Liberia: Punch FM Seeks US Ambassador’s Intervention into Controversial License Suspension
Monrovia – One Media Incorporated appears to be seeking mitigation into the Liberian government’s recent decision to suspend all new operating licenses issued to media outlets beginning this year.
Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, [email protected]
The firm, which has been planning to launch two media subsidiaries – Punch FM and television – this year, has termed the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) action as “laden with deception and machination” which is a violation of the Constitution.
It also alleges that the decision intends to “subvert” the establishment of its radio and TV stations.
In a press release issued early June by MICAT, the government said the decision was intended to review the regulatory regime due to technical and administrative anomalies including duplication of frequencies to radio and television operators, and incorrect designations and submissions.
But the decision, which has thwarted the launching of PUNCH FM/TV, is facing criticisms from several local and international media actors including international media group, Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ).
And in a June 29, 2018 letter to United States Ambassador Christine Elder, One Media Inc. called on the top American diplomat in the country to “swiftly intervene” into the controversial decision and ensure that its license is restore.
Reads the letter: “Madam Ambassador, with will and courage, we have every reason to believe that this move by the government is entirely intended to target, prevent and sabotage PUNCH FM from broadcasting— merely on account of a perceived notion that the station is anti-government and will espouse critical and damning views against President Weah and the establishment, for this is what we are gathering from surrogates and operatives of this government.”
It continued: “Madam Ambassador, the government’s decision to arbitrarily suspend our license is absolutely reprehensible, violates the rules of natural justice and certainly inconsistent with the due process of law as set out in the Liberian constitution and administrative laws of Liberia”.
The firm also claims that government is acting against “media pluralism which is essential to any democratic dispensation”.
The letter to the US diplomat, which is signed by Acting Station Manager Christopher Kulobasiafa Selle, also alleges that its CEO Patrick Honnah and other executives of the firm have come under “blistering verbal attacks from operatives and surrogates of the Government,” since news broke about the inception of the new stations.
“These surrogates threw constant diatribes and tantrums at Mr. Honnah on Facebook— branding him as enemy of President George Manneh Weah who should not be permitted to operate any radio network in Liberia,” the letter said.
“Reliable sources informed us that ranking officials of the Government financed these cascading attacks on Mr. Honnah and the PUNCH FM family. By the way, these attacks are still taking place on social media. We have screenshots evidence of some of the threats and foul expressions spewed against Mr. Honnah and the institution.”
At the same time, One Media is claiming that its investments into Liberia’s media space is “squarely a business” adding that it is “committed to ethical broadcasting,” while dismissing assertions of being an opposition radio station as perceived by people it termed as surrogates of the government.
Ours is a sacred mission to run an independent, ethical and responsible media network purely committed to democracy and good governance as well as promoting Liberia to nobler heights, the firm added in the letter.
One Media also claimed that government’s action is “costing us heavily,” adding that clients with advertising arrangements are “threatening withdrawal.”
“These commercial arrangements are of huge value and losing said levels of financial benefits through no fault of ours is unbearable and inconceivable,” the firm says, adding that it “cannot afford to bear the burden of these losses.”
The letter also revealed that the firm on June 21, 2018 – a day after the controversial review commenced, contacted MICAT Deputy Minister for Public Affairs about its readiness to be reviewed but was told that “they will get back to us when they are ready, something they are yet to do”.