Roots FM’s closure and media future in Liberia

After last week’s closure of independent Roots FM 102.7 and its affiliates by the Government of Liberia, many people in Liberia seem to be more concern about closing a second radio station, Freedom FM, than the procedure followed by the authorities in the action taken against the first station.

Many hold the view that Freedom FM 87.9 owned and operated by a senior security officer of the government, Sam Siryon, is involved in broadcasting invectives and hate speech against opposition members, particularly political leaders of opposition political parties just similarly as Roots FM 102.7 had been ranting against President George Manneh Weah and his government.

But we see a dangerous sign here for the entire Liberian media if care were not taken in what clearly appears to be beginning of an official clampdown on media institutions that dare to call the government to account. Just as Roots FM 102.7 talk show host Henry Costa has been repeatedly noted for preaching anti-government messages and ranting insults on the President and his officials, so is pro-government Freedom FM87.9 that directs its broadcast, saturated with profanity, at members of the opposition community.

Rather than closure of anti-government or pro-government stations, as many are suggesting, including the Press Union of Liberia, we think the real focus should be on whether or not, procedure used by the State last week’s Thursday, 10 September in forcibly shutting down Roots FM 102.7 and confiscating its assets for alleged default in payment of taxes and other operational requirements before subsequently issuing a Writ of Search, Seizure and Arrest through a court sheriff was right.

Liberia’s Solicitor-General Cllr. Sayma-CyreniusCephus, who had earlier served as defense counsel for talk show Henry Costa during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf regime, argued last week in a news conference at the Ministry of Information in Monrovia that government acted accordingly, because Roots FM 102.7 had operated illegally and broadcast invectives to the public.

The question is: was the Search, Seizure and Arrest Warrant legal for the alleged offenses, as claimed by the Solicitor-General? Or were there excesses by the government? These are the main issues that should be debated in the public domain, instead.

If we didn’t critically analyze the government’s move and begin to call for closure of a second media institution, we may be clearly creating a platform where the authorities would arbitrarily shut down media houses in the country based on their reportage and hide under the pretext of lack of license and operational permits.

Surely, we Liberians don’t want to return to the dark days of the military junta, People’s Redemption Council (PRC) in the 80s or era of jailed former President Charles Ghankay Taylor when journalists were randomly arrested and media institutions shut down.

Today it is Roots FM 102.7 and its affiliates; no one knows which other critical voices from the media would face the wrath of the government. Lest we are misconstrued, the New Dawn does not any way suggest that journalists and media institutions are licensed to insult authorities of the State or to ignore professional and ethical standards, but if such breaches were committed, government should react within confines of the law.Anything short of that would mean arbitrary clampdown on the media and silencing critical voices against the government.

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