August 14, 2001
President Charles G. Taylor
President of the Republic of Liberia
Via Facsimile: (231)-225-217
The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about your government’s refusal to lift the ban on nationwide shortwave broadcasts by Radio Veritas.
On July 2, Minister of Post and Telecommunications Emma Wuor informed Radio Veritas that it was no longer allowed to broadcast on shortwave radio, leaving KISS FM and Radio Liberia International–both of which you own as part of your Liberia Communications Network–as the only stations that can air political news countrywide. Currently, Radio Veritas broadcasts on an FM frequency that only covers the capital, Monrovia.
At the time of the announcement, Radio Veritas was experiencing technical problems that prevented it from broadcasting, but the station’s management continued to pay fees to air programs on both FM and shortwave frequencies. While Radio Veritas was off the air, station management received a letter from Wuor stating that only “short-wave stations in active operation at the moment” would be allowed to operate in Liberia for the time being.
Information Minister Reginald Goodridge said that by airing political programming, Radio Veritas had violated its permit, which only allowed the station to broadcast religious shows. Radio Veritas aired several shows critical of Your Excellency’s government, including the controversial program “Topical Issues.”
This is the second time in two years that your government has interfered with private Liberian radio stations. In March 2000, authorities suspended both Radio Veritas and Star Radio, another independent station critical of your rule. Both stations were shut down for alleged “security reasons.
Star Radio remains suspended as of today. Radio Veritas’ license was restored on March 22, 2001. The government had earlier insisted that the Catholic station could only resume broadcasting if it agreed in writing to limit itself to religious programming, but the Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia refused to do so and issued the following statement: “Under no circumstances will we give any commitment to the Government of Liberia that we will restrict ourselves to religious programs…it is the…constitutional right (of the station) to disseminate information to the public, and if we abuse that right, then let the courts deal with us.”
Following talks between government officials and Radio Veritas directors, the Ministry of Information released a statement saying both sides “had agreed that they will be available to exchange views on issues of [a] controversial nature to ensure factual and balanced reporting. The meeting resolved that the Government and Veritas will from now on co-operatively ensure that all tenets of professionalism are adhered to.” It is not known whether Radio Veritas did indeed commit to airing only religious programming, since neither side commented on the substance of the meeting.
Similarly, Star Radio, which Liberian authorities accused of being used by “agents provocateurs” to foster insecurity in Liberia, was suspended for broadcasting under an allegedly expired temporary license. Yet Star Radio’s articles of incorporation, filed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, allowed it “to disseminate useful, impartial, and objective information to Liberians” with no time restrictions of any kind.
We remind Your Excellency that CPJ named you as one of the Ten Worst Enemies of the Press in 2001, based on your use of censorship, prison, and threats of violence to silence virtually all independent media. Your refusal to restore Radio Veritas’ shortwave frequency demonstrates yet again your determination to deny Liberians their right to freedom of information and expression.
As a nonpartisan organization dedicated to the defense of press freedom worldwide, CPJ is deeply disturbed by the ban on Radio Veritas’ shortwave transmissions. We urge you to ensure that the censorship of Liberian radio stations ceases immediately and that Radio Veritas is permitted to resume broadcasting nationwide.
We thank you for your attention to these urgent matters and look forward to your response.
Ann K. Cooper