AYV News February 14, 2023
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) yesterday 13th February 2023, joined the world in observing World Radio Day.
World Radio Day is that day that UNESCO encourages the world to acknowledge and appreciate the role and importance of radio in our everyday lives, in the prevention of conflict and promoting peace and national cohesion, and the development of nations.
The year 2023 marks the Centenary of Radio in Africa.
President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, said Radio is still the dominant mass-medium in Africa in general; and Sierra Leone in particular, with the widest geographical reach, and the highest audiences.
“In Sierra Leone today, the new media- particularly Facebook- accounts for more than 500 to 700,000 users. Though this number is increasing it is still less than 10 percent of our population, whereas radio accounts for 80% of listenership in our population. It is evident that radio is still the most pervasive (and cheapest) medium of mass communication in Sierra Leone. According to the Independent Media Commission (IMC) there are 209 registered radio stations in the country, including community radio stations.” Nasralla stated.
He said as the theme for this year’s commemoration states: ‘Radio and Peace, SLAJ, the Independent Radio Network (IRN) and the IMC are working with donor partners to effectively use radio to educate and sensitize voters, provide credible information to the public, and ensure peaceful national elections before, during and after 24th June 2023.
He said SLAJ, IRN, IMC, and the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) are also putting together a number of training programs for radio journalists across the country on conflict and gender sensitive reporting, elections reporting, and strengthening the governance and management structures of community radio stations to focus on independent journalism in the interest of their communities.
“We are working together to position radio, especially community radios, in a way that it becomes the most credible source of information around the upcoming national elections. When abandoned or neglected or mismanaged, radio can indeed fuel conflict; so, we must invest in radio and use it as a tool to inform, educate, mobilise participation, prevent conflict and promote peace and national cohesion by ensuring the elections are free, fair, transparent, and credible” Nasralla said.
He added that over the last three decades, “we have seen the role radio has played in significant milestones in our sociopolitical history; during the rebel war, the restoration of democratic governance, reconciliation and peacebuilding era, the increase in democratic participation and the change of regime during peaceful elections, the Ebola outbreak, natural disasters, and the fight against COVID-19 amongst others. It should be noted that had it not been for the existence of radio the gains made by our nation over this period would have been an arduous task, if not impossible”.
However, Nasralla said generating adequate resources to ensure sustainability has always been a challenge for the media industry, particularly for community radios, adding that plans are currently underway to look into this concern to explore the possibilities of more government and private sector investment in the media.
Gender mainstreaming, he said is also an issue that they are concerned about as an Association, adding that efforts to support and encourage more women folks to be involved in radio are yielding positive results as women are now becoming owners of radio stations.
On this day, “we want to pay tribute to the numerous men and women, and young people who are serving in the radio industry amidst challenges of inadequate resources; yet you are committed to ensuring that your audiences are kept informed with credible information. We say kudos to you all and hope that you will continue to strive for excellence and keep serving diligently as you perform your professional role during the elections”. Sahid Nasralla concluded.
Giving a brief history of Radio in Sierra Leone, Joshua Nicol, Acting Head of Department (HoD), Journalism and Media Studies, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone said the country is the third country to establish Radio, in 1934; after South Africa in 1923; and Kenya in 1928.
He said Sir Alfred Hudson, the Sunshine Governor, introduced the Freetown Re-diffusion Service in May 1934; with the Railway Department responsible for the technical aspects, while the government’s Public Relations Department took care of its programming.
In 1955, he went on, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) was launched under the Department of Broadcasting in the Ministry of Information; with responsibility for both programming and engineering. He said the first Director of Broadcasting, was Leslie Perowne, who was on secondment from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The BBC’s Motto: ‘And Nation Shall Speak Peace unto Nation’ was adopted in 1927, and reflected the BBC’s ambitions and purpose at the time.
“The nativity play, ‘King for all the World’, written and produced by Thomas Decker, was the first programme broadcast in Krio in 1959. John Akar, the first Sierra Leonean Director of Broadcasting, was appointed in 1961. SLBS introduced School Broadcasting in 1962.
The Rediffusion Service was phased out in 1963 and replaced by transistor radios, sold by the Government of Sierra Leone on hire purchase”. Mr. Nicole stated.
He went on that in 1969, a team of Broadcasting Consultants from the Commonwealth Broadcasting Committee recommended the establishment of a Public Service Broadcaster. The government rejected the recommendation; saying it was premature.
He said: “In 1974, SLBS inaugurated a 250Kw Shortwave transmitter at Waterloo for national coverage. SLBS’ signals were now being picked up in Asia, Europe and the Americas. SLBS FM 99.9 was established as the Private Atlantic Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). ABC FM 94 was stationed at Bintumani Hotel, where Captain Valentine Strasser announced the Military coup of 29th April 1992. Earlier in 1988, the Wesleyan Church established the first private radio station in Sierra Leone- Radio Mankne in Makeni, broadcasting on Medium Wave. In 1995, the first National Workshop on Broadcasting Policy for Sierra Leone was organised by the Department of Information and Broadcasting. The Workshop recommended the establishment of a Statutory Independent Broadcasting Authority to regulate the industry”.
He said in his address in 1996 during the State Opening of Parliament, marking the return to Civilian Rule and Democracy, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah advocated for the establishment of Community Radios across Sierra Leone, adding that today, there are over 40 Community Radio stations in all the 16 districts of the country.
Joshua Nicole concluded that the Radio scape could be divided into four (4) broad categories, which are all present in Sierra Leone: state-controlled public radio; privately owned commercial radio; community-controlled radio; and international radio.