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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Liberia’s Media Crackdown: A Threat to Freedom and Democracy

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On June 21, 2024, the government of Liberia through the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) through a major press conference branded 60 ratio and TV stations as DELINQUENT with only 9 radio stations found to comply with the LTA procedures and rules.

Sixty media outlets, including radio and television stations, have been labeled as DELINQUENT by the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) in recent developments.

This categorization suggests that these media organizations have not followed Liberia’s government’s telecom policies, and as a result, they run the risk of having their licenses canceled or not renewed.

There are significant worries regarding the situation of information and speech freedom in Liberia as a result of this crackdown on media outlets.
The LTA’s activities are especially concerning in light of President Joseph Nyuman Boakai’s incoming administration.

President Boakai’s government has come under fire for allegedly disobeying tenure laws and violating the constitution ever since taking office, most notably for the disputed removal of tenured commissioners from the LTA.

After the fired commissioners prevailed in court, the administration ordered an audit to compel their departure. This action has been widely interpreted as a witch-hunt intended to silence media critics and strengthen government control over public opinion.

The Threat to Media Freedom

The LTA’s position on radio stations that do not comply with regulations seems to be a calculated attempt to weaken the Freedom of Information Act, a noteworthy piece of legislation that was passed during the previous government. Media outlets who criticize government programs appear to be singled out by the government due to its strict compliance requirements.

The public’s access to unbiased information and the diversity of opinions are both at risk due to this selective enforcement. These actions are reminiscent of the harsh policies of the administration of former President Samuel K. Doe, which stifled free speech in the media and helped spark a catastrophic civil war.

Historical Context: Lessons from the Past

The harsh methods used by the government under Samuel K. Doe’s People’s Redemption Council (PRC) are very similar to the current strategy. The administration of Doe gained notoriety for its ruthless repression of opposition, which included the use of blackmail, covert executions, and the silencing of well-known media figures. Due to the fear and repression that these acts fostered, Liberia had fourteen years of civil instability that left the country in ruins.

A climate of fear and persecution was fostered by the PRC administration of former President Samuel K. Doe’s systematic blacklisting of journalists and suppression of the media.

Doe’s government stifled dissenting opinions and restricted information flow, depriving the population of access to fair news and a range of opinions. Public debate was suppressed, and the corruption of the government was covered up leading to human rights abuses. The lack of a free press hindered accountability and transparency, allowing grievances and social tensions to fester unaddressed.

The 1989 civil upheaval was greatly exacerbated by this control of the media. The Doe administration distanced itself from the concerns of the people and deepened racial and political unrest by stifling dissent and suppressing information.

Pent-up resentment among the populace finally burst into violence, sparking a protracted and catastrophic civil war. The repressive atmosphere that Doe’s onslaught on the media produced, undermining democratic values and creating the ideal conditions for violence, is what gave rise to the war.

There are alarming similarities between the policies of the current government and those of Doe’s time. The administration of President Boakai runs the risk of making the same mistakes that affected Liberia in the past by trying to manipulate the media narrative and silence critics. In addition to being against the Liberian Constitution’s tenets, the repression of media freedom threatens the basis of human rights and sound governance.

The Imperative for Action

To prevent history from repeating itself and to safeguard Liberia’s hard-won peace and democratic progress, several urgent steps must be taken:

  • Respect for the Freedom of Information Act: The government must protect the Freedom of Information Act so that no media organization will be able to function in fear of unjustified closures or retaliation. For governance to remain accountable and transparent, this act is essential.
  • Subsidies for Media Outlets: Government funding for radio and television stations should be extended to maintain the sustainability of independent media. With this financial support, a more inclusive and representative media landscape would be fostered by ensuring that a diverse range of viewpoints are heard.
  • Cease Promotion of Private Interests: Government resources should not be used by the executive mansion website (www.emansion.gov.lr) or the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs to support private businesses. Such actions compromise the credibility of government communications by obfuscating the distinction between private benefit and public service.
  • Public-Private Partnerships: Creating public-private partnerships with media companies can improve Liberia’s media governance. Such partnerships would guarantee that the public had access to factual and fair information while also bolstering the media industry.
  • Prioritize Peace and Stability: The administration must put peace and stability first by refraining from acts that can be interpreted as witch hunts or instituting blackouts on the media. Upholding the libertarian Constitution’s Article 15 right to free expression is crucial to preserving public confidence and averting social upheaval.

RAP UP

The country’s present course of media repression in Liberia is risky and could reverse the gains gained during the post-civil war period. The administration of President Joseph Nyuma Boakai has to understand that an independent and free media is essential to both democracy and sound governance.

Liberia can keep moving in the direction of stability and prosperity by upholding the Freedom of Information Act, encouraging open public-private partnerships, and supporting independent media.

The PRC administration of Samuel K. Doe has taught us some very important lessons: quashing criticism and suppressing the media causes discord, strife, and eventually the collapse of society. Liberia can’t afford to make the same errors twice. The government needs to take a more transparent and inclusive stance that upholds the rights of all people and upholds the principles of democracy.

The End
To sum up, the fight against the media ought to stop. Not to forget how Liberians are bracing themselves for the establishment of the War and Economic Crime Court which could see serious tension in some parts of Liberia.

Severe media restrictions have resulted in violence and disorder in several nations, underscoring the perils of eroding press freedom. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe enforced severe media restrictions, which resulted in significant violations of human rights, a collapse in the country’s economy, and political unrest.

Similar to this, President Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt experienced a crackdown on the media, which led to the 2011 revolution that brought years of turmoil to the nation. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration in Turkey has repressed media freedom, which has exacerbated political division and social unrest.

Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has been under fire from the West for weakening media independence, which has resulted in severe democratic regression and societal unrest.

Similar media repression was experienced by the PRC government, which suppressed dissent and transparency and ultimately fueled the discontent that turned into a bloody 14-year civil war. These instances highlight how suppression in the media can lead to greater instability and conflict in society.

Therefore, every media station should be prioritized because they are the gatekeepers of our fragile democracy. The media is the protector of whistle-blowers and witnesses in the event one of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity or economic might want to personally attack him/her.

We need protection for the media landscape in these times when Liberia is gearing up for the opening of the WECC. The government ought to concentrate on creating a dynamic and independent media environment that encourages responsibility, openness, and knowledgeable public debate.

In addition to being a moral and legal requirement, this is also an essential step in securing Liberia’s future peace and prosperity that was left to be governed by former president George Manneh Weah.

Note: Silencing of the Media is the beginning of the end of any ERA.

Sir-George S. Tengbeh

Joint MA, MSc, BSc, AA
Labor Policy and Good Governance Expert
Researcher in Human Rights and Democratic Governance

Contact details:Allmersstr. 3

26386, Wilhelmshaven, Germany Whatsapp: +4915213885030 E: gstengbeh@gmail.com

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