March 27, 2019

​ Attacks on Liberian radio stations “contrary to spirit” of new press freedom law

The headquaters of Liberian Neww Agency at the ministry of Information. Photo : LINA.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for thorough and independent investigations into the attacks on three privately-owned radio stations critical of President George Weah during the past two months in Liberia.

In one of the latest attacks, a local labour inspector stormed into Margibi FM, a community radio station in Kakata, 75 km northeast of the capital, Monrovia, on 4 March and assaulted presenter Nula Binda, who had just broadcast a recording in which the inspector could be heard soliciting a bribe from a foreign businessman.  

A couple days before, unidentified individuals destroyed the transmitter cables of Joy FM, a commercial radio station in Monrovia. This was the third attack of this kind in Monrovia, following two on privately-owned Roots FM on 31 January and 10 February.  

According to the information obtained by RSF, all three radio stations – which were temporarily forced off the air by the attacks – have covered corruption scandals implicating the government, including the disappearance of 16 billion Liberian dollars from the state’s coffers, an increase in corruption and the apparent misuse of 25 million US dollars earmarked for stabilizing the economy, which is in decline.  

After each attack, the police said they were conducting an investigation, but so far no significant results have been announced. The Centre for Media Studies in Peacebuilding (CEMESP), a Monrovia-based media rights group, condemned the “mute” government’s failure to take appropriate action.  

After the attacks on Roots FM, armed police were deployed around its transmission centre (housed in a mobile phone company’s premises) with the declared aim of protecting a crime scene. But the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) described the police action as “a skilful shutdown of one of Liberia’s most critical voices in the wake of the passage of the bill seeking to decriminalize defamation offenses.”  

“These repeated attacks on privately-owned radio stations that criticize President Weah’s government are very worrying,” said Assane Diagne, the head of RSF’s West Africa office. “Thorough and independent investigations must be carried out to identify and punish those responsible for these violations, which are completely contrary to the spirt of the law that the Liberian parliament approved in February with the aim of reinforcing press freedom.”  

The attacks began as parliament was passing the Abdullahi Kamara Act for Freedom of the Press, which decriminalizes press offences and seeks to create an unfettered media environment.  

Because of their accessibility, radio stations are the main source of news for Liberians, much more than newspapers, whose consumption is limited by illiteracy and by their relative cost in a poor country. Liberia currently has 125 state-owned, commercial, religious, university and community radio stations.  

Liberia is ranked 89th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018  World Press Freedom Index