Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it condemns the Liberian government’s harassment of the media and journalists after a presidential spokesman threatened the representative of a journalists’ association for calling for the reopening of two radio stations ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Press Union of Liberia vice-president Jallah E. Grayfield has asked the police to investigate the threats he received from presidential press secretary Jerolinmek Piah after taking part in debate with information minister Isaac Jackson on Radio Prime 105.5 FM on 6 September.
During the programme, Grayfield criticized the government’s recent closure of the two privately-owned radio stations as “undemocratic” and called for them to be reopened.
As he was leaving Radio Prime, Grayfield received several SMS messages from Piah accusing him of being a “disgrace” to his organization and warning that “you will feel what you have started.”
Grayfield said he asked the police to investigate because he was concerned by what he regarded as a new government attack on the media.
“It is unacceptable that those who represent and defend the media are unable to freely express their opinion and are the target of threats,” RSF said. “We call on the Liberian president’s office to put a stop to this kind of behaviour, which discredits the entire administration.”
RSF added: “At a time when Liberia’s voters are preparing to make political choices next year, they have a right to hear all opinions, even those that are critical and irritate the current government.”
The radio stations that upset the president’s office are Voice FM and LIB 24. Voice FM is owned by well-known commentator Henry Costa, who produces his show from the United States, where he lives. LIB 24 is owned by a politician, would-be presidential candidate Benoni Urey, who also owns a TV channel, LIB 24 TV.
The Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), which is responsible for assigning broadcast frequencies, closed Voice FM and seized its equipment on 4 July after obtaining the justice ministry’s authorization to move against it on the grounds that it was using its frequency illegally.
Voice FM’s management say that all their attempts to sort out the station’s legal situation were rejected by the authorities, who were looking for a pretext to close it down. It remains closed.
LIB 24 was shut down on 13 August after a week of broadcasting the Henry Costa Show, which is very critical of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Police and intelligence officials confiscated its broadcast equipment and sealed its premises on the official grounds of non-payment of tax arrears.
The head of the LTA, Henry Benson, said at a press conference: “The LTA was established by law to regulate and will continue to do so. We have effectively shut down a radio station, beginning with Voice FM 102.7 and more to come, because we have to show that there is law and order in Liberia.”
Liberia is ranked 93rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.