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Liberian Government Defends Closure of Pro-Opposition Media Outlets

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James Butty

The National Elections Commission (NEC) of Liberia said Tuesday’s presidential runoff election went well despite boycott by challenger Winston Tubman and his Congress for Democratic Change (CDC).

Acting NEC chairperson Elizabeth Nelson told a news conference that polls closed on a peaceful note around the country. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is expected to win re-election when the results are finally announced.

The runoff was held a day after deadly clashes between CDC supporters and police, and the government’s closure of two radio and Television Stations believed to be sympathetic to the opposition.

The move has been criticized by some as an attack on media pluralism in Liberia and a sign of government intolerance.

But deputy information minister Norris Tweah said the government believes in freedom of the press and expression, arguing the broadcast facilities incited violence.

“There are certain radio stations, and a few television stations, that have totally ignored all ethical and professional standards in terms of the messages that they put out.  Some of these stations are engaged in incendiary messages and, you know, these kinds of messages have got the propensity to incite to violence,” he said.

In a petition to the First Judicial Circuit Criminal Court of Montserrado County, the government said the stations “illegally used their respective media outlets by broadcasting hate messages against the government and deliberately spreading misinformation and messages of violence, and instigating the people to rise up and take to the streets and engage in confrontation with the Liberia National Police and the United Nations security forces.”

Tweah dismissed criticism by some that the government could have sued the stations in question for libel rather than close them down.

“This was not a unilateral decision, as was done in times past when previous governments unilaterally shut down media institutions.  This action has the backing of the law,” Tweah said.

He described as a “wrong characterization [the] suggestion that the Liberian government closed the stations in order to stifle media institutions it considers friendly to the opposition.

“There was an incident on Monday which resulted in the loss of a life, which the government regrets.  However, some of the media institutions were spewing out false information, inciting citizens, making claims that were totally untrue.  So, the incident yesterday provoked and necessitated this action because the state of the nation was at stake.  So, the government took the decision with backing of law,” Tweah said.

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