Conceptualizing SLBC’s ‘My Voice, Your Voice’ Idea
I am a journalist by profession, having worked for several newspapers down town. When I was pursuing my academic work at the University of Sierra Leone, I was interested in looking at how the media could help in a nation’s development agenda. In 2008, I wrote a thesis work on the media and decentralization. I realized that if the decentralization process was to be success and effective in a post war country like Sierra Leone, the media has a primary role of informing and educating people on the concept of decentralization and good governance. In 2010, I looked at freedom of information and good governance, with Sierra Leone taken as a case study.
Generally speaking, the role of the media in the maintenance of democracy and good governance could not be overstated, especially from the perspective of it (media) ensuring the maintenance of a country’s democratic credentials. The media in Sierra Leone has largely contributed to the country’s socio economic and political development. From the political standpoint, the media has largely helped in shaping people’s views and pattern of casting their political votes. The 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections are good examples of how the media helped in shaping people’s voting pattern.
Towards the 2007 elections, we saw the emergence of critical media programs. These programs in a way, helped in bringing down the political chances of Solomon Berewa. Berewa was not only literally forced on people, he was also not liked and he was no PR material.
The media, I have argued, accounted in destroying the chances of Pa Berewa. The late Olu Gordon, David Tam Baryoh of ‘Monologue fame’ Paul Kamara and Phillip Neville among others used their mighty pens professionally in exposing the ills of society, thus bringing about the change that we were looking for at the time. Pa Berewa was not only difficult to market from a public relations viewpoint, but he was also vindictive and that even saw Charles Margai democratically ganging up against the SLPP.
The media’s role in conflict resolution could not be downplayed too. We saw how the media in Sierra Leone took a position in contributing to the end of a decade long civil war in Sierra Leone. We know also the crucial role played by Radio Democracy, Standard Times among other media outlets during the trying days of the AFRC. The childish NPRC boys were booted out of power as a result of the critical position taken by the media. They killed extra judicially-Bambay Kamara et el people, including that palm win tapper, they introduced the ‘Saturday cleaning’, among others but when the time came, they were kicked out.
The Rwandan situation in terms of how the media contributed to that country’s genocide is definitely a bad example. It shows however that the media can make or destroy a nation. Radio is by far the most effective method of communication in Africa. Radio has the ability to help effect changes in knowledge, attitude, and behaviour, particularly in conflict-ridden areas where people are often especially receptive to information presented in entertaining form. (http://radiopeaceafrica.org/index)
And it is with this (media’s role) in mind that we have continued to see some level of development in terms of ensuring media pluralism and in ensuring an independent media. We have made tremendous progress over the years in sustaining the democracy we all fought for. I am particularly impressed with the kind of media-government relationship we are seeing today under the Koroma’s Presidency. Not one of suspicion anymore! Not only have we witnessed the appointment of several media practitioners into the governance of the state, but we have also never witnessed the jailing or even arrest of any media practitioner under this government. Inasmuch as we have also seen more critical pen pushers in recent time, we have also seen an improved media-government relationship.
No wonder the decision by government to make the then only state broadcaster, the SLBS AT THE TIME, into a Corporation, now known as the SIERRA LEONE BROADCASTING CORPORATION. When the state broadcaster was transformed into a corporation over a year ago, the expectations from the general public were so high that some of us were left to wonder whether all of these expectations were going to be realized within a timeframe of a year or two. Professor Septimus Kaikai once said that “…If people are expecting miracles to happen overnight that will not happen…” (http://www.visitsierraleone.org/Sierra-Leone-News/daily/Sierra-Leone-s-new-public-broadcasting-corporation.html)
I must also commend the government of President Koroma for even having the courage in making the SLBC a corporation. This is history in itself especially in the West African sub region for a government to take its hands off a state broadcaster. This is great and indeed commendable on the part of government and especially the Ministry of Information for advising the President on the issue. Today an opposition party can utilize the service of the SLBC to criticize a performing government.
I am impressed with the professional manner some of the broadcasters having been performing their duties. I can’t hesitate to state that the SLBC should not afford to let go people like Val, Asmieu Bah, Sheku Sumilia, Salmata Bah and even the sweet voice of Hawa Barrie. These people are so exceptional in performing their duties to the point, that I can only commend them for the national sacrifice they are making to building and sustaining the institutions that could make us become the envy of West Africa someday. When the name of Professor Septimus Kaikai was fist rumored as the potential Chairman for the Board of trustee, I took it myself to support him in the papers. The workforce at the SLBC started from a positive note, with the introduction of series of educative programs.
Despite these developments, there is need for a review on what has been happening with SLBC. Only recently, the hardworking Minister of Information and Communication, Kothor IB Kargbo was quoted by Concord Times newspaper to have expressed government’s concern that they (government) can’t continue meeting the needs of the SLBC at all time, especially in terms of payment of salaries. I definitely agree with the Minister, giving the fact that government should not been seen still running the affairs of SLBC when it has been made a corporation. When you talk about independence, it also means the SLBC should be able to cater for its staff, they should not be seen running to government to be fixing up their problems every other day. SLBC must be getting funding from the UN Peace building Fund. It has also been running problems and in the process making money. Professor Kaikai once expressed hope that the SLBC will not need government funding.
The idea of ‘my voice…your voice’ should not be allowed to die down like that. The SLBC has a lot in reaching the people down at Kroobay, going down to Bonthe Island, reaching people behind Krubola in Kabala and getting their views on national issues. We need to know what pour children in Pujehun, Kailahun and Makeni. We need more programs on the country’s agriculture potential, on the fish industry and even the mining sector. These are trying moments for the SLBC. It is only with these and many more, that we can sure of getting the ‘my voice our voice ‘idea into play.
The question comes down to leadership. There should be strong leadership so as to see the stations-TV and Radio making steady progress. I know the Director-General as a man with determination and courage but he should now go beyond what we are seeing in terms of building up staff morale, in terms of exploring more opportunities for them like encouraging them to go on study torus in others countries that have transformed their state broadcasters. There is need for regular and frequent training opportunities for those news anchors both in and out of the country. I think the central government has done so much that the SLBC should now been seen taking over itself. What about getting some program in our local languages…? Just a suggestion anyway.
Again, when we talk of SLBC, we should not only limit our attention to television, but it encompasses the radio station. My first problem here is national coverage. I think the SLBC, both radio and TV should work towards getting national coverage if we are to fully appreciate their role in the country’s development. Radio is by far the most important medium for news and public information in Sierra Leone. A total of 77% of the population of Sierra Leone (3.8 million) are radio listeners according to a 2008 survey jointly commissioned by the Swiss based development NGO, Foundation Hirondelle, and UNICEF. (http://www.sl.undp.org/slbc.htm).
The UN Radio, which was established about 2000, was Sierra Leone’s only national broadcaster, reaching nearly every community in the country with 24-hour-a-day programming. (http://www.sl.undp.org/slbc.htm). A good number of our people can’t boast of getting the airwaves of SLBC, no wonder that community radio stations have today made the greatest impact in terms of informing and educating people on national issues. That said, with people like Val, Asmieu et el at SLBC, we are sure of receiving more goodies from them…Keep it up guys, you are just great. Happy weekend as I leave for Makeni this morning.
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