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OSIWA concerned about Radio Democracy’s survival

OSIWA concerned about Radio Democracy’s survival

They’ve just celebrated with pomp and pageantry their 18th birthday of broadcast service to the nation beginning from the dark days of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) interregnum in 1997, but challenging times await Radio Democracy 98.1 as they moved into their new studio building at New England Ville, Freetown.

And that is the concern of OSIWA (Open Society Initiative for West Africa), an organization that has been very supportive to the station in recent times.

Impressed by the growth of Radio Democracy into a national community radio station the Country Officer of OSIWA, Joe Hindovei Pemagbi, fears financial sustainability will remain a challenge if the station continues in this trend. To prepare for this challenge, he suggests ‘a well-coordinated pooled funding source that is not highly dependent on donors’ and encourages the Board and staff of Radio Democracy to map out funding strategies and development models that ensure the station’s sustainability in the long run to stand the temptation to compromise their values.

“Nationals and donors should provide equipment and technological support coupled with comprehensive technical training in partnership with the Mass Communications department of the University of Sierra Leone to make the station robust even in changing and challenging environments,” he further suggests.

Speaking at the formal opening ceremony of Radio Democracy’s new studio building at New England Ville, Freetown, on Tuesday 7th July 2015, Pemagbi says OSIWA sees radio as a powerful source for empowerment, especially for marginalized groups in society such as Persons with Disability (PWDs), youth and the women, and rural and deprived communities.

Over the years, he observes, Radio Democracy has graduated into a group or a community of interests, including the broad participation by community members- often on a volunteer basis- and the ownership and control of the station by citizens through a board of governors that is representative of the community and responsive to the diversity of its needs.

He says, quoting William Siemering (President of Developing Radio Partners and founding member of National Public Radio’s Board of Directors), like a vaccine capable of reducing preventable diseases, community radios such as Radio Democracy are “a simple, effective solution” to achieve development goals, to prevent “fragile states from becoming failed states,” and also to help people celebrate their own culture.

“That is the crucial role that Radio Democracy plays in our democracy. Let us all therefore as Sierra Leoneans and friends of Sierra Leone support this station to develop more innovative programs that will help make the station self-reliant, more efficient and more productive,” appeals Pemagbi.

In addition, he says for Radio Democracy to remain independent and objective, ‘the station should continue to have a Board that reflects the diversity of the community, defines the mission, sets policies that guide the programmatic, financial and administrative operations of the station’.

“Radio Democracy must establish appropriate structures and processes to identify community and national needs and interests that inform programming and institutional decisions and constantly assess the effectiveness of the programming,” says Pemagbi.

Furthermore, because of the station’s track record over the years, he says Radio Democracy must ensure innovative and broad participation in programming that adds value to the media landscape and trigger positive change through policies and laws, not just simply relaying information to the public.

Moreover, Pemagbi believes Radio Democracy has earned the trust and confidence of so many listeners at home and abroad and therefore the Board and management of the station must ensure that the programs are well researched, reliable/accurate, and independent of all sorts of influences be they political, regional, and religious or even gender.

OSIWA’s support to Radio Democracy started about three years ago with the giving of a grant that funded the provision of training for their reporters, to increase broadcast coverage and produce programs that support and promote advocacy for increased women’s and youth participation, whilst furthering accountable leadership and governance.

Named ‘Elecktion Tem’ (Elections Time), the project was to provide independent and alternative radio programming with enhanced content and quality, reaching wider segments of the Sierra Leonean population and positively impact on the already polarized media landscape. The project was also expected to support free and fair political processes that will strengthen Sierra Leone’s democracy especially as the elections approached.

According to Pemagbi, about 60% of that project’s objectives were met.

Furthermore, OSIWA committed additional resources to make the station’s programs accessible to Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora via online relay of Radio Democracy’s flagship program- ‘Gud Morning Salone’ (Good Morning Sierra Leone).

Also OSIWA provided additional support to ensure that the general public and listeners participate and contribute in the development and production of programs dealing with important current affairs and other important news through listeners’ feedback.

“The rationale is that the station creates space for pro-active citizen journalism and engagement stimulating an active citizenry, through the development of a website which will enable live streaming of flagship programs; uploading and archiving audio files of past programs; public contribution via comments and questions; and access to other information and news items,” notes Pegmabi.

Currently, according to Pemagbi, there’s a third grant for Radio Democracy which will hopefully take the station to Makeni, Bo and Kenema ‘because we believe that every part of Sierra Leone deserves to benefit from the services of the station’. The package includes transmitters and studio equipment.

“All of this is happening because we at OSIWA believe that Access to information is the oxygen for a democratic society with constitutional imperatives of openness, transparency and accountability and as such, a vital issue for Sierra Leone. Radio provides another unique platform for the public to be informed,” explains Pemagbi.

For OSIWA, he continues, it is about “reaching powerless and voiceless persons and communities and giving them a voice”.

Established 18 years ago, Radio Democracy was meant to provide an alternative voice to the daily dose of the AFRC’s propaganda that dominated Sierra Leone during the military interregnum. Today, the station has transformed into one that regularly educates, entertains and empowers citizens through well-defined messages on democracy, human rights, civic responsibilities and accountable governance.

In appreciation of OSIWA’s support the management of the radio station named their new studio building Open Society Studio.

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

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