“Relentless Attack on Press Freedom Must End” – JNB -But Govt. Says It’s Not Party to Defamation Lawsuit

MONROVIA: Following the outbreak of reports that Spoon Communications Network, which includes Spoon FM, Fabric FM, Super FM and their online TV, had been forcibly shut down in Monrovia early Friday morning upon court orders, Unity Party Standard Bearer Joseph Nyuma Boakai says Liberians are now witnessing a troubling pattern of the Weah administration suppressing the independent press through kakistocratic means, noting, “the relentless attack on press freedom must end”. However, the Government of Liberia has categorically stated that it was never a part of the lawsuit that was filed by former LISGIS boss Wilmot Smith against Spoon Network owner Stanton Witherspoon for defamation of character.

Reacting swiftly to the closure of the media network, Ambassador Boakai said the act represents the government of Liberia’s inability to tolerate dissenting opinions, while pro-regime media outlets known for spreading hate messages are given free rein.

“Unfortunately, this incident is not an isolated one, as Punch FM and Roots FM have also experienced similar attacks. These media organizations, dedicated to maintaining their independence, have steadfastly refused to yield to the coercive demands of the Weah government. It is crucial that this relentless assault on press freedom comes to an end since an independent press serves as a cornerstone of a thriving democracy.

“We have no doubt the judiciary also upholds its independence and resists being used as a mere pawn in this political chess game. When the institution entrusted with the responsibility of impartial arbitration, the very essence of justice, allows itself to be manipulated for political gain, it undermines the fundamental rights of citizens. Such actions perpetuate a toxic democratic atmosphere, eroding the principles that underpin a well-functioning society,” former Vice President Boakai lamented.

Government Reacts Sharply

However, reacting to the scathing indictment from the Unity Party Standard Bearer, the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Information has clarified that it is not a party to the lawsuit brought against the Management of the Spoon Network, which on Friday, July 14 resulted in the closure of the station’s premises in Monrovia.

“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.

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 where he made deeply revealing allegations against Smith and other officials of the Weah administration. Surprisingly, Williams made a complete 360-degree somersault by apologizing to Monrovia Mayor Jefferson Koijee for making statements against him that were untrue.

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.

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