LIBERIA: Star Radio, banned by Taylor, returns to airwaves

MONROVIA, 26 May 2005 (IRIN) - Star Radio, an internationally-sponsored independent radio station that was shut down by former president Charles Taylor, returned to Liberia's airwaves this week after a five-year absence.

Star Radio started broadcasting in 1997 with the aim of providing a voice for all Liberians in the run-up to elections that brought Taylor to power halfway through the country's 14-year civil war.

It soon established itself as the primary source of independent and unbiased information for Liberians, but in 2000 Star Radio was taken off the air for allegedly transmitting hate messages against Taylor's government.

After a five-year absence, Star Radio can now be heard on FM for 17 hours a day in the area around the capital Monrovia.

Residents in rural Liberia can listen to two hours of programmes per day broadcast on short wave.

Many ordinary Liberians welcomed the return of the popular radio station, which is backed by the Swiss-based Hirondelle Foundation.

"Star has a reputation for credibility and accurate reporting in Liberia," Derek Sherman, a high school student, told IRIN by telephone from Taylor's former heartland Gbarnga.

"Its resumption of operations, especially on the short-wave frequency will bridge the information gap in Gbarnga and other rural parts where we only listen to community radio, which are not properly equipped and whose staff are not sufficiently trained," he added.

During the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections on 11 October, Star Radio will broadcast voter education programmes as well as quizzing the multitude of candidates.

"We will strive to meet the expectation of the general public by broadcasting balanced news and programmes," station manager James Morlu told IRIN on Wednesday afternoon as the first transmission began.

Gyude Bryant, the head of the broad-based transitional government that took over after Taylor was forced into exile as part of an August 2003 peace deal, lifted the ban on Star Radio eighteen months ago.

However, Morlu said that funding problems had delayed the reopening of the radio station until this week.

"Now we have secured funding from the European Union and some of its member countries like the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway among others," he said.

Robin White, the retired editor of the BBC World Service for Africa, has been brought in to help launch Star Radio's news programmes.

Eugene Nagbe, a supporter of Taylor during the civil war who is now Minister for Post and Telecommunications, welcomed the radio
station's return to the air.

"From all records available at the ministry, there was no justification for the station closure by the government then and it was closed down without investigation," he said.

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