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CEMESP cautiously welcomes re-opening of four media houses

(CEMESP/IFEX) - Monrovia, November 15, 2011 - The Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) welcomes the reopening of four media houses recently ordered closed by Criminal Court A as a necessary action to promote peace and stability in the country. CEMESP is concerned, however, that the wording of the ruling suggests a limit to media reporting in the future.

CEMESP's statement comes in response to a ruling by Judge James W. Zotaa of Criminal Court A, in which he found the media organizations guilty of propagating hate messages, though he rescinded the petition to close the stations.

In Tuesday's ruling, Judge Zotaa quoted chapter three of the 1986 Constitution on fundamental rights, noting that "in the enjoyment of fundamental rights, public safety, moral security and orderly governance should never be disrupted (. . .)" and added that "Should the respondents repeat the act which this court has determined to be hate messages and a call to insurrection, the Ministry of Information may revoke the permits and licenses issued to respondents."

CEMESP considers the ruling a gag order on the right of the media to freely report, and an inducement to other actors to continue censoring the media in Liberia, given that the media is prone to reporting issues of transparency and accountability that are necessary in the fight to curb corruption.

While CEMESP remains fully supportive of efforts to promote peace, stability and democracy in Liberia, it nonetheless does not agree that there should be any circumstance that would warrant the closure of a media house. Closing media houses and threats to close media houses, especially in the face of perceived opposition, does not further the cause of democracy, and can certainly not promote peace and stability in Liberia.

It should be recalled that on Monday November 7, 2011 the Ministries of Justice and Information petitioned the court to close down Royal Communications of Kings FM Radio and ClarTV, Power FM and TV, Love FM and TV, and Shaita FM Radio for having "illegally used their various media institutions to broadcast hate messages of violence, instigating the general population to rise up against the government of Liberia . . .".

CEMESP supported the litigation process towards the reopening of the stations by providing lawyers retained under its partnership with the Media Legal Defense Initiative.

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