Liberia: After Punch FM's Court Win, LTA Introduces New 5 - Year License Regime for Stations' Operators

Monrovia — Nearly 24 hours after Civil Law Court 'A' Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh restored the right of One Media Incorporated to operate a radio station, Punch FM 106.3 in Liberia, the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) announced Wednesday that it is introducing a new 5-year license regime that replaces the traditional one-year license regime which came to an end on December 31, 2019.

Technical Standards Cited

In a statement Wednesday, the LTA reminded all owners and operators of FM Radio stations that their licenses expired since December 31, 2019 while urging station owners to commence registration for licenses renewal.

The LTA says the objective of the new five-year regime is to induce investment in the sector and address frequencies abuse. "The extended deadline for the renewal of License for all radio stations is March 31, 2020.The process of the new license regime began early 2019 with a moratorium on the issuance of new licenses. New applications will be received beginning April 1, 2019."

The FM Regulation seeks to ensure the proper management of frequencies available to Liberia and prevent its abuse. Regulatory findings have indicated that while some radio operators applied to use certain frequencies for non-commercial activities, they are rather using it otherwise. Additionally, Owners and Operators of FM Radio have been found to be in violation of ITU recommended technical standards and without adherence to LTA regulations.

The 5-year license under the new FM Regulations seeks to address all issues of compliance, sustainability and efficiency to enhance governance, operations and management of the sector.

The new regulation comes amid a major victory for Punch FM's Patrick Honnah, who endured a lengthy battle to have his license restored.

In 2018, Punch FM's license was revoked after the government of Liberia through the Ministry of Information Culture Tourism (MICAT) announced that a review of the regulatory regime of media operating licenses and authorization due to technical and administrative irregularities.

The government named the duplication of frequencies to radio and television operators and incorrect designations of submissions as some of the issues that will be the reviewed.

Since the government announced that it was suspending all new operating licenses and authorization it had issues to media operators between January1-June 2018, Punch FM was left in limbo.

CPJ's Disappointment in Punch FM's Ruling

The management have argued all along that it provided all the legal documents to the LTA and MICAT prior to the announcement by Government.

On June 29, 2018, the station, in a letter to United States Ambassador Christine Elder, called on the top American diplomat in the country to "swiftly intervene" into the controversial decision and ensure that its license is restore.

The government immediately filed an appeal to the Supreme Court after Tuesday's ruling.

On Wednesday, the international journalists watchdog organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the court ruling but expressed disappointment in the government's appeal. "Liberian authorities should drop the appeal and ensure free and independent media can flourish," CPJ said.

The LTA says during the drafting of the new regulation on the new 5-year license regime, the LTA says it solicited inputs from diverse stakeholders' whose inputs formed part of the wider stakeholder consultation.

These included consultations with the House Standing Committee on Telecommunications on February 5, 7, and 12, 2019 respectively; all FM Radio Operators, the Press Union of Liberia and other stakeholders with support of its partner- the Internews on March 8 and April 4, 2019 at Bella Cassa Hotel in Monrovia.

The LTA, according to the statement, said it also consulted with other stakeholders in Ganta, Nimba County on July 3 - 4,2019 with support from Internews.

The LTA said it also made presentation at a forum organized by the Nimba Community Radio Association with support from Internews.

At the Press Union of Liberia on PUL September 30, 2019 anniversary Program in Gbarnga, the LTA says it also used the occasion to receive further inputs from the gathering on the draft FM Regulation.

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