Muctaru's Blog

I am Muctaru Wurie from Freetown, Sierra Leone. I blog on a variety of subject from my homeland and most of my post feature well researched stories I do.

Posts Tagged ‘Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation

Sierra Leone New Media Experiment

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For a very long time in the history of broadcasting in Sierra Leone, the nation’s most consistent and widely circulated broadcasting corporation – the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Services (SLBS) has been playing a key role in the dissemination of information across the country. The SLBS which was created by the colonial government in 1934 making it the earliest English language radio broadcaster service in colonial West Africa is a very vital source of information not only in the urban areas but also to the remote parts of the country. Broadcasting in almost all the tribal languages of Sierra Leone, the SLBS has managed to reach to all tribes and the mostly uneducated provincial people. Despite many of its shortcomings, the SLBS has been playing a key role in broadcasting in Sierra Leone and many of the nation’s best broadcasters received their training at SLBS. But all through these years until April, 2010, the SLBS was basically the government’s mouth piece. It scarcely reflects any other opinion save that of the government in power.

Over the years, the significance of the national broadcaster that was only representing the government’s viewpoint was questioned by many including western donors to Sierra Leone. Few years of workshops, seminars, consultations and parliamentary debate led to the passing of the SLBC Act of 2009. The importance of the Act is that it gave authority for the establishment of an autonomous Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). Information Minister I B Kargbo hailed the move asserting that Sierra Leone would be the first country in the West African region to have an independent national broadcasting corporation devoid of political control as is the case in South Africa. Minister Kargbo therefore called on all and sundry in the media profession, including the private sector, to support the corporation has already commenced it mandate this April. It could be recalled that before the bill was first ratified in August 2009, concerns such as the appointment of the Director General, that was ambiguous were raised by the executive of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists SLAJ and other civil society organisations. After the amendment, that portion of the bill now reads in part that the corporation shall have a Director General who shall be nominated by the Advisory Board and appointed by the President but subject to approval by parliament and may be reappointed for a second term.

Because of the critical significance of the new SLBC in the political landscape of Sierra Leone, the formation of the new corporation has not only garnered interest from the IMC, SLAJ and other civil society organisations. It has also attracted interest from the diplomatic community and the United Nations, which by the way has already incorporated it radio station into the new SLBC. Under the provisions of the Act, the Radio UN and the old SLBS will merge together under a three months transitional period and staffs of both media institutions will have to re-apply back and if they fit into the organogram of the new SLBC, then they will be re-employed.

Political analysts have already predicted that the SLBC is going to play a very crucial role in the next elections, in the absence of political radio stations which were shut down by the Vice President in May, 2008. The SLBC with its unique nationwide reach and diversity of tribal language broadcast is going to be a crucial conduit for the propaganda machine of the various political parties and National Election Commission (NEC).

The SLBC is still in it initial stage and any early judgement will be misleading but after over a month of the practical start of the SLBC, stakeholders are already making their assessments. Addressing an IMC Workshop on the SLBC recently, British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Ian Hughes personally commended the President in transforming the national broadcasting station to a public corporation which had been under the firm grip of the government of the day. Commissioner Hughes however believes that the management and staff are key to the success of SLBC as they should use; “Wisdom, foresight, courage, and energy in order to maintain the standard of the corporation.”

Director General of Ghana Broadcasting Corporation Mr. William Dako said the SLBC should be allowed to genuinely disseminate accurate information to its citizens without any form of bias or favouritism. He said the Management should see to it that, ethnic members country wide have access to the station and their views are heard. He however made it categorically clear that the existence of any radio station, stand on four major pillars which are; Independence, Programme, Funding, and generally Ownership by the public.

UN consultant Gregory Knity hailed the work of the new SLBC but cautioned that the SLBC should not totally depend on government. Knity also warned the corporation to discourage financial and material assistance from political parties and ethnic groups, as they can use it as a strategy, to have their way in to the corporation.

He however warned the management to be accountable and regularly pay salaries as it would enhance the ability to have firm control over the staff and the corporation, as a whole.

Assessing the SLBC, the vociferous SLAJ president Umaru Fofanah told me that although it will be unfair to assess the SLBC just over one month of operation. SLAJ is concerned with the workload of the corporation, he also raised a point that some radio phone-in contributors have cited that although Radio UN and SLBC are now streamlining their programmes schedules they still seem more like different radio stations; “The two former radio stations are more or less still broadcasting separately, and they should be merging together at this time. In terms of openness, they are doing well at the moment bringing in opposition and civil society groups voices to challenge government policies” he said. He also fervidly criticized the Information Minister for removing the assets of Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service SLBS and giving them to National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) instead of passing them on to the new SLBC.

“It was a brilliant idea to transform SLBS and UN Radio into a Corporation making Sierra Leone the second country in Africa to do so, but not to give them the assets were very wrong and intend to destroy the fabrics of the Corporation,” the SLAJ head complained.

Addressing his colleague journalists on World Press Freedom Day He however praised the incumbent government for making the bold move to set up the SLBC: “There may be teething problems in achieving what the SLBC should achieve but we are heartened by the new status and wish to appeal to all to make it work in the interest of our country. In particular, we are gravely concerned, I repeat, gravely concerned, that the Ministry of Information has written to the Corporation denying its ownership of all its transmission sites throughout the country, and its building at New England which currently houses Njala University. This is not just a breach of the SLBC Act, but an apparent attempt at stifle the Corporation’s independence even before it kicks off in earnest”.

Umaru said if SLBC should operate properly, they need all these assets because at Leicester Peak, there are many other masts owned by other radio stations as well as communication companies that are paying rent, these monies he said would come in handy to SLBC because the support from the government will never be enough to run the Corporation.

The SLAJ President said the Ministry is doing it deliberately to stifle the Corporation because it seems they never wanted SLBC so they are finding other ways to destroy them.

He said SLAJ in collaboration with other stakeholders will use all available means to overturn that decision.

Charles Mambu, Director for Civil Society Coalition and Human Right Activist in Sierra Leone who is already one of the beneficiaries of the new efforts by SLBC to bring in opposition voices also lauded the effort by the government and international donors and told me that there are positive signs but more time is needed to truly analyse the direction of the new corporation. He said civil society will have to carefully assess the Act and the operation of the SLBC in future to know whether it was going in the right direction. “We want to see much more dynamic programming and issues raise on the SLBC now, we also will like to assess the performance of the board and that of the management as directed by the Act. I think more importantly the SLBC need our support and the support of every Sierra Leonean because it is our own property now which we can proudly claim and expect to reflect our general viewpoints,” Charles Mambu said.

What does the people in the driving seat at the SLBC make of their new found project? Adam Sayo Kamara, Director of Radio, SLBC has been working at their since 1972 and is very keen on his new challenge. He said that the challenges are immense, but they are coping. “Whenever you are undergoing transformations, there is bound to be huge problems. There are hiccups because we are merging with UN Radio that have more sophisticated equipment than us. Actually things are not running smooth because we are not running operations under the same roof, but we are expecting them to join us after the three months,” said Kamara.

He acknowledge that they are not performing their full role as mandated by the Act, blaming that on a ‘skeleton staff’ of about 205 from both institutions. He boasted that there is now a feeling of freedom to operate and they are prepared to do their work as mandated by the Act. Sayo Kamara noted they have already opened up as suggested by the airing of opposition voices and the inclusion of much more viewpoints in the daily news programmes. “We cannot say we are free because no media institution anywhere in the world can say it’s completely free, but we are trying to do our work in a professional manner. Even the BBC isn’t totally free,” he said.

The board which is headed by former Information Minister, Professor Septimus Kai Kai also comprise trustees from SLAJ and the Civil Society have not started meeting up till now because of problems in appointing other board members.

Other staffs at the SLBC who preferred anonymity criticised the slow start of the board saying that they are suppose to be meeting now and planning the future of staffs whose future hang in balance. One staff told me, “I have been working at the SLBS for over 10 years and now all of a sudden I do not know what my future is. I want to know what the board have decided to do with our future, but they are still playing politics with us and the delay in the formation and commencement of the board’s operation is all politics. They should think twice and better do something for us,” he grumbled.

The transitional Management Team of the SLBC has stated that staffs that are going to be redundant will be provided with skills training under the UN peace building fund to make them useful in society, but the impression SierraEye got in the corridors of the SLBC building at New England Ville is that of uncertainty by many who fear they will lose their jobs.

The majority of Sierra Leoneans however are in a different mood; many are upbeat about the prospect of the SLBC in truly being a responsible, independent and objective media institution that will reflect the variety of view point across the country.

Written by Muctaru Wurie

September 7, 2010 at 11:49 am