Liberia: Govt Undermining State Broadcaster?

-- As LBS Workers Raise Red Flag on CDC upcoming radio, TV stations

News that the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of President George Weah has planned to establish its own radio and television stations, has been greeted with sharp reaction from the leadership of the Liberia Broadcasting System Workers' Union (LIBSWU).

Accordingly, LIBSWU, said that it learned of the CDC's plan to establish a radio and television station through multiple "credible" sources.

LIBSWU in a release issued on Thursday, September 12, 2019, in Monrovia, said the establishment of the radio and television stations the ruling party is intended to undermine the existence of the state-run broadcast institution; a complete contravention to the decree that established the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS).

Moses Dorbor, LIBSWU president, said LBS was established by a decree under the People's Redemption Council (PRC decree number 20) on October 10, 1980, to amend chapter 87 of the Public Authorities Law. It was established as a broadcast entity to disseminate and promulgate government's policy.

Dorbor said that under this decree, LBS is a development-oriented public service broadcasting system with the authority to establish a central programming facility and regional broadcasting, noting that its goals are to support rural development by promoting several initiatives.

Dorbor added, "It is to increase the utilization by the rural population of existing government services, the expansion of these services to a greater portion of the rural population, increased communication between the villages and the local, regional and national government, increased self-help initiative and increased involvement and participation in local and national development efforts."

Following the colossal defeat of the CDC senatorial candidate, Paulita Wie, in the recent Montserrado County by-elections, Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon, in one of his Facebook live videos on his "Facts vs Fiction" monologues, noted that one of the reasons the CDC candidate did not win is because the party did not have its own media outlet. Fahngon referred to related privately-owned outlets, including King's FM, and Clar TV, owned by President George M. Weah, as well as MCCTV, a media outlet set up on the Facebook platform by Mayor Jefferson T. Koijee, for the Monrovia City Corporation. Koijee is the chairman of the CDC Youth League and has frequently used MCCTV to propagate anti-opposition messages.

According to Fahngon, such media outlets do not belong exclusively to the CDC, therefore they cannot be as effective in the party's political campaigns. It appears now that the CDC leadership have taken heed to Fahngon's advice.

Now, a key point of concern about the CDC establishing its own media outlets is the question of where the funding will come from. Amid reports about the outright refusal of government officials of declaring their assets, coupled with budget manipulations in the Legislature after the national budget is passed, LBS employees fear that these are loopholes through which public funds might be sourced to fund the CDC's private media enterprise.

The state broadcaster itself has consistently been subject to cuts in its annual budgetary allotments.

During the 2016-2017 budget year, LBS received an allocation of US$1,262,390. However, in 2017-2018 that amount was cut by over 49 percent to US$620,724 something that LBS workers believe is hampering the effective operations of the station across the country. In 2018-2019, LBS' budget climbed slightly to US$625,255, but could plummet to US$562,201, according projections for 2019-2020. According to the 2019-2020 draft national budget, LBS has asked for 1,010,628.

Dorbor believes that if the CDC-led government is to establish a partisan media outlet, it must firstly repeal the act that created the LBS to undo its statutory mandate.

Dorbor said that with this act, it becomes the Liberian government's sole responsibility to fully provide financial support to LBS to carry out its functions, and government parallel to the LBS can establish no new radio and television stations.

Besides, the Union's president said the government's financial support to LBS is from taxpayers' money, and establishing radio and television stations parallel to the station will be a "disservice to Liberians taxpayers.

Dorbor is however warned the CDC-led government not to tread the path of former President Charles Ghankay Taylor, who attempted to push aside LBS by prioritizing his privately-owned KISS FM radio and television stations.

He recalled how similar attempts were made by the 53rd Legislature to establish a radio station; an idea that the public strongly resisted.

Dorbor said during the administration of former President Taylor, LBS was not supported at all. The station, according to him, experienced intermittent blackouts of service, thereby rendering it insignificant to the Liberian people, something he fears could be repeated if the CDC is allowed to erect its own media outlets.

He said currently, all LBS out-stations have been off the air for the past several months, due to the lack of operational funds, including a shortage of diesel fuel to run the generators.

Meanwhile, employees have called for a mass meeting to formally engage President George Weah on the issue any time soon.

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