Radio for Peace, Democracy and Human Rights
a documentation by Dr Hansjoerg Biener
peace radio site
© PD Dr Hansjoerg Biener
created 0107, updated 0601
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Sierra Leone

In the early 1990´s the Liberian wars spilled over to Sierra Leone. Similarly, rebel armies and coups left the country devastated and many traumatised. The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service during these years maintained a small radio operation which was also heard internationally on their short wave 3315 kHz. In the late eighties and early nineties Sierra Leone was also home to an international Muslim broadcasting station. Since the mid-nineties there has been some private FM broadcasting. Since 1994 Radio France Internationale has had a FM relay in Freetown, while the Voice of America relied on rebroadcasting partners in the country. A Radio Democracy was established as a clandestine broadcast in 1997 by the Sierra Leonian government in exile in Guinea, following the military coup d'état of that year. It was later given independent status and is now broadcasting on FM in Sierra Leone.

Following the experience of Radio Minurca in the Central African Republic the UN decided to support its mission in Sierra Leone by a radio station. The station was to offer first hand information on the UN mission in an environment filled with rumours and politically driven news from all sides. The equipment of Radio Minurca had been donated to the United Nations by the Danish government for use in peacekeeping operations and was now transferred to Sierra Leone. On 22 May 2000 Radio UNAMSIL/103-FM broadcast its first test transmission in Freetown. In early November it was reported that the station had started broadcasting on 6140 kHz short wave, too. Radio UNAMSIL builds its reputation both on news and humanitarian information as well as on music. Airtime is given to the UN agencies as well as local and international NGOs, the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration and other agencies. On the other hand it has become quite clear that a station not only be informative but also entertaining to keep the audience.

On 22 April 2002, the Public Information Section of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, launched a series of radio programmes and public outreach efforts to sensitize the population about the elections scheduled for 14 May. "Election Watch" was broadcast Mondays through Fridays from 7:30 to 10:30 am to cover electoral activities around the country, supply public education on the issues and provide all political parties with an equal chance to air their platforms. Programming also devoted core time to electoral issues of concern to vulnerable groups (handicapped, internally displaced persons, women and children) and two presidential debates on 29 April and 3 May.
Radio UNAMSIL is heard on FM 103 MHz and regional short wave 6140 kHz. On election day 14 May international reception of Radio UNAMSIL providing live coverage from around the country was reported even from the US and Europe.

Radio UNAMSIL c/o UN Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone Headquarters,
Post Office Box 5, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Tel: 232-22-273-Tel 183/4/5, Fax -189

Efforts to Establish West Africa Democracy Radio
The Civil Society Movement (CSM) in Sierra Leone is campaigning to establish West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR) in the country, but in September 2002, the Independent Media Commission refused to grant a licence on the grounds of "national security" and "public safety". The station was meant to use shortwave transmitters in Sierra Leone to broadcast to Liberia and Guinea, but the IMC said Sierra Leone had been destabilised in the past by groups based in those countries. According to reports from Freetown, the government was originally sympathetic to the idea, but changed its stance after receiving a delegation from Liberia in August 2002. The delegation conveyed the strong opposition of Liberian President Charles Taylor, who has a record of trying to silence the independent media in his own country. WADR denies it would be a threat to stability, pointing out that it is a non-partisan, non-profit and non-government development-driven entity aimed at facilitating the integration and  development of the region. WADR is now looking at alternative options. General Secretary Robert Menard of Reporters Without Borders expressed concern at recent decisions taken by the Independent Media Commission  which he says restrict press freedom. (© Radio Netherlands Media Network 7 October 2002).

Two Citizen FM Radio Journalists attacked
On 26 July 2004, Alex James, station manager of Citizen FM, a privately-owned community radio station located in the east of the capital, Freetown, was attacked by a group of armed youth in the community. James was returning home from work when he was attacked by the youth, who robbed him of his jewellery, cash and two mobile phones. Three days later, on the night of 29 July, the same armed youth group assaulted Alie Bai Kamara, a Citizen FM reporter, and left him in a coma. The youths left Kamara with lacerated lips,
bruised arms and swollen eyes.
Further details:
In the annual worldwide index of press freedom published by Reporters Without Borders in October 2004, Sierra Leone was listed as no. 88 of 167 countries surveyed. The country shared this ranking with Guinea.

Sierra Leonean wins annual broadcasting award
A Sierra Leonean has been chosen for the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's (CBA) 2004 Elizabeth R Award for Exceptional Contribution to Public Service Broadcasting. Andrew Jeneke Kromah, Managing Director of SKYY 106.6 Freetown and KISS 104 Bo,  received the award in London on 2 September after delivering the 2004 Commonwealth Broadcasting Lecture in London. on the situation for commercial and independent broadcasters in Sierra Leone.  Elizabeth Smith, CBA Secretary-General, commended Mr Kromah for his courage in promoting press freedom. "During his ten years in radio broadcasting, Mr Kromah has fearlessly promoted free speech and democracy."
A. J. Kromah launched KISS 104 in 1993 in the southern town of Bo. During Sierra Leone's civil war from 1991 to 2002, he ran the country's first rural radio station. The station now broadcasts 20 hours a day to rural listeners in the north, south and east, using four major languages -- English, Krio, Mende and Temne. "There was a great need for a radio station in rural areas. People were affected by war but were not informed of developments. The Government was not broadcasting to rural areas and people were deprived of an opportunity to express their views on radio. This situation motivated me," Mr Kromah said. He started his second station, SKYY 106.6, in 1996. Based in Freetown, the capital, in the country's west, it started with eight hours of daily programming. Today, it airs 21 hours a day in English and Krio. Training his own journalists and broadcasters, Mr Kromah ensured that voices from all sides of the conflict were heard. His radio series 'Democracy Now' aims to educate illiterate people about voter rights.
(Commonwealth News and Information Service via Radio Netherlands Media Network 26. August 2004)

Listeners worldwide can now tune in to popular radio programs
produced and broadcast in Sierra Leone
Search for Common Ground (SFCG) has just made available three of its widely popular radio programs via the World Wide Web. Search for  Common Ground-Sierra Leone's Talking Drum Studio programs Atunda
Ayenda, Common Ground News Feature, and Paliment Bol At can now be heard in Krio at . The new site was created  in an effort to reach the Sierra Leonean Diaspora and others with an interest in Sierra Leone.
SFCG uses media as a tool for peace building and for promoting common ground approaches to contentious issues.  In Sierra Leone, SFCG established Talking Drum Studio in 2000 to stimulate national dialogue around critical issues. SFCG produces its radio programs using multi-ethnic teams of journalists and producers. The programs are then aired on various government, private, and community radio stations throughout Sierra Leone.
A description of the three programs follows:
SFCG-Sierra Leone launched Atunda Ayenda (which means "Lost and Found") in 2001. The radio soap opera has become the country's most popular radio program. With over 700 episodes produced, you can follow the characters as episodes deal with issues of corruption, decentralization, the security situation, youth, HIV/AIDS, and other relevant issues of national importance. In Sierra Leone Atunda Ayenda is aired Monday-Friday for 15 minutes each day, with a 30-minute review program on Saturdays.
Common Ground News Feature presents conflict issues from around the country and creates a public forum where those issues are discussed, to assist in the peace building, reconciliation, and reconstruction processes. SFCG-Sierra Leone staff conduct interviews on key issues getting opinions from individuals and groups, and provide balanced information on the topics. The show airs throughout Sierra Leone twice weekly on 18 radio stations.
The Independent Radio Network--a coalition of 10 radio stations--produces Paliment Bol At, a program that aims to improve government-civil society relations and increase government accountability. The program features dialogue between government officials and their communities, and informs citizens of their roles and responsibilities. Paliment Bol At focuses on issues of corruption to hold members of Parliament, and other elected officials, accountable to the public. Paliment Bol At is particularly important in an emerging democracy such as Sierra Leone.
(Press release 1 December 2004: New Website Launch

"Draconian" law used to muzzle critics

In Sierra Leone the Public Order Act has become a convenient tool for silencing critics. Paul Kamara, Sydney Pratt and Dennis Jones have been imprisoned on charges of "seditious libel" after writing articles about alleged government corruption.
The move has provoked outrage from the International Press Institute (IPI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), who are urging authorities to immediately release the journalists and drop the criminal charges against them. The IFEX members say press offences should be decriminalised and treated under civil law.
Pratt and Jones, who work for the weekly newspaper "Trumpet", were arrested in Freetown on 24 May 2005 after publishing an article headlined "Kabbah Mad over Carew Bribe Scandal." It cited an unnamed source who claimed that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was angered by earlier allegations that two senior cabinet ministers had accepted bribes.
Kamara, the editor and publisher of the newspaper "For Di People", is serving two concurrent two-year prison sentences for articles that were critical of the president. He was sentenced in October 2004. The charges stem from articles Kamara wrote in October 2003 which detailed a 1967 commission of inquiry linking Kabbah to fraud allegations.
Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established by the UN to document human rights abuses, has called on the government to repeal laws criminalizing seditious and defamatory libel and has recommended a moratorium on prosecutions under those laws. According to the commission's statute, the government is required to implement its recommendations faithfully and in a timely manner.

IFEX Members' Reports on Sierra Leone:
- CPJ:
- IPI:
- Reporters Without Borders:
- Human Rights Watch:
- Freedom House:

The Voice of the Future
In late 1997, a sixteen-year-old boy walked into Talking Drum Studio  in Monrovia, Liberia. He had an idea, and he needed Talking Drum Studio to make it happen. Talking Drum Studio, a project of Search for Common Ground, produces- and teaches others to produce-radio programs. Through news, feature stories, music and soap operas, talking Drum Studio aims to encourage dialogue and defuse violence.
But this boy had more than just a good idea. He had spirit, perspective and a powerful message. He and a small group of children had created the Children's Bureau of Information to give a voice to the children of Liberia, to help other children-their peers-recover from seven years of civil war. Before long, the Children's Bureau of Information and Talking Drum Studio were producing a weekly show titled Golden Kids News, which was aired by a local radio station. The impact was almost immediate: Children's voices were being broadcast, and people stopped to listen..
Golden Kids was such a hit that, before long, there were more people walking through the doors of Talking drum Studio. This time, it was the U.N. High Commission on Refugees asking whether we would produce another program. The result, Children's World, was a program "by and for children affected by war." This weekly program shared the experiences of children who were displaced by war and were trying to rebuild their lives. With adult support, the children of Children's World broadcast poetry, songs, storytelling, news and music to thousands of listeners every week.
We started a second Talking Drum Studio in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in April 2000. Golden Kids News was the first program we produced. The impact in Sierra Leone was even more striking than it had been in
Liberia. Soldiers in the U.N. peacekeeping mission, market people and taxi drivers all stopped by the studio to comment on the children's programs.
Five years later, thirteen radio stations in Sierra Leone are carrying Golden Kids News and are frequently asked to replay each program. A nationwide survey conducted in 2004 showed that over 88 percent of the respondents listened to Golden Kids News and almost all of them (98 percent) reported that the program changed their attitudes toward the role of children in Sierra Leone. Listeners also thought the program "made children aware of options besides warfare and contributed to the healing process after trauma."
In What's Going On, a film produced for the United Nations, Michael Douglas interviewed one of the Golden Kids reporters in Sierra Leone. This young man had been a former child soldier who joined Golden Kids
News as a way to put his horrific past behind him and to help the other estimated fifteen thousand child combatants. "I interviewed some of my colleagues to explain their stories," he explained to Mr.
Douglas, so the people in the community, they would be able to accept them back."
Search for Common Ground expanded children's radio programming to Angola, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo and is making its methodologies available to organizations around the world. The
remarkable story of Golden Kids New, Children's World and the Children Bureau of Information often surprises people. As a producer at Talking Drum Studio said: " Very often, adults believe that kids do not have any thoughts of their own. This is a fallacy. What we have discovered is that children do have their own fears and concerns, and, if given a chance, they express their thoughts very well."
The first time I watched a Children's World program being produced I Liberia, I was immediately impresses by the image of a small child with large headphones speaking into an even larger microphone: "My name is Brandy Crawford, and this is Children's World, a program produced by children for children affected by war." I suddenly
understood on a visceral level the power of the programming. I struggled to hold back tears as the innocence and purity of a child reaching out to other children in the face of horrible atrocities stirred my own heart: to compassion, beauty and hope, the very essence of being human, all of which will need to be cultivated if we are to move beyond war.
As for that sixteen-year-old boy who walked into Talking Drum Studio five years ago, he went on to become a Child Ambassador for UNICEF and is now on a full scholarship at the university. But the most important of his achievements must be that, while still only a child himself, he created a platform for children everywhere to voice their hopes and fears, and to teach us all something about the human spirit.

Philip M. Hellmich
Search for Common Ground (Brussels)
Rue Belliard 205 bte 13
B-1040 Brussels, Belgium
Phone: (+32 2) 736 7262 Fax: (+32 2) 732 3033
E-mail: search@s...

Voice of America launches FM service in Sierra Leone
October 13th, 2008 - The Patriotic Vanguard via Andy Sennitt
The Voice of America (VOA) has launched its own FM transmitter in Sierra Leone. The opening ceremony was attended by the Honourable Alhaji Alpha Kanu, Minister of Presidential Affairs, who said that VOA in Sierra Leone is one more endorsement testifying and demonstrating to the world, in a loud voice, that Sierra Leone has actually returned to normality.
He pointed out that the country has over thirty operating radio stations and counting, over sixty registered newspapers and counting. “Indeed,” he continued, “for our small size and population, one can safely say that we are among the nations with the highest number of radio stations per capita in the world. Today, that number has increased by the addition of no less a service than the renowned Voice of America English to Africa service on FM, which is now joining the BBC world Service and Radio France International.”
“On behalf of the President, I welcome the third member of the Big Three Worldwide Broadcasting Services. It is my pleasure to launch the Voice of America English to Africa Service VOA 102.4 FM broadcasting in Sierra Leone.”

Dr. Hansjörg Biener
c/o  Lehrstuhl Evangelische Religionspädagogik der Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg,
Regensburger Str. 160, DE-90478 Nürnberg

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