By: Eldred Wlemongar Thomas/GNN Star Reporter
In the midst of the closure of two radio stations by the Liberian Government on what the Government called their continues failure to pay legitimate, the International Press Centre (IPC) based in Lagos-Nigeria has joined the West African Journalists Association to condemn this action on the part of the Liberian Government.
A statement issued by the group and signed by its Director, Lanre Arogundade said, the act of closing radio stations or any other media institution for that matter was unbecoming of a government operating in a democratic environment.
Mr. Arogundade said, “it was imperative to remind the Liberian government that it would be unfortunate if a country that set the pace for access to information law in West Africa would now turn around to set another pace in the suppression of freedom of expression using a tax system as excuse”.
In its own statement recently the West Africa Journalists Association (WAJA) said its attention has been drawn to the new pattern of aggression against the media in Liberia, terming it as a vicious and shameless attempt to rid the media of critical voices.
In the statement, WAJA believes the Government’s purported vigorous collection of media taxes in the face of the looming political contestation ahead of 2017, is a circulated ploy to instill fear not only in the media landscape, but to scare political opponents.
Information available from WAJA affiliate, the Press Union of Liberia, suggest that in less than two months, the Government has shut two broadcast entities: Voice FM and Sarafina Ventures Incorporated, owner of LIB 24/Love FM 105.1 and Love TV, on claims that they failed to comply with regulatory and tax obligations.
It can be recalled that Voice FM was closed on 4th July for reportedly high jacking the frequency – 102.7 originally assigned to a web radio, while Sarafina Ventures (LIB 24) was seized by a police squad on August 13 for allegedly defrauding the government of more than US$50,000.00 in unpaid fees dating back to 2008.
Ironically, the government waives taxes owed by multi-million dollars concession companies, but runs after small local businesses including the media, the statement indicated.
In the two instances, the Ministries of Justice and Information, acting on alleged complaints from the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), used police dressed in riot gears and court officers to shut down the stations without hearings.
Recently, the Chairperson of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, Angelique Weeks, told a local station in Monrovia, Fabric Radio 101.1 that a list of non-compliant stations have been submitted to the Justice Ministry for action, but failed to name the stations.
Madam Weeks declared, “We have turned over the list of entities to the Ministry of Justice and we do not dictate to the Ministry of Justice when or how or where or who.
Weeks narrated further that they have their internal strategy… I don’t know their strategy, but yes indeed there will be more,” she explained in response to suggestions that the closures were targeted.
WAJA however observes that this undisclosed list of delinquent entities leaves the sector in a state of uncertainty and places a weapon in the hands of the Government to strike any station that is deemed unfriendly.
WAJA President, Peter Quaqua intimated as it stands, the regulatory power of the broadcast sector appears scatter between the LTA, the Ministries of Information and Justice, which opens the door for arbitrary and targeted actions.
The West Africa Journalist Association brings together 15 journalists unions and associations in West Africa.