The Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) says the recent closure of the Spoon Network on the orders of the Liberia Civil Law Court is troubling and unfortunate. The Network owns a television and a couple of radio stations and was shut down on July 14, 2023.
In a press release issued on July 17, 2023, ALJA says it is deeply bothered by the closure of the Spoon Network. The Network is the biggest independent media entity in Liberia.
According to media reports, the Court orders were predicated on a defamation law-suit filed by the former acting Director General of the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Service (LISGIS), Mr. Wilmot Smith, against Spoon Network and its former Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Stanton Witherspoon.
On June 20, 22, the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) accused and forwarded to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) for prosecution of several local vendors and senior officials of the Liberian government including Mr. Smith for alleged acts of corruption. In November 2022, President Weah dismissed Mr. Smith for administrative reasons.
The Association says while it acknowledges the Liberian government’s recent statement distancing itself from the suit, it is worth reminding Liberians that the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC) administration has a history of using the courts to silence individuals and institutions it considered critical of its policies and President Weah.
The Association recounted the October 2019 indefinite closure and confiscation of the broadcast equipment belonging to the privately owned, ROOTS FM station, by officers of the Liberia National Police, acting upon an order of former Solicitor General, Cllr Cyrenius Cephas. Roots FM was owned and operated by Liberia’s talk show host, Henry Costa, who has been a vocal critic of President Weah and the Liberian government.
The US-based Journalists organization says it also finds it odd that Spoon Network closure comes less than a month after the CDC-Council of Patriots (CDC-CoP), an auxiliary of the ruling party, had called on the government of Liberia to immediately shutdown the Network for what it referred to as “airing misinformation”. Then the organization threatened to shut down the station if the government had failed to do so.
ALJA stressed that a vibrant and independent media is crucial to the survival of Liberia’s fledgling democracy and the closure of any media entity in the country, especially one as prominent as the Spoon Network with only weeks to the Presidential and General elections is deeply troubling.
ALJA says the plurality of views is imperative for any functioning democracy; and it called for the speedy adjudication of Mr. Smith’s defamation lawsuit by the Civil Law Court void of any political manipulation. The association noted that the Liberian media has ethical and professional obligations to ensure that political leaders in the country are held accountable in keeping with the rule of law and the principles of democracy.
Meanwhile, ALJA is calling on the Liberian media to hold sacrosanct its ethical responsibilities and eschew actions that are inimical to the journalism profession. The association said while enormous strides have been made in the attainment and sustenance of press freedom in Liberia over the years, those gains were not achieved on a silver platter but through the sacrifices of many journalists, past and present; many at the peril of their lives.
ALJA said that all Journalists and Liberians of goodwill should ensure that the gains made over the years in consolidating free speech and freedom of the press are not reversed.
ALJA is a conglomeration of current and retired Liberian Journalists residing in the Americas. It is a 201c (3) non-profit organization. The Association was founded in 1998 to foster companionship amongst its members and their American counterparts.