Taylor Admits to Control of "Shortwave" License
January 10, 2002
The Liberian government's refusal to renew the shortwave license of Radio Veritas, a Catholic-owned radio station, which has been subjected to numerous closures in the last two years, including the famed Star Radio, was one of the major questions asked by a caller to President Taylor recently in a Talk Radio-styled TV program called "Issues With The President."
Responding to the caller's question, Taylor conceded that "opposition complaints about not having access to shortwave transmitters are legitimate concerns." He, however, countered that "broadcasting on shortwave was not a right, but a privilege." Many Liberian legal scholars and constitutional experts however, disagree with Mr. Taylor's views on this issue.
Article 15, Sections a, b and c of the Liberian Constitution state:
a) Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof this right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with the Constitution.
b) The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to acknowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impact knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.
c) In pursuance of this right, there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries.
Supported by the constitution, the Catholic Church has filed a lawsuit against the government insisting that its shortwave license be reinstated by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, the government agency responsible for providing such license. The church says it has the right under the constitution to own and operate a shortwave station in the country.
Further elaborating on his response to the caller, Taylor proposed two ways he believed the shortwave problem could be addressed: 1) shutting down the shortwave transmitter of the Liberian Communication Network (LCN), which is owned by him, 2) installing a shortwave transmitter at the Liberian Broadcasting Corporation - the government-owned station - and having the Elections Commission assume its control. Not only did he remain non-committal, but he also declined to give his preference to his proposed solutions.
About a year ago, Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh of the Liberian People’s Party called for the turning over of LCN to the Liberia Broadcasting System (ELBC) and the Liberia News Agency (LINA) to avoid conflict of interest. Dr. Tipoteh noted that it was unconstitutional for top officials of the Liberian government to own the station. Article 90 (a) of the Liberian constitution states, "no person, whether elected or appointed to any public office, shall engage in any other activity which shall be against public policy, or constitute conflict of interest." Mr. Taylor used equipment looted (by his rebel faction - NPFL) from public and private radio stations during the throes of the Liberian civil war to establish LCN.
Media control and press censorship have become the hallmark of the Taylor regime. Not only does it have monopoly of the airwaves, it also controls the print word. The independent press, due to harassment and threats, practices self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government. He refuses to allow the Press Union of Liberia to operate the printing press donated to the organization by the Carter Center and USAID.
Media observers opine that this attitude on the part of the Liberian Government should not discourage the Liberian media in playing its part in the building of a democratic political culture in Liberia. Rather, the attitude of the Liberian Government towards the media in Liberia should challenge and stimulate media practitioners in Liberia to be more creative and resilient in advocating for individual and press freedom.
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