MONROVIA: n the wake of the abrupt closure of Spoon Network on Friday, July 14, 2023 by court orders, the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) says while it is still ascertaining the facts that led to the closure of the country’s biggest electronic media institution, it is concerned about the closure during this crucial electoral period.
“The Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) is aware of the closure of Spoon FM by court officers in the early morning hours of July 14, 2023. We are still ascertaining the facts that led to the closure of the Spoon Network radio station on court’s orders,” the CPP said in a Friday, July 14, 2023 press statement issued under the signature of Deputy CCP Secretary General Martin Saye Kollah.
Continuing, the release said, “While we recognize the rights of party litigants, we are also very concerned about the closure of Spoon Network institutions at this crucial period of our body politics.”
The CPP further hoped that the issue between the parties can be resolved quickly by the court as everyone exerts effort to create a less-stiff political space in our body politics.
It can be recalled that Spoon Communications Network which includes Spoon FM, Fabric FM, Super FM and their online TV, was forcibly shut down in Monrovia early Friday morning upon court orders for a defamation lawsuit brought against the media conglomerate by the former Deputy Director General for Information Coordination at the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS), Mr. Wilmot Smith.
Meanwhile, amidst accusations from the opposition Unity Party and a cross section of the citizenry that the closure of Spoon FM was orchestrated by the Weah-led government, the Government of Liberia has sharply clarified that it has nothing to do with Spoon Network’s closure, rather it is a result of a civil lawsuit issue that is pending before the court.
Reacting quickly in a press statement issued Friday, July 14, 2023, Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie said, “The GoL understands that the suit was instead filed months ago by Mr. Wilmot Smith, a private citizen of the country, who once served as Deputy Director General for Information Coordination at LISGIS.
“Mr Smith stated in his lawsuit that following his dismissal from the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-information Services for Administrative Reasons by President George M. Weah, the station used its network to defame his reputation, characterizing him as a “Criminal”.
“The case involving the two parties was brought before the court and has been ongoing for several months. A writ was issued against the Spoon FM’s Management and its owner, Mr. Stanton Witherspoon, on Friday morning, July 14, 2023.
“The Government of Liberia re-emphasizes that it respects the right to freedom of speech and of the press as it has always demonstrated, but is also cognizant of the fact that an individual feeling injured by the work of a media entity also has the right to seek redress under the laws of Liberia.
“The courts, which are an integral part of the Judicial Branch of the Government, are independent of the Executive Branch, which has got no part in this private legal saga.
“Meanwhile, the government is appalled by the irresponsible attempt of the standard bearer of the opposition Unity Party to score political capital out of a routine legal matter,” the Government release stated, noting that the Weah-led Administration press freedom record remains enviable, which has been repeatedly attested to by all international partners, including outgoing U.S. Ambassador Michael McCarthy.
“Attempts by the UP Standard Bearer and others to link the government to this purely private legal matter are simply ridiculous, to say the least,” Information Minister Ledgerhood J. Rennie said.
It can be recalled that President Weah in November 2022 sacked Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) Acting Director General Wilmot Smith, and his Deputy Director General for Statistics and Data Processing Alex M. Williams for “administrative reasons” after the duo had traded words on a local radio station that brought into disrepute the integrity of the 2022 Census. Williams had accused his boss Smith of “stealing” much needed funds meant to conduct the census and diverted the same to his personal use.
Mr. Williams would later leave the country to surface in the United States of America where he was regularly featured as a guest panelist on Spoon Talk. Williams used the opportunity to reveal more allegations against Smith and other officials of the Weah administration. Surprisingly, however, Williams would later make a complete 360-degree somersault by apologizing to Monrovia Mayor Jefferson Koijee for making statements against him that were untrue.
Wilmot Smith’s reaction
Providing some hint about his intentions to pursue a legal remedy to his alleged vilification by his subordinate, Mr. Smith in March of this year posted on Facebook the reasons why he is seeking recourse at the court.
“They capitalized on the gullibility of our society to carry out vicious lies, blackmails and baseless rumors to tarnish our hard-earned reputation that census money was stolen! The international covenant on civil and political rights says everyone has the right to hold opinion without interference, everyone shall have the right to freedom of speech/expression.
“However, the exercise of such right carries special duties and responsibilities” for respect of the rights and reputation of others, for the protection of national security, public order or public health or morals,” the former LISGIS boss stated at the time.