By William Q. Harmon
Henry Costa (right) denied the government’s accusations and cast the blame squarely on the Weah administration’s refusal to issue him a license — an issue that questions President Weah’s (left) resolve for press freedom despite decriminalizing free speech.
The government of President George Weah has threatened to shut down Radio D-15 hours after Henry Costa announced his return to the local airways via the Logan Town-based radio station.
The government’s move comes a year and a half after it forcefully closed down Costa’s Roots FM for operating without a license, although, according to court records, Costa’s broadcast license application had been submitted and was delayed indefinitely. The closure of Roots FM took place on the same day the talk show host, who has become the President’s fiercest critic, was on air discussing alleged wasteful spending by the Liberian leaders and other bad governance issues.
Costa denied the government’s accusations and cast the blame squarely on the Weah administration’s refusal to issue him a license — an issue that questions President Weah’s resolve for press freedom despite decriminalizing free speech.
Now in a new show of strength, the government has drawn up yet another episode of a faceoff with Costa in a bid to ensure that the President’s greatest nemesis no longer has access to Liberian airwaves—not while the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) is in charge.
In a Sunday evening rush-hour press release, Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie warned media houses, especially radio stations, not to grant their platform to the tough-talking critic, who brands himself as a political commentator.
“The Government of Liberia’s attention is drawn to a social media post notifying the public of a plan by Radio Bushrod (D15 Radio) to begin hosting Henry Costa, who fled the country in 2020, after a writ was issued for his arrest in a criminal matter. Mr. Costa is still wanted by the law,” Min. Rennie said. The government informed the station’s Management that Costa, as a fugitive from Liberian justice, cannot host radio programs meant to communicate to the Liberian audience while in the United States. Any act contrary to said notice will be a violation of the terms of the permit issued by the Ministry of Information and licensing conditions promulgated under the Telecommunications Act of Liberia.
Prior to the Press statement issued by the Ministry of Information, Henry Costa posted on his social media page that the Costa Show will return to radio on Monday, January 18, and that listeners should to tune into D-15 radio (98.1 FM). In a Facebook live video following the publication of the government’s statement, Mr. Costa described the latest release from the Coalition for Democratic Change led-government as “disgusting and tyrannical”. He said he will resist any action by the Government to stop D-15 radio from hosting the Costa Show.
Costa fled the country in 2020 after a writ of arrest was drawn up against him for having entered the country on a laissez-passer which, the government said, he obtained criminally. Since then, he has been living in the US, conducting his show via Facebook and expose ills in the government.
Costa’s confinement to Facebook has limited his reach, due to rising data costs which prohibit his fans on the ground in Liberia from tuning in in their usual numbers. This situation led him to strike a deal with the Management of Radio Bushrod (D15-Radio), to facilitate his return to the airwaves. Radio Bushord was established by the late Representative Adolph Lawrence, the husband of the Liberty Party political leader, Senator Nyonblee Karna-Lawrence.
However, the government, being aware of Costa’s strength on the airwaves, appears unhappy to see him return on the airwave, and in no time released a statement alleging that Costa is a fugitive who escaped justice and, as such, cannot host radio programs meant to communicate to Liberian audience from his place of refuge in the United States.
The statement by the Weah administraton noted that any act to the contrary by the Radio Station would be a violation of the terms of the permit issued by the Ministry of Information and licensing conditions promulgated under the Telecommunications Act of Liberia.
The Government release added that any station, including D15, which continues in this path in utter violation of the laws of Liberia, would have their permit and license revoked.
“The use of the airwaves is a license, granted by the Liberian government to those who meet prescribed criteria,” the release said. “Everyone, including broadcasters, has to be held accountable for what they communicate. Article 15 of the Liberian Constitution states that every person shall have the right to freedom of speech, being responsible for the abuse thereof.”
It added: “If one is injured by a fugitive broadcasting from the United States, there would be no available redress. The Government has a responsibility to protect the public.”
The Information Minister stated that the government would leave no stone unturned in the scrupulous implementation of the laws of Liberia, with sensitivity to protecting the rights and obligations of free speech.
Meanwhile, the management of D15 has rubbished the government’s statement and argued that it is in the right to grant its platform to anyone it desires.
The station management added that it will not listen to the government and will move on with the show was expected and planned, whether the government likes it or not.
“Henry Costa will appear on the show tomorrow morning,” D-15 Radio Manager, Tomreen Kennedy explained. “If the government has issue with Costa, it’s important for them to communicate with the United States government to have the issues resolved.”
Kennedy continued: “It is mind-blowing that government will allow other radio stations to interview host Costa and want to deny the D-15 Radio station of hosting him. Until the government can show the law we will be violating, the hosting of Costa remains firm.”
The move by the government has so far angered many Liberians who believe that the GOL statement insinuates that the US government shields, harbors fugitives or people wanted for crimes in their countries. It also tends to contradict cordial cooperation on global security and adherence to national and global laws.
Liberians are wondering why the Liberian government cannot file for Costa to be extradited if they think they have a genuine or legitimate case. But, the government’s inability to press for prosecution against Costa has led many to believe that the popular talk show host is being witch-hunted by the CDC regime.
Credit to Daily Observer.