18 June 2019

Liberia: One Year On, PUL Still Concerned About Suspension of Media Licenses

It's been exactly one year since the government of Liberia infamously announced the suspension of all media operating licenses under the pretext of reviewing its own systems and process. In fact, GoL through the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs & Tourism (MICAT) on June 20, 2018 made specific reference to Spoon Communications, Punch FM, 231 Group of Companies, and Magic FM/Emmanuel TV.

The government claimed that between issued between January 1 and June 18, 2018, radio and television frequencies were duplicated, designations and submissions made were incorrect - there a need to revise its regulatory regime.

According to a release, throughout this period, the Press Union of Liberia has been engaged with the Liberia government - hoping it can get a fuller understanding of the decision to suspend media operating licenses, and to work out ways that would lead to issuance of licenses.

The decision to suspend these licenses cannot be indefinite. Despite their license suspension, Spoon FM is now testing broadcasting. Other stations affected have remained in business, except for Punch FM. The PUL thinks regulatory decisions by government should not be selective.

The treatment of Punch FM seems to be selective targeting of critical voices, and we're appalled. The PUL, without stupor, sees the government's action against Punch FM as a well thought out plan to block the media because of its owner's alleged political views. This is best described as censorship under the pretext of regulating the sector. We are calling on the Weah Administration to unconditionally restore the operating rights of Punch FM.

The PUL has officially written the Information Ministry on three occasions in June, July and November of 2018 to understand the scale of the problem and status of review process. Unfortunately, government is yet to even acknowledge our communication, let alone respond to us. The PUL will remain engaged with all stakeholders in enhancing the status and performance of the media sector.

That is why the Union has been engaged with the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) and other stakeholders in developing and reviewing an FM Regulation Policy for the broadcast sector in Liberia. The licensing conditions, which the gov't selectively acted on is now being reviewed with stakeholders' inputs being sought. Surprisingly, only the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs, & Tourism is absent from this engagement process.

We again admonish the Information Ministry to meaningfully join the LTA FM Regulation formulation processes and end targeting of critical voices.

Liberia

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