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Liberia: Giving Free Press a Second Chance

The judgment in the controversial media closure case in Liberia gave justice a rare opportunity to prevail. On November 7, 2011, the Liberian government shut down three media houses (Love FM/TV, Power FM/TV and Kings FM) for allegedly spreading hate messages likely to incite violence.The closure of the media houses was met with criticism from many Liberians.

The stations were forced off the air following a complaint filed by Justice Minister Christiana Tah and Information Minister Cletus Sieh.

However, Judge James Zota ordered the re-opening of the closed media outlets arguing that though the respondents action is being punishable under the law yet the court thought it befitting not to impose punishment against the respondents in an effort to guarantee press freedom in Liberia.

Giving a summary of the ruling on Liberia Elections 2011 Media Monitoring Group, Mohammed Ali wrote:

The Criminal Court A has just rule in the case putting the media institutions in the wrong on the basis of the pieces of evidence provided by Government. The Court said that the pieces of evidence provided by the government proved that the 3 media institutions were actually engaged in preaching hate messages. However, the Court has said that since this was a conference between the 3 Media Institutions and the government and not a trial, the media institutions should be reopened with the strongest warning that they will be closed permantly if they should ever repeat those hate messages again.

Reconciliation is the way forward: Two members of main politican parties in Liberia shaking hands. Photo courtesy of Photos of Liberia Elections 2011 Media Monitoring Group.

Reconciliation is the way forward: Two members of main politican parties in Liberia shaking hands. Photo courtesy of Photos of Liberia Elections 2011 Media Monitoring Group.

A commentary posted on African Election Project blog dismissed the “cowboy style” closure and kangaroo style “pardon”:

Perhaps it wouldbe more honourable to begin by first joining others to categorically decry, condemn and reject both the cowboy style closure of three local media entities and the rather bogus and kangaroo process that attended their “pardon”. It is shameful and troubling that Liberia, having endured a cataclysmic civil conflict due to political tyranny and elective justice, would be forced to down the dark paths.

Why did the government turn a blind eye to “a magazine without known editorial management” which “dropped from the sky”?:

A day or so before the November 7 inferno, a magazine without known editorial management dropped from the sky and distributed free of charge describing some Liberians as trouble mongers, charlatans and risky. The Government made no single shriek about it. It was patriotic Journalism. During the campaign and even today, the government's “dangling media” continue to demonize some parties and politicians. Those publications are neither “handate messages” nor ” anti-peace”…

A Molotov cocktail was thrown at Love FM in post-election violence. Photo courtesy of the Press Union of Liberia.

A Molotov cocktail was thrown at Love FM in post-election violence. Photo courtesy of the Press Union of Liberia.

Vote4Africa an advocacy group summarized the case in the tweet below:

 

@vote4africa : #Liberia: 3 media outlets found guilty of inciting hatred, no penalty given:

R.S.W. Chea, a Liberian advocate, educator and clergyman chose to address the issue on Cafe L.I.B social network from its root while discussing Liberia three-fold problems facing Liberia: corruption, ignorance and illiteracy [Cafe L.I.B is a global networking platform for Liberians & friends of Liberia, which requires login]:

In light of the current destruction of private and public properties, this problem should be the concern of every Liberian beyond politics and party lines.  In light of development, we are already way underdeveloped, and how much more undeveloped can we get?  All these burning down of media outlets, buildings and government vehicles are only setting us back economically, socially, and psychologically.  This is part of the reason we are where we are.  We have many issues in Liberia and they all result for the absence of nationalism, but on top of the list are three major problems, namely corruption, ignorance and illiteracy.  However, I will only address ignorance and illiteracy very briefly and continue on the issue of our non-nationalistic attitude and behavior.  Note that the two (ignorance and illiteracy) are not synonymous, but distinct, yet they compliment each other.

@africareview summed up the case in a few, yet meaningful words:

Court gives # Liberia broadcasters second chance

@Leo_Johnson, a young and emerging Liberia progressive tweep said:

Media found guilty of spreading hate messages in Liberia

Even before the court ordered the re-opening of the media entities, Liberians in the Diaspora voiced out their views from different standpoints. Jerome Gayman of Fort Pierce, Florida, United States (US) wrote:

When I went to work that Tuesday morning the first thing my boss asked was ‘What happened to the freedom of the press? What happened to the human rights? “This time around I was leaning towards Ellen’s re-election because she has done a lot of good stuffs in that country like the kind of developments under her that we had not seen in our times. And I was impressed under her administration on three issues that I had given her very high marks on: freedom of the press, economic development and women’s right. But I was shocked when I heard what happened that Monday.

The protestors have the right to protest. That reminded me of the April 14 Rice Riot and I couldn’t believe that could happen under her. I mean of all people, how could that have happened under her?

Unlike Jerome, Moses Dolo of Tigard, Oregon, United States, clarified and chose a different path:

We regret the death of any Liberian, but the government has the responsibility to protect the majority of the Liberian people. Politicians and media should not incite our people to violence for their own selfish objective.

Kadiatu Henry, a Liberian lady residing in Pennsylvania, US, was far more elaborate:

In my mind, the government over-reacted. The police needed to be a bit tolerant and even if provoked to shoot, should have only shot in the air and not into the people especially after they had used tear gas. For the media houses closed down, it is difficult to maintain a balance between freedom of the press and misuse of that freedom. While it may have been wrong to shut them down, the government too may have sensed much danger coming out of their frequent playing of those ugly scenes over and over again, especially where election was slated for the next day.

Trouble Sayeh of Columbus, Ohio, US, suggested that this could be a sign of more troubles ahead:

In my mind, those two actions of police brutal killing and clamp down on media only convinced me now that Ellen was only soft during first term to pat the Liberians. Now with a second term, she might show her worst since she will no longer need the Liberian people’s vote. “

“Honestly, I’m surprised but again not because she is just another African leader who is capable of any change at any time even if it means from better to evil. Let’s watch her second term. It could be a sign of more troubles.”

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