Star Radio silenced on shortwave in Liberia

The Liberian president, Charles Taylor (pictured), has refused to renew the shortwave broadcast licence of Star Radio, a news and current affairs station operated by a Swiss group based in Lausanne.

This content was published on February 21, 2000 - 19:41

The Liberian president, Charles Taylor (pictured), has refused to renew the shortwave broadcast licence of Star Radio, a news and current affairs station operated by a Lausanne-based group. The move is being seen as an attempt to silence competition to Taylor's own radio voice in outlying areas.

Star Radio began in Monrovia in July 1997 with the goal of supplying objective news and information to Liberians following seven years of civil war. The station was set up by the Swiss Hirondelle Foundation, a Lausanne-based group of journalists who aim to provide independent information to civilian populations in the aftermath of military conflict.

The Star Radio project is jointly funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), and the Netherlands Development Agency (NEDA).

Initially, a staff of locally-recruited journalists broadcast on FM to the greater Monrovia area, as well as on shortwave to the outlying parts of Liberia in a total of 17 languages. But in October 1998, the shortwave licence was withdrawn by the government, leaving only the FM outlet. The Liberian president, Charles Taylor, has now confirmed that he does not want Star Radio's shortwave operations to be reactivated.

According to Taylor, Star Radio-FM may continue, because press freedom has been restored in Monrovia, whereas this is not true of the outlying areas. At least officially, there are fears that Star Radio could unduly influence public opinion in those remote areas that rely heavily on shortwave for news and information.

But in an interview with Swiss Radio International, Star Radio's consultant in Monrovia, Greg Kintz, said it is widely believed that by blocking the station's shortwave activities, Taylor is actually trying to eliminate competition to his own virtual monopoly on information in the Liberian hinterlands, which constitute his power-base.

Star Radio enjoys a great deal of popularity in Monrovia, where the potential audience is 400,000. Support for the reinstatement of the station's shortwave licence is mounting in the capital, where it is being mobilized by the private Catholic Justice and Peace Commission.

Kintz says the issue is also being taken up at the diplomatic level by the three funding countries, and that further development co-operation agreements will be linked to it.

But a shortwave licence is not Star Radio's only concern; it is also facing a financial crisis. And unless further funding is forthcoming very soon, the station will run of out money by the end of February.

Nevertheless, there is optimism that a grant from the Swedish government will arrive in time to permit operations to continue.

By Bob Zanotti

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