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Friday, 17 March, 2000, 12:29 GMT
Liberia condemned for radio shut down

By Peter Feuilherade of BBC Monitoring

International journalists' organisation Reporters Sans Frontieres and human rights group Amnesty International have condemned the Liberian Government's silencing of two private radio stations.

On Wednesday, the government of President Charles Taylor cited security reasons for closing down the independent Star radio station.

Star was set up in 1997 by a Swiss-based humanitarian group, Hirondelle Foundation, with funding from the USA, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Its aim was to provide Liberians with impartial news and information.

Earlier this month, Star received a pledge of UK government funding to keep it on the air, after it announced major cuts in staffing and overheads which put a question mark over its future.

Independent stance

The station's staff have picked up several awards for their journalistic work. But its independent stance has also upset the Liberian authorities, who closed the station down briefly in 1998.

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Now its FM and shortwave broadcasts, as well as its Internet news service, have all been closed down.

The authorities also suspended Radio Veritas, an FM station operated by the Catholic church, which has responded by threatening to close down the hundreds of schools and hospitals it operates in the country.

Archbishop Michael Francis said the church refused categorically to restrict itself to religious broadcasting as the government had asked it to.

He said that if the government did not appreciate its contribution in Liberia, the church would "review its options".

During Liberia's civil war from 1989-1997, the country was partitioned by various warring factions, each controlling their own area.

Since then independent broadcasters like Star and Radio Veritas, funded by religious groups or non-governmental organizations, have sought to play a role in providing credible and reliable information and so help the process of reintegration.

'Inflammatory' statements

But Wednesday's government statement alleged that recently "agents provocateurs" had stepped up their use of the media, especially radio stations, to transmit what it called "inflammatory statements" threatening national reconciliation.

A statement from Amnesty International, however, linked the closure of Star radio to a broadcast it carried last Monday about a United States State Department report on human rights in Liberia.

On Thursday two daily newspapers in the capital Monrovia appeared with white lettering on black pages, as a gesture of protest against the shutdown of the two stations.

The Press Union of Liberia warned that press freedom was now under "vehement attack".

In the capital, Monrovia, at least half a dozen commercial and Christian radio stations continue to operate on FM.

The government's objections appear to be reserved for stations it regards as having a "political" agenda or being foreign-controlled, such as Star, although the vast majority of the station's staff are Liberians.

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26 Jul 99 | Africa
Taylor: 'New era for Liberia'
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