Liberia forces critical radio station Voice FM to stop broadcasting

Nairobi, July 7, 2016–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the decision by Liberian authorities to shut down the privately owned station Voice FM and called on the government today to allow the station to resume broadcasting immediately.

The Liberia Telecommunications Authority, a regulatory body that issues frequencies in the country, ordered Voice FM, a local political station, to cease broadcasting on July 4, and locked its Monrovia offices, according to news reports. The authority said that the station, which has been broadcasting for two years, failed to register properly as a commercial station and did not pay the required fees and taxes associated with registration, according to reports.

The station, owned by Henry Costa, who also hosts the station’s morning show “The Henry Costa Show,” is known for its critical coverage of the government, according to reports. Costa denied that his station was not properly registered and provided CPJ with receipts that he said showed outstanding fees had been paid.

“The government is using the telecommunication authority to silence political criticism,” said CPJ Africa Senior Research Associate Kerry Paterson. “This is not acceptable in a democracy like Liberia. The authorities must allow Voice FM back on air immediately.”

In a legal petition that the Liberia Telecommunications Authority filed through the Justice Ministry, the authority claimed that Voice FM was operating on a frequency that had been allocated to a different radio station. The petition said the frequency was not transferred or renewed when that license expired in 2014, reports said.

The Liberia Telecommunications Authority did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment.

Costa told CPJ that the station’s lawyers are appealing the decision to force the station off air. He added, “They may succeed in shutting us down today, but they can never take away my voice, they can never silence the Liberian people whose anger, disenchantment, views, and aspirations we espouse.”

In a statement to press on July 4, Henry Benson, the acting commissioner for Liberia Telecommunications Authority, told local news outlets that other stations operating without the necessary permits could also be closed, adding, there would be “more to come.”