Lonestar Dismisses Claim of Being Pressured to Terminate Partnership With Roots FM

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Lonestar Cell MTN has dismissed claims that it was pressured by the government to terminate its partnership with Roots FM where the telecommunications company hosts the station’s transmission antenna and broadcast transmitter.

Roots FM is the host of the ‘Costa Show.’ The station’s CEO, Henry Costa, announced on Monday that Lonestar had asked him on Sunday to remove his station’s equipment from its tower as the company was no longer willing to serve as host.

Costa’s announcement followed a statement by the Liberia National Police on Wednesday, February 13 that it had launched an investigation into the alleged armed robbery which occurred at Lonestar’s facility on Johnson Street where broadcast equipment, including two transmitters belonging to Roots FM, were reportedly stolen.

Police said investigators had spoken with Lonestar ’s legal counsel, Winston Tubman, Jr., and promised to exert all efforts to apprehend and bring the perpetrators to justice. The statement also said investigators invited the manager of Roots FM, Fidel Saydee, to its headquarters on February 12, but Saydee had not appeared, although he promised to do so along with his lawyer.

Costa said Lonestar’s decision came after five years of partnership. He noted that in 2014, the two entities agreed to partner such that Lonestar would host Roots FM’s transmission antenna and broadcast transmitter on its tower. Lonestar would also provide the station with electricity. In return, Costa said the station agreed to play commercial promotions for Lonestar.

Costa noted that both entities had enjoyed a smooth relationship, as in the case of several other radio stations who also enjoy a similar partnership with Lonestar.

Meanwhile, he accused the government of pressuring Lonestar on its decision to cease hosting the radio station equipment. “That is what the government did to Lonestar Cell,” he said.

“All the time we had problems with the Ellen administration, all the time we fought with the Ellen administration, never once did the Ellen administration go to a GSM company – Cellcom [Orange] or Lonestar, or Novafone – to evict a radio station. All the time I fought with Ellen, they knew we were at Lonestar. They knew other radio stations were at Cellcom, and at Lonestar and at Novafone. But what has happened has never happened before.”

Lonestar’s corporate communications and corporate social responsibility manager, Christal-Dionne Reeves, told The Bush Chicken that the company was not pressured by the government to take its decision to cease hosting equipment of Roots FM.

Reeves refused to comment on the details of the partnership between the two entities. She said the partnership with Roots FM was part of Lonestar’s corporate social responsibility, similar to what it was doing for several other radio stations across the country.

She, however, said the company would keep providing Roots FM with electricity, as doing so would not directly affect its services, unlike the situation where Lonestar was not allowed access to its property because the police were still investigating.

The company also clarified in a statement that while it hosts approximately 20 radio stations across the country, both in support of the media and as an arrangement for ads placement, its priority remains on its network, which must remain protected in order for the company to serve its customers.

“We will continue to support the media in ways that do not threaten our business; however, we have made a business decision to no longer host Roots FM on our tower,” the company disclosed.

Lonestar said the ongoing police investigation into the alleged theft of the transmitter belonging to Roots FM caused its site to be down. Staff and maintenance providers were apparently unable to access the site, leading to a lack of fuel in the generator and a consequent power outage at the company’s site.

“The 23-hour outage affected some customers in Montserrado, Bomi, and Grand Cape Mount counties. Subscribers in these areas were unable to access voice, data and SMS services. In addition, the outage affected internet services to key MTN Business customers,” the company noted.

Costa had particularly accused Justice Minister Musa Dean of asking the mobile phone company to evict the radio station as a condition to allow Lonestar access to its own facility.

“The minister of justice, Frank Musa Dean, told Lonestar, in order for us to allow you access back to your own facility, to refuel your generator, in order to put the cell tower back up to feed thousands of your customers, you have to evict Costa. So, what could Lonestar do,” he said.

“Lonestar did not evict me because they want to, Lonestar evicted me because they were pressured.”  However, the justice minister denied the claim, according to FrontPage Africa.

In response to a Bush Chicken inquiry to clarify his claims, Roots FM’s Costa maintained during a phone conversation from the U.S. that Lonestar was indeed pressured by the government to take its decision.

“Why they did not put me out five years ago, only now? Musa Dean told them, ‘If you don’t put this man out, you wouldn’t access the building.’ That’s all I can tell you. Believe me or don’t believe me; it does not matter, but that is the truth,” Costa said.

Costa also disclosed that since 2014, the partnership between his station and Lonestar had been based on a verbal agreement. He also denied claims that the mobile network company still provides electricity to Roots FM.

“They are giving me nothing. They cut my line, I have no power. I have nothing to do with Lonestar no more; absolutely nothing,” he added.

Police spokesman Moses Carter told The Bush Chicken on Tuesday that the Lonestar facility on Johnson Street which had been declared a crime scene and would remain cordoned off until the investigation of the alleged robbery was concluded. Carter refused to state when exactly and how long the investigation would last. He also refused to state the average duration of criminal investigations.

He said while the site would continue to be under police restriction, Lonestar would have access to refuel its generator to enable its service to customers.

This is the third time the station has gone off the airwaves in less than a month. The first was on February 1, when the management reported that gunmen pretending to be technicians had caused damages to the station’s transmission lines.

The station’s manager also reported that criminals had burglarized the station on February 10 and taken away two broadcast transmitters (100 and 500 watts), a 2-kilowatts amplifier, a mixer, and a receiver, which prompted the ongoing police investigation.

The station resumed broadcast last week prior to police restricting access to Lonestar’s facility. Costa had announced that the station was back on the air, less than 24 hours after a GoFundMe campaign to raise US$15,000 for the purchase of new broadcast equipment was successfully launched.

Carter, the police spokesman, said investigators had not earlier restricted access to the crime scene because they expected that individuals of interest, including representatives of Lonestar and Roots FM, would have cooperated with the investigation. He said the delays of the two institutions to cooperate with investigators led police to block access to the facility.

Featured photo courtesy of Lonestar Cell MTN

Gbatemah Senah

Senah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. Between 2017 and 2019, he won six excellent reporting awards from the Press Union of Liberia. They include a three-time Land Rights Reporter of the Year, one time Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Human Rights Reporter of the Year.

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