MONROVIA, Montserrado – The government of Liberia has announced an immediate suspension of all new operating licenses and authorization it issued to media operators between January 1 and June 18, this year.
In a release issued by the Ministry of Information on Monday, the government disclosed that it is reviewing the regulatory regime of media operating licenses and authorization due to technical and administrative irregularities, including duplications of frequencies to radio and television operators, and incorrect designation and submissions.
Although the release did not name institutions to be affected, the government said the review process, which kicks off this Wednesday, would not affect media entities that were in existence prior to January 2018.
“Following the review process, new and appropriate frequencies, including operating authorizations will be issued to media operators by the Ministry of Information and the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) within the period designated for the review in keeping with he standards required,” the release disclosed.
The government did not, however, say when the review process would end, but said it has mandated all sector actors, including the Liberia Telecommunication Authority and the Ministry of Information, to expeditiously carry out the exercise to avoid unfairly affecting media operators that are compliant.
“The government assures that it values the relationship with the free press and supports freedom of expression,” the release also noted. “Media pluralism and new media are crucial in the democratization of any nation.”
Meanwhile, the CEO of a recently launched but not yet operational media outlet, Patrick Honnah, told The Bush Chicken following the release that he feels targeted by the government’s action. Honnah’s Punch FM and Punch TV have been heavily advertised on billboards around Monrovia and on the Facebook pages of supporters.
“I feel targeted because I got my license within in the specified period and I had just announced the opening of my station,” he responded to a Bush Chicken inquiry.
Honnah earlier worked for the state broadcaster, ELBC, as deputy director general for broadcast services, but was relieved of the post upon the inauguration of President George Weah. He was labeled as biased toward the former Vice President Joseph Boakai, who was then running against Weah for president.
In his initial response to the government’s action posted on the Punch FM facebook page, Honnah said he had messaged the president expressing serious concerns about the government statement released just a week when the announcement of the opening of his media organization went viral on social media. He said he has also sought the president’s personal intervention.
He said his radio station had met all legal requirements to operate as a media institution under Liberian laws, but he sees the institution as a “direct target” of the government’s latest statement.
Honnah added that since the news about the new media outlet was released, he has been personally attacked by government operatives and surrogates.
“Many of you have seen their responses on social media. I, instead, have chosen not to respond. What is really the fear? What? Ladies and gentlemen, there is an apparent ‘ploy’ to silence perceived critics. The ploy seeks to ensure that everyone ‘bows down to the golden image’ or get victimized,” he also noted.
He said the current situation with the media in the country was gradually breeding dictatorship.
Despite the current situation, the PUNCH FM CEO vowed to remain a critical voice, noting that he gains his courage from many of those who believe that they should support and respect their leaders, but hold them to account.
He said there were men who stood up to the ills of the last administration and that such must continue in the interest of the country.
He also dismissed speculations that the intent of his institution was to target specific individuals.
“The intent of the station is 100 percent commercial. The vision is to provide an opportunity for all to be heard regardless of their political views and to provide job opportunities in a devastated economy,” he said.
Featured photo courtesy of Punch FM