch member of the opposition Unity Party and a former deputy minister of information also reacted, “What a vicious ploy! Freedom of the press is under a subtle attack. This is a sheer autocratic machination being unleashed by the establishment under the guise of administrative regulation. Patrick Honnah’s Punch F.M. is TARGET#1!”
Darius Dillon, a high-ranking member of the opposition Liberty Party, also wrote, “Could this latest move by Govt be because of the anticipated coming of PUNCH FM? I hope not ooh!”