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Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the Government restricted these rights in practice. Security agents threatened, detained, and assaulted journalists and intimidated many journalists into practicing self-censorship. Cabinet ministers periodically objected to critical articles and forced stories to be dropped or modified. However, from July until year's end, harassment and censorship of the media decreased significantly.
Unlike in the previous year, the Government did not arrest critics of the state of emergency during the year.
There was no further information on the trial of New Deal Movement Chairman Nigba Wiaplah, who was arrested in 2002 on charges of "inciting insurrection" for criticizing the state of emergency.
In Monrovia there were 18 newspapers that published during the year, with varying degrees of regularity. Two were independent dailies and five usually appeared at least once a week. Their political orientation ranged between pro-government and critical of the Government. The Public Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism published one newspaper, and the communications network owned by the President published a weekly newspaper. After President Taylor left the country, his newspaper stopped publishing and his radio station stopped broadcasting.
Newspaper availability fluctuated during the year. All newspapers were printed through one printing facility. The Taylor administration had at times pressured the managers of the facility not to print articles the Government perceived to be unfavorable. To meet the costs of production, the typical newspaper's eight pages included two or three pages of advertisements or paid announcements. Some articles were the result of gifts or money that supplemented reporters' meager salaries.
Due to the high price of newspapers, the high rate of illiteracy (estimated at 75 percent), high transportation costs, and the poor state of roads elsewhere in the country, newspaper distribution generally was limited to the Monrovia region. As a result, radio was the primary means of mass communication. There were a number of FM stations in Monrovia. There also was the state-run national station (ELBC), a FM station operated by President Taylor's private Liberia Communications Network (LCN), which closed after Taylor left. There were at least five new FM stations on the airwaves: Power FM, King's FM, UNMIL Radio, and Radio LIJ. ELBC, and Radio Veritas, which was operated under the Catholic Archdiocese, also broadcast on short-wave frequencies strong enough to reach all parts of the country. In November, Chairman Bryant lifted the ban on Star Radio, an independent radio station closed by former President Taylor in 2000. DC-101 was broadcasting at year's end, and UNMIL Radio also began broadcasting in December.
Due to the economic situation in the country and the dependence on generators requiring expensive fuel, most stations limited broadcast hours and in some cases ceased operation for short periods, was particularly during the June to August crisis.
Call-in radio talk shows were popular and frequently a forum for both government and opposition viewpoints. Interviews with prominent persons were broadcast frequently. DC-101 removed its popular talk show DC Talk off the air after government operatives threatened the show's host and the station management for condoning and preaching anti-government sentiments.
Television was limited to those who could purchase sets, the generators, and fuel to provide electricity. For those persons and businesses with satellite capability, CNN was generally available. There were two television stations: LCN, owned by then-President Taylor, and the Ducor Broadcasting Corporation, which was privately owned but supplied with a generator by President Taylor. LCN closed down after Taylor's August 11 departure from office. Ducor radio FM101 and television closed during the June-August fighting and resumed broadcasting after the fighting.
With some notable exceptions, government officials reluctantly tolerated the press; however, they frequently criticized the media publicly for what they considered negative reporting. Requirements for foreign journalists, including a minimum 72-hour advance notice of the intent to enter the country and a 24-hour waiting period for accreditation after arrival remained in force. During the crisis, international correspondents were charged frequent and irregular accreditation fees. In mid-June, the Government suspended all foreign press credentials for 2 days in response to an article accusing then-President Taylor of "returning to cannibalism." The Government attempted to intimidate some journalists during that period. The government order that required local journalists to clear reporting on the insurgency prior to publication, generally was obeyed out of fear of government retribution.
From July until year's end, government cooperation with the media, particularly the international media, improved. The Government permitted a significant volume of reporting on the crisis with little censorship. However, local media did not publish during this period. Following President Taylor's resignation, local press returned to publishing and broadcasting, and government harassment and interference was significantly reduced from earlier in the year.
In January, there were reports that ATU forces tortured into a coma Throble Suah, a reporter for the Liberian Inquirer newspaper. He was evacuated out of the country for medical treatment. No action was taken against members of the security forces who were responsible.
Prior to July, reporting that criticized the Government generally had brought threats of violence, closure, or directives from powerful government officials to advertisers that they should discontinue business with that media outlet.
Security personnel sometimes interpreted criticism as a license to harass, threaten, arrest, and even assault targeted persons; the Government often required arrested journalists to apologize in writing prior to releasing them. There were fewer such reports during the second half of the year.
In January, the Justice Ministry held the Manager of Radio Veritas, Ledgerhood Rennie, for several hours because his station held a live interview with opposition leader Charles Brumskine from abroad.
In May, the Government closed six local FM radio stations in the central part of the country without proffering specific charges against them.
Journalists practiced self-censorship; however, reporting of issues increased during the second half of the year.
During the year, security personnel visited Sabanoh Printing Press and prevented the publication of newspaper stories, which it considered critical. The premises of leading independent newspapers were vandalized by government troops during the recent conflict.
The Government did not specifically restrict or limit access to the Internet; it was available to those who could afford it. Several Internet cafes operated in Monrovia, although relatively high fees limited access. Prior to President Taylor's resignation, the Government continued to charge that opponents used the Internet to wage a propaganda war. However, the Ministry of Information also maintained an unofficial website that promoted a pro-government view of the country. Two Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operated in Monrovia and both were linked to prominent persons. Some persons believed that government security personnel monitored the Internet, particularly e-mail.
The Government did not restrict academic freedom. UL did not open for the fall session due to the crisis. Alphonse Nimene, president of the Student Union, 15 student leaders, and numerous other students returned to the country after the inauguration of the Transitional government in October.
There were several attacks on the press during the year by unknown persons. For example, on June 5, armed men assaulted and robbed The News reporter Stanley McGill. A week earlier, three armed men who appeared to be wearing ATU uniforms assaulted him.
On June 12, alleged LURD rebels abducted three journalists, Bobby Tapson and Bill Jarkloh, both of the The News, and Joe Watson of the Liberia Broadcasting System. The three men were reported released several days later.
On June 12, armed men looted the home of Independent journalist Lyndon Ponnie. The whereabouts of his family was unknown at year's end.
The MFWA reported that the homes of three other journalists had been looted and set ablaze in June.
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