7 January 2013

Liberia: Radio Host in Double Jeopardy -Faces Suspension, Advocates' Wrath; but Unrepentant

Only few critics doubt today that under the Sirleaf Administration, the media in Liberia is as free as are its counterparts in Europe and the United States – thanks to the number of pro-free speech and free-press legislations and international agreement the administration has signed.

Of course, there is a constitutionally provided for caveat associated with this freedom: the writer or speaker is responsible for the content of what he or she says. It is this caveat that has caught up with the host of the "Costa Radio Show" aired regularly on Hot FM 107.9 in Monrovia. In a way, the host is in a double jeopardy of a sort. The Analyst, reports.

The host of the Hot FM 107.9 "Costa Radio Talk Show", Henry Costas, is in a double jeopardy of a sort for allegedly making disparaging comments about President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf during the Friday, January 4, 2013 edition of the show.

In addition to the issuance of scathing censure against the host by three civil society organizations over the weekend, the station's management has taken an administrative action against the show and its host.


Three civil society organizations in Monrovia, over the weekend, condemned the host of the "Costa Radio Show" aired regularly on Hot FM 107.9 for exhibiting what the group called "unwarranted provocation and sheer madness the unprofessional conduct".

In a press statement issued yesterday, the organizations – Movement for Justice in Liberia (MOJIL), the Defender of Democracy, and the New Democratic Values of Liberia (DEMVOL) – called for public boycott of the show and the censure of its host.

MOJIL's Executive Director John Pamgbe, DC's Executive Director Theophilus Johnson, and DEMOVOL's Joseph Lewis signed the press statement.

The group further accused show host Henry Costas and his guest, Menipakei Dumoe, of "openly abusing the free speech that is being enjoyed by all Liberians by making unsubstantiated and derogatory comments with potential to undermine the peace and development of the country".

The group did not say what "unsubstantiated and derogatory comments" Messrs Costa and Dumoe made that threatened peace, neither did they say against whom they made the unsubstantiated and derogatory comments".

They nonetheless described the action of Mr. Costa and his guest as "unprofessionalism" typical of "mercenary media tactics as a tool of blackmail" of which the group said they were noted. They gave no examples of such previous actions.

The group then called on Liberians not to treat with any degree of seriousness the statement attributed to both Costas and Dumoe "since both men are driven by sheer mercenarism (their selfish desire to make money at the expense of other people's hard-earned character)".

Meanwhile, even though the three civil society organizations welcomed the suspension of the airing of the "Costa Show" by the station manager, they called on management to take tougher penalty action against Mr. Henry Costa to serve as deterrence.

Administrative Action

In a statement yesterday, the Management of the Hot FM 107.9 said it decided to suspend the show indefinitely until it sufficiently reviews the contents and format with the host.

"The management of Hot FM prides itself in providing responsible educational, informative, and entertaining programming for the general Public," the management statement said.

The management believes the show "has crossed the [ethical] line" and promises to return it to the air once it completes its review and put into place proper control mechanisms.

In this way, the management said, HOT FM 107.9 would ensure its responsibility to the public.

Despite this public and managerial outcry against the duo, Press Union of Liberia President Peter Quaqua, told journalists Sunday that the management's action was disproportionately severe.

He however noted that while there was nothing wrong with being constructively critical of the government, the duo "have been going overboard in their use of profanity in their attacks".

"I am not saying they can't be critical but they cannot go out insulting. That has been our concern. Reviewing the contents is good but I think it is a good show which has been discussing some issues which need to be discussed," a local media report quoted Mr. Quaqua as saying.

The sins of Dumoe and Costa

The Analyst has learnt that the sin of "political analyst" Menipakei Dumoe and show host Henry Costas is that they used the airtime to preach politics by calling for the resignation of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

According to a local media report, Messrs Costas and Dumoe accused President Sirleaf of using taxpayers' money to skirt the world to woo foreign investments but turning her back on those investments and renegotiating new contracts and deals.

The duo credited, in an opinion piece titled, "The Case for Madam Sirleaf's Immediate Resignation: Why 2017 Will Be Too Late To Save Liberia from The Sirleaf Onslaught," the effectiveness of the renegotiation for the judicial use of Liberia's resources.

They however contended that the president used the renegotiation process to exact fees from investors not for the benefit of the Liberian people but for some cabinet members and herself.

Typical of most government critics and politicians, the duo neglected to say how much the president generated from such venture; neither did they give the names of the companies that paid kickbacks.

"Ample evidences of these abuses of power were exposed by the Dunn Commission report that shed light on the dealings of close Sirleaf associates and confidants that were being used as emissaries for the great looting project the president had kicked off," the duo insisted.

They further accused the president of falling short on many of her promises and mortgaging the country's resources.

The two men, according to local media reports, further accused the Sirleaf Administration of doing practically nothing, after seven years in power, to restore full power and safe drinking water to Monrovia and make it affordable for ordinary Liberians – insisting that the current per-unit cost of power was beyond the purchasing power of majority Monrovia residents.

"The first term of president Sirleaf produced very few jobs and built very few bad roads. The latest feat by the grossly corrupt and incompetent Sirleaf administration of unprecedented and historic proportion is the illegal mortgaging of 24 percent of our beloved country's total land mass; some 2.3 million hectares of land or 40 percent of Liberia's rainforests," the duo said in the discourse.

Many agree that while the pair's comments represent their opinions, to which they are entitled under the laws of Liberia, using independent news outlets to air such censure of the government was unethical.

But reports say the due remained unapologetic up to yesterday. "We are organizing press conference tomorrow, organizing protests, and leaflets to continue our call for the president's resignation and there will be no apology," a local media report quoted them as saying.

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