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Journalists caught in the middle of political rivalries at election time

Voters line up at a polling station in Monrovia, Liberia
Voters line up at a polling station in Monrovia, Liberia

Helen Andreasson/UNDP, Liberia

In the wake of run-off elections in Liberia, seven broadcasters were closed down after three people died during fighting between riot police and opposition supporters, reports the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP). The radio and television stations, which are perceived to be pro-opposition, have been accused of "disseminating hate speech."

With political tensions running high surrounding the election, other media outlets have also fallen victim to political rivalries, report CEMESP, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).

Power FM, Power TV, Love FM, Love TV, Kings FM, Clar TV and the Shaiata community radio station were each separately instructed to halt all broadcasts pending a 10 November hearing of a petition filed by the Government of Liberia, reports CEMESP.

On 7 November, CEMESP says, the main opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) had organised "what they described as a peaceful demonstration in support of a boycott action announced a few days earlier." The TV stations covered the riot that followed the demonstration, and showed "dead bodies and wounded people believed to be CDC partisans."

While no results have been released yet, the opposition leader Winston Tubman boycotted the run-off citing fraud in the first round, which pitted him against incumbent Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. President Sirleaf won the first round, but didn't get enough votes to surpass the 50 per cent threshold. According to news reports, there was a massive drop off in voters from the first round, on 11 October, to the second, on 8 November.

In between the first and second election days, staff at Love FM and Love TV in Monrovia, which support the CDC, reportedly received numerous death threats, according to RSF. On 17 October, unknown arsonists threw a petrol bomb at the stations, destroying a storeroom and causing them to go off the air for several hours, MFWA and RSF report. Just six days earlier, the ruling Unity Party office was also attacked by arsonists, according to MWFA.

Truth FM journalist Smith Toby, who has commended Sirleaf's government, was attacked by armed assailants at his home in October, who were likely hired by opposition politicians, according to MWFA. RSF adds that another Truth FM journalist, Patrick Honnah has received numerous phone threats.

On 17 October, political parties signed an agreement saying they would ban intimidation and violence against journalists but the CDC refused to sign the agreement, RSF reports. According to RSF, the CDC had forced two reporters to delete photos they had of Liberians who were accidental or intentional victims of violence during campaign events.

In other news, two Liberian newspapers face colossal fines for charges of libelling government officials, reports CEMESP.

In October, Agriculture Minister Dr. J. Chris Toe successfully sued "Frontpage Africa" for US$1.5 million after the paper wrote an article on Toe's alleged fraudulent dealings and the paper will likely be shut down if it cannot pay the fine, CEMESP says. The paper is challenging the court order, however, citing judicial corruption. At least one jury member was reportedly bribed with US$50 and Dr. Toe was seen visiting the offices of the judge before the verdict. With support from the UK-based Media Legal Defense Initiative (MLDI), CEMESP is offering "Frontpage Africa" legal aid and representation.

Another politician, the former chairman of the Liberty Party, Israel Akinsanya, meanwhile slapped "Liberian Journal" with a libel suit demanding US$10 million in damages on 27 October, according to CEMESP. Akinsanya has been charged with theft by Lonestar Cell MTN, a telecommunications company. "Liberian Journal", which is owned by a former politician who now donates to another opposition party, wrote a story claiming Akinsanya tried to escape, CEMESP says.

Related stories on
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    The former chair of the Liberty Party was angered by a "Liberian Journal" article covering a major robbery case in which he is implicated.

  • Journalist attacked in Monrovia

    Smith Toby of Truth FM believes he was targeted because his broadcasts angered members of the opposition parties.

  • Pro-opposition media attacked

    Love FM and Love TV stations are off the air after an arson attack destroyed a room where an old transmitter was kept.

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