The Liberia Telecommunications Authority, the regulatory and competition authority charged with the statutory responsibility to ensure a vibrant telecommunications sector in Liberia, is on the verge of implementing and enforcing a new regulation for FM stations which could affect the future of major radio stations operating in Liberia. Speaking on a range of issues relating to the new regulatory regime and the attendant costs, LTA Chair, Edwina Crump Zackpah, said majority of the radio stations are operating illegally, and they do not have an active license right now. But the Press Union of Liberia leadership has taken serious exception to Madam Zackpah’s statement.
In a communication to the LTA acting boss, dated September 2, 2020, PUL president Charles B. Coffey stated that the leadership of the Union requests a meeting with the Full Board of Commissioners of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) and its technical broadcast leads, with reference to the Union’s position of 26th December 2019 in which the PUL urged the Liberia Telecommunications Authority and all broadcast stakeholders to organize a validation session on the draft LTA FM Radio Policy which the LTA had suddenly announced had gone into force.
“At the time, the Press Union of Liberia indicated that your public announcement was intentionally toned against Liberian broadcasters presenting them as irresponsible when the sectoral regulator (LTA) had created a messy airwave in Montserrado by uncontrollably granting licenses,” the PUL stated.
“The Press Union of Liberia and other stakeholders like the Association of Liberian Community Radios (ALICOR), Nimba Community Radio Association (NICORA) assisted by Internews/USAIDS have helped reviewed and established the gravity and ramification of the wide assignment of frequencies done by the LTA with hope that a solution was in sight,” the PUL noted, adding, inputs from all the forums have been collated by the Internews- Liberia but unfortunately all the stakeholders’ views were disregarded and an unrealistic licensing regime which does not represent the performance of the economy presented.
“Madam Chair and members of the LTA Board of Commissioners, validation of the draft LTA FM Frequencies Policy will allow expert review of individual frequencies as contained in the expiration announcement of December 2019 which can be rationally aligned with the stipulation of regulatory fees consistent with the financial soundless of media entities in this case, radio stations,” the Union stated.
The Union further said it is drawing the LTA away from its initial threat to terminate FM frequencies already in use without first validating the draft FM regulation policy along with stakeholders in the sector. “We stressed that if the Liberia Telecommunications Authority is to continue with hostility against the broadcast sector, the policy will fail and radios will still be on air without the government realizing a penny. This public policy must be thoughtful of the economy of the media in Liberia and actions must be geared toward keeping the broadcast industry alive then contribute to the demise of a major tool for national development.”
Moreover, the Press Union of Liberia said it is seeking explanation to the recent opening of new radio stations in Monrovia owned by stalwarts of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and Businessman (Bana FM, Atlantic Broadcast Corporation (ABC), Strong FM, and Spoon FM/TV) while Punch FM application has stalled.
Meanwhile, the Union is recommending to the LTA for license application requirements to be tailored in line with the interests of Liberians and transparent (i.e. the LTA must tell the public exactly why it grants an independent radio license to one broadcast aspirant over another with an accompanying reason rooted in public interest).
The Union also called for a reprieve period to be scheduled to give radio stations time to continue serving the public good; that fines are not imposed retroactively knowing that LTA herself is negligent of the current broadcast frequencies confusion in Liberia (i.e. not one stakeholder is to blame for delinquency in license payment for the immediate past, etc).
Further, the Union said application process for broadcast license must be made publicly transparent; and that the availability of license be made on a plan of available spectrum across the nation as well as thought for profitability in accordance with the status of the local economies (i.e. 10 licenses available in Montserrado, 8 in Bong, 3 in Grand Bassa, etc). The plan would include a frequency assignment (e.g. Monrovia FM 88.7; FM 101.5; FM97.9, etc) to ensure businesses will not broadcast on the same frequency as their competitors.