Liberia: A Plea to President Weah - Avoid Tendencies of Dictatorship

editorial

IT HAS BEEN NEARLY two years now since Talk Show icon Patrick Honnah's struggles to launch his Punch FM and TV station fell through the cracks.

IN JUNE 2018, THE then newly-minted George Manneh Weah government suspended operating licenses and authorizations issued media operators between January 1-June 18, 2018.

AT THE TIME, the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism explained that the measure was intended to allow a new revision and regulatory regime due to "technical and administrative anomalies including duplication of frequencies to radio and television operators, and incorrect designations and submissions".

AT THE TIME of the pronouncement, Mr. Honnah had met all of the requirements, filled all of the paperwork, rented his studio offices and put himself in a lot of expenses to get his station up and running.

WELL, TWO YEARS LATER, Punch FM has not taken off. In fact, several new stations have been granted licenses to operate while Mr. Honnah's quest to launch his station has fallen flat.

ON WEDNESDAY, MR. Henry Costa, host of the Henry Costa morning show revealed that the Liberia Business Registry has been stalling on granting the Council of Patriots their license to operate as a legal entity.

AS A RESULT, THE COP is exploring options if the government continues to deny its constitutional right to operate in Liberia.

THE PERCEPTION IN many quarters is that the government's pronouncement is aimed at Mr. Honnah, a staunch critic of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change. Mr. Honnah, a Former Deputy Director General of the Liberia Broadcasting System, campaigned for the failed bid of Unity Party Presidential Candidate Joseph Boakai in the October 2017 elections. Members of the ruing CDC believed Honnah has link to the past regime and they have not forgiven him for his role in the 2011 election when he worked for privately owned radio Truth FM.

THE COP, organizers of the successful June 7 protest has been at odds with the government since the early days of its inception and many believe that they are being denied a business registration to rob them of the legal grounds to protest.

ALL THESE forced measures do not bode well for Liberia's bourgeoning democracy. It sends a signal to the world that Liberia is far removed from the many missteps that led to the civil war.

THESE MEASURES for all the wrong reasons, portray the administration as undemocratic, inconsiderate, and a borderline dictatorship with no regards for the constitution and laws of the Republic.

ARTICLE 15 of the Constitution is clear: "Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution; The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent. Finally, in pursuance of this right, there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries."

DENYING PUNCH FM the right to launch its station is totally unacceptable, especially after the Civil Law Court 'A' Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh recently restored the right of One Media Incorporated to operate Punch FM 106.3. The government wasted no time in appealing against the decision of Civil Law Court to restore the broadcast license of Punch FM.

THE CONTINUED failure of the government to allow Punch FM to go on the air goes contrary to the tenets of a democratic society.

RECENTLY, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) lauded the ruling of the civil law court in Monrovia for restoring the operational rights or license of One Media Incorporated, owner of Punch FM and Punch TV. "We welcome the court ruling restoring Punch FM's right to operate, but we are disappointed that the government is appealing to the Supreme Court," the CPJ said, adding, "Liberian authorities should drop the appeal and ensure free and independent media can flourish," the journalist watchdog group said.

ALL THIS AS THE administration is struggling to deal with the fallout from last week's attack on the leader of the Collaboration of Political Parties(CPP) and District No. 10 Representative Yekeh Kolubah.

PRESIDENT WEAH himself has come out to denounce the attacks and the international community too are concerned.

IN A STATEMENT, the UN Resident Coordinator a.i., ECOWAS Ambassador, and the Chargés d'Affaires a.i. of the European Union and United States of America fully support the concern expressed by the Inter-Religious Council, the Catholic Diocese of Cape Palmas, the Providence Baptist Church, the Legislative Caucus of Grand Gedeh, other religious leaders and political stakeholders, including President George Manneh Weah and his Government, over the use of hate speech and mob violence, and particularly, the recent attack against opposition politicians in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County. "We call on all parties to refrain from undue provocation and incendiary language, promotion of misinformation, falsehood and mistrust that has the propensity to fuel political tensions, divisiveness, and violence. As Liberia works towards the preparation of inclusive, free, fair, transparent, credible, and peaceful senatorial elections as well as a referendum in December 2020, we pledge our support to increased opportunities for genuine dialogue and constructive engagement on issues that will advance Liberia's democracy and development."

AS THE WEAH ADMININSTRATION winds down on its third year in office, it is important that they avoid the pitfalls that led to disenchantment and a bloody civil war which killed more than a quarter million people and sent scores into exile.

IT IS IMPORTANT that the government exercises tolerance in dealing with opposition voices, no matter how strongly they may feel about opposing views.

A HEALTHY atmosphere of differing ideas is good for any thriving democracy. Singling out and ostracizing those on the other side of the aisle, because they don't see things the same way as the government, and labeling them as enemies of the state, only inflames tension and put the government at risk of further ruining its reputation.

THIS IS WHY those working behind the scenes to keep Punch FM off the air and telling the powers that be that the COP should be registered, need to rethink.

DURING THE TOLBERT years, REACT leaflets found its way into the public domain. Under Doe, opposition voices found many ways to voice their opinions.

DENYING PUNCH FM a license and keeping COP from being registered are only temporary means to an end for the powers of the day. The sad and painful truth is that previous governments have been down this dictatorial path before and governments to come may likely tread similar boundaries.

THE TRUTH IS, these things are never right but always wrong. Politicians trumpeting change must always keep this in the back of their minds when running for office, for it defeats the purpose of belief in promises made versus promises kept and government's ability to govern when all the promises result in more of the same.

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