Veep Boakai’s Assertion And The Issue Of Media Institutions’ Operation

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

As though it were a coincidence, just few hours as the Liberia Telecommunications Agency (LTA) expressed concern over the failure of some radio and television stations to meet their required registrations to operate in this country, Vice President Joseph Boakai, while addressing the climax of the 25th anniversary of the News Newspaper last Thursday at the Monrovia City Hall, made a very salient point on an issue I had planned to comment on. It is all about journalists or media practitioners living by the rule to or practicing what we preach to avoid being embarrassed or being seen as saying one thing and conversely doing another thing.

In the story on the LTA which was published last Friday,  the entity threatened to shut down several radio and television stations for failing to regularize their status with them (LTA). Addressing the regular press briefing of the Ministry of Information in Monrovia on Thursday, Mr. Bayogar Anthony McCritty, Sr., Commissioner of the Licensing and Regulations Department at the Liberia Telecommunications Authority disclosed that there are some radio stations that are operating without any reference to the LTA whatsoever.

Mr. McCritty described the action by the radio and television stations as illegal adding, “And to those entities we will shut you down completely. If you would like to run a TV or Radio station in Liberia, you have the opportunity to do so by coming to us and starting the process. The LTA is here to serve but you cannot operate in total disregard, this is theft and robbing the nation of much needed revenue.”

He said Liberia’s frequency is scarce and the LTA will protect it from violators who circumvent the Liberian laws. McCritty vowed that the practice will not continue. He noted that in November last year the LTA embarked on a strategic campaign to inform Small Service Providers, which include Radio, TV. and VSAT operators to update and regularize their licenses giving them a 30-day grace period.

“This process includes getting the necessary permits for TV and radio service providers from the Ministry of information which is the clearing house for programming content. The LTA is responsible for allotting frequencies after permits have been secured and then we do our due diligence. This involves verifying the permit, doing a thorough business registration background check and financial check and then the assignment of frequency based on availability,” Mr. McCritty stressed. He said some of these institutions have responded promptly, based on a deadline, updating their licenses while others have failed to do so.

Similarly on the issue of obligation and living by example, Veep Boakai in his message during the NEWS Newspaper program, among other things stressed a very important point that really touched me which  I feel is important to elucidate on , especially so as it relates to media institutions  in this country. Today, this country can boast of many media institutions, but the issue is whether or not some of us are living by legal obligations to legally function as a business, in keeping with the laws, has always been a problem.

It is predicated upon this that that I have decided to review this matter of the threat to close down television and radio stations by the LTA for reasons expounded above. Let me begin by saying that the dichotomy of the independent media is that “it is a public institution” and  “a business”. That is, it operates to seek the interest of the public or engage in those things in the interest of the public, as a public institution, equally so, it operates as a business entity, and therefore,  must meet those requirements laid down to run such businesses, as anything contrary to this is tantamount to operating illegally in the country.

Vice president Boiakai at the NEWS newspaper anniversary program, in charging the media to be professional said, “above all else, you will need to bear in mind that the litmus test of your true commitment to the adherence to rules is how you hold yourselves to your own rules. Merely lobbing demands at others to live by their rules cannot pass for adequate evidence of such true commitment.  Always strive to be the example of what you preach.

Of this assertion, what touched me in the wake of the LTA’s threat of shutting down some media institutions for lack of compliance is the point made by the Vice President. We, as journalists, or media practitioners, should ‘always strive to be the example of what we preach.  That is, as journalists, who are the conscience, eye, nose or watchdog of the society, who are exposing the ills of organizations, groups, individuals, as well as the government, we must match this by making sure that we live by example.

On this piece, I try to dwell on the advice given by the Vice President in that because of the profession we are involved in, it is imperative to always strive to be the example of what we preach. Others may have a different interpretation or understanding of what the Vice President said; but for me, I see it as an advice for us, in the media, to live by example; that is, avoiding being caught on the very things we are preaching against; one of which is illegal operation.

it is an indisputable fact that as journalists or media practitioners, we always preach accountability, transparency, adherence to the rule of law, graft, corruption, evasion of taxes, illegal operations of businesses and misconduct in the public service, just to name a few.

As we expose these ills in the society, we too, must not be seen to be in violation of some of these very principles that we are writing, or speaking about. One of such is the issue of registering our media institutions as businesses. In this light, it means that we must adhere or follow all of the rules and registration processes to make sure that our entities are registered in keeping with the business registration laws of the country. We cannot be speaking about other businesses operating illegally or usually refer to them as ‘bogus business”, and at the same time, we intentionally find ourselves in such a situation.

Many years ago, my mentor, Kenneth Yarkpowolo Best, in an article, I still remember wrote on similar issue that media people should always make sure that their side of the bargaining by doing what is required of them in terms of taxes, registration and regularization of their aliens’ documents, if they have any, to avoid being embarrassed by the government. In short, we in the media cannot be raising these societal ills, when, we, are not working to make a difference.

As stated earlier, the dichotomy of the media is that, it is a “public institution,” and also a “business,” meaning that as a “business entity,” we must adhere to all of the rules to ensure that we function in keeping with the law. Hence, those who have not met their registration requirements with the LTA should do so. This is the law. We have to always strive to be an example of what we preach, as the Vice President said.  Today, it is the LTA that is raising issue with some of these TV and radio stations; there could be similar cases with newspapers, as the Ministry of  Information recently expressed similar concern of non-compliance by some media institutions .

As it is common sense and an indisputable fact that in this country, everything is politicized, but as media people, we should avoid being in these kinds of politics or threading on public sentiments, by adhering to the laws. We must pay our legitimate taxes such as withholding which we deduct from our employees, pay our registration fees, strive for our tax clearance from the Ministry of Finance, and ensure the payment of other fees associated with running such a business, as a media institution.

In closing, let me say that as we strive to fight the ills of the society, we should make sure that we guard against being culpable to these very societal ills. To say it the Liberian way, let us always strive to be on the “safe side.”

Until some of us in this kind of business can realize this issue of operating legally as a business, to avoid threat of closure in any form by any regulatory agency of the status quo, I Rest My Case.