MONROVIA, Montserrado – One Media Incorporated, which owns Punch FM, has filed a lawsuit against the government at the Civil Law Court of Monrovia.
The business is owned by broadcast journalist and the former deputy director-general for the Liberia Broadcasting System, Patrick Honnah.
Honnah claims that the Ministry of Information has denied it an operational license to broadcast on the station for more than two years, under a scam of reviewing operational licenses for new media organizations.
On October 15, the station had filed for a Petition for Declaratory Judgment to the Supreme Court. The management asked the court to declare and restore its rights to operate.
It claimed in the petition that more than one year has elapsed since it completed its registration to operate radio and television stations, but has been denied by the information ministry, under the disguise of reviewing its license application.
In June 2018, the ministry announced that it had suspended all new operating licenses and authorization it issued to media operators between January 1 and June 18, 2018.
The government claimed that it was 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.
It said the process, however, would not affect media entities that were in existence prior to January 2018.
The Punch FM management further disclosed in the petition that it was surprised that the notice of the review process was issued after it had already paid US$2,900 in annual license regulation fees to the Liberia Telecommunications Authority.
According to the petition, while the review process directly affected its station and other media such as Spoon FM, Spoon FM is already operating.
The petition cited the constitutional clause “ensuring for all citizens, without discrimination, opportunities for employment and livelihood under just and humane conditions, and towards promoting safety, health and welfare facilities in employment.”
The lawsuit is being filed after Punch FM says it has attempted on many occasions to reach out to authorities through written communications through its lawyer; however, the government has not apparently responded to requests for a conference.
The media company reminded the high court that Liberia is a signatory to the Table Mountain Declaration in South Africa, which calls on African governments to review and abolish all laws that restricts freedom of the press.
Honnah and his attempt to launch Punch FM appears to have been a political target of the Coalition for Democratic Change-led government. Besides the prolonged review of Punch FM’s license, there were unverified rumors in August this year that senior government officials had met with Firestone, which employs Honnah as its public relations officer, to ask that the company sack him.
Although Firestone never confirmed the rumors, the company later issued a statement that it “fully respects the rights of its employees to freely engage in the political process, as long as it is peaceful, law-abiding, and in compliance with the company’s Code of Conduct and other employee policies.”
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