CEMESP: “Gov’t’s Ban On Airing Costa Show Violates Constitution”

CEMESP Executive Director, Malcolm W. Joseph

The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP) says the action of the Government of Liberia (GOL), banning the relay of the “Costa Show” on D-15 radio, violates the Constitution and contradicts the country’s expressed commitment to the intent of the Declaration of the Table Mountain to promote strong, free and independent press to watch over public institutions.

   Liberia was amongst the first group of countries that signed the Declaration of Table Mountain, a continental press freedom agreement that calls on governments to play a germane role that  prevents the press from being hindered and punished through “insult laws” and criminal defamation.

    The Government of Liberia (GOL) on Sunday, January 17, 2021, warned D-15FM, a privately owned commercial station, not to relay the “Costa Show”, arguing the host and political commentator, Henry P. Costa is a “fugitive” from justice,  and  hence “cannot host radio programs from the United States meant to communicate to the Liberian audience”.

    Without attempting to divert from its core focus of the current freedom of expression violation and get into the travel document controversy involving Costa, CEMESP states that Article 13(b) provides that “Every Liberian Citizen shall have the right to leave and to enter Liberia at any time.” And that in the case of a crime, Liberia should exercise its extradition treaty agreement with the United States to have Costa answer to any charge.

   More importantly, CEMESP argued, the government’s ban on Costa from broadcasting violates Article 20 of the Constitution of Liberia, which guarantees that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law…”

   “Costa has never been convicted of any crime in any court and, therefore, he cannot be deprived of his right to freedom of expression guaranteed in Article 15 of the Constitution, which states, ‘Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof,’ and, ‘This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution,’” CEMESP maintained.

   “If the government proceeds to maintain its ban on Costa, stopping him from broadcasting and/or revokes D-15’s broadcast license for pursuing its partnership with Costa to relay his show, the government would be denying Costa and several other Liberians the ‘equal opportunity for work and employment’. This would be a further violation of Article 18 of Liberia’s 1986 Constitution,” the rights body stated. 

   This ban comes fifteen months after Roots FM, the radio station of Costa, was shut down and equipment seized by state security for not having license to operate.

   This will become the third visible action by this administration to shut Henry Costa, whom many consider a critical voice, firstly with Voice FM (Costa previous FM being denied license operation), secondly with Roots FM being shut down and vandalized, and lastly an apparent attempt to stifle a registered, owned and licensed station from relaying The Costa Show.

  “CEMESP therefore draws the attention of the Government of Liberia (GoL) to the disadvantage there is for governance as they try to stifle the press and shut down critical voices.

   “The government cannot proceed with these old regime tactics after celebration of the enactment of the Kamara Abdullai Kamara KAK Press Freedom Law, which abolishes libel and promotes a free press and a society of divergent views.

   “Roots FM (The Costa Show) and Punch FM are the two radio stations that have been shutdown, with no plan by government to issue them license.

   “This is evident that it is not within the government’s interest to have them broadcast; rather, an attempt to keep alternative voices at bay.

   “The Government of Liberia should do the right thing by revoking all threats and allowing the D-15- Costa Show partnership to proceed,” CEMESP stated.

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