Following the shutting down of two radio stations- LIB24 and Shatta FM along with a television station by the government, the Political Leader of the opposition All Liberian Party (ALP) Benoni Urey has frowned on the action describing it as “illegal.”
The premises of LIB24 radio station on 10th street was a scene of attraction Saturday morning when riot police along with some agents of the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Court Sheriff were seen locking the facility hosting the media institutions owned by Mr. Urey on a court order. Addressing a news conference Saturday afternoon, the Mr. Urey described the situation as “a direct threat to democracy in Liberia.” He said the action by the government, if not prevented, could undermine the country democracy and infuse confusion in the political process. He stressed that muzzling of the free press by the illegal and “unconstitutional closure” of Voice FM 102.7 and LIB24 105.1 FM and the government’s usual tactics to prevent the renewal of broadcast permits and licenses are all scaring. The All Liberian Party Political leader further indicated that the attempted manipulation of the National Legislature through the evidential payment of bribes (supported by the recording of lawmakers confessing to receiving bribes from the president) to remove Speaker Alex Tyler from his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives is disturbing. “This is very disturbing and unhealthy for our nation as a whole,” Mr. Urey added. Two months ago, the government of Liberia moved to shut down Voice FM 102.7, even after the management of the station proved they had sought to regularize their status for over two years without any cooperation from the government. Mr. Urey also accused the government of violating of the Code of Conduct, which prohibits appointed officials of government from engaging in political activities and utilizing state owned assets. “This is a clear sign that vital elements such as level playing field and fair play will be undermined by the government in the 2017 general and presidential election,” he lamented. Mr. Urey also told journalists at the news conference that, the real reason for the shutdown of Voice FM is not because of its failure to comply with requirement, but because of its critical stance on national issues. “It left us all in a state of shock, that a president who prides herself on protecting free speech would stoop so low to silence her critics,” the ALP poltical leader stated. According to the ALP flag bearer, instead of the country’s national security apparatus working to curb the alarming rate of armed robbery in the country, which has become a nightmare for citizens, they are been used to plot on how to curb free speech. He indicated that the shutdown of LIB24 and Shaita FM under heavy police and NSA presence is unacceptable. “But let me say this, I, Benoni Wilfred Urey, say enough is enough. We have been patient; we have played our part in ensuring that there is peace and stability in Liberia. We will do everything within the confines of the law to ensure that our constitutional rights are protected” Mr. Urey noted. He also vowed to resist any draconian attempt by this government to further muzzle the free press in the hope of advancing their 2017 political agenda. Mr. Urey also accused the government of refusing to renew and regularize the permits and licenses of LIB24 and Shita FM in Careysburg. Displaying recent documents showing efforts to regularize his standing, Mr. Urey said several communications between LIB24, formerly Love Media, and the Minister of Information, who also serves as the Secretary General of Unity Party, have taken place with the Minister refusing to grant them permit. Mr. Urey expressed fear over the manner which opposition-owned radio stations are been treated by the Ministry of Information that is currently being headed by the SG of the ruling party. Contrary to Mr. Urey’s claim of being targeted politically, the Ministry of Information in a press release said “the closure of the station is predicated upon the fact that Sarafina Ventures and Communication Inc. (Love FM 105.1) has not regularized its status nor paid its license and other fees for over 5 years in keeping with relevant provisions of the Telecommunications Licensing Authorization Regulations.” According to the MICAT press release, the LTA regulations also require that any use of radio frequencies must be in accordance with a valid radio spectrum license or radio frequency authorization. MICAT further states that in addition to the station’s failure to regularize its status in keeping with law, Sarafina Ventures and Communications Inc. (Love FM 105.1 and Love TV Channel 7) unilaterally and without prior written consent of the LTA, transferred the frequency 105.1 to another corporation, LIB-24 Incorporated which operated LIB 24 Radio prior to the closure. “The unilateral transfer of the frequency 105.1 to LIB24 Inc. without the expressed consent of the LTA is in violation of Part VI, Section 15(1) and Section 20 of the LTA Regulations 0001(2008) which provides that “any Licensee wishing to transfer ownership or control of the License shall apply to the LTA in writing at least ninety days prior to the proposed date of transfer, or such other period as may be determined by the LTA”. The Government regrets that in the wake of the democratic atmosphere prevailing in the country with media pluralism and freedom at its core, a media institution like the Sarafina Ventures and Communications (Love FM) will woefully engage in circumventing the established rules and procedures governing the communications sector, and defrauding the government of more than US$50,000.00 in unpaid fees,” the MICAT release alleged. The government said that prior to resorting to court action, there had been series of discussions and exchange of communications over several years with the management of Sarafina Ventures & Communications Inc. during which it implored the corporation to accede to the requirements, pay the required fees and legitimize its operations. Several invoices were delivered to Sarafina Ventures & Communication requesting payment over a number of years, but it failed to do so. Nevertheless, Sarafina Ventures and Communications Inc. proceeded to transfer the license and or frequency to LIB 24 Incorporated even though it was no longer legitimately assigned the frequency nor received authorization to do so in keeping with law.