Sierra Leone Media Environment

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Media Environment and Regulation in Sierra Leone

Radio is the most important source of news and entertainment for the citizens of this poor country with a limited electrical grid. There are some 46 local and regional radio stations, compared to only seven broadcast TV stations.

Sierra Leone's radio broadcast industry has blossomed since the end of the 11-year civil war in 2002. Even though the state-run Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service and the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone radio station (UNAMIL) still lead the national market, dozens of smaller regional and community-based radio stations have emerged. The number of newspapers has also grown significantly, with 58 newspapers currently registered with the Independent Media Commission (IMC). But most papers have minimal circulations; the press is limited by a lack of modern equipment, technical capabilities or solid business management. [1] [2]

The liberalization of the broadcast market, and the creation of a new Independent Media Commission (IMC) in 2000 to oversee licensing, have infused the radio broadcast market with confidence. The previous state agency controlling broadcasting licenses was heavily influenced by the president and the ruling party. In a recent display of its independence, the IMC pulled the licenses of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC)’s radio station, the Rising Sun, and that of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, Radio Unity. The stations’ closure was on the grounds that their broadcasts were hostile to peace and security. [3]

Another recent and important reform was the transformation of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service into a public service broadcaster. The Public Communications Act, passed by parliament and assented by President Komora in late 2009, created the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). UNAMIL, which has been operating since 1991, will transfer its assets to the new information outlet.

According to the 2008 InterMedia national survey of Sierra Leone, the UNAMIL station was the most popular radio outlet nationally, followed by the SLBS. In 2010, the SLBC is expected to begin broadcasting two radio stations, one dedicated to providing political analysis and a second station broadcasting social and cultural programs. [4]

After the signing of the 2002 peace agreement, Sierra Leone saw an influx of media development programs, many of which focused on training journalists and media practitioners. These projects were instrumental in rebuilding Sierra Leone's media industry after an estimated 70 percent of trained media professional fled the country during the civil war. [5] Key projects included the Radio Netherlands’ Initiative for Mobile Training for Community Radio (Informotrac, http://www.informotrac.org/index.php) the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression’s (CJFE, http://www.cjfe.org/eng/projects/projects.html) newspaper printing project and the Thomson Foundation’s (http://www.thomsonfoundation.org/) media training and environmental workshops for regional and central staff of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service.

The domestic Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), an umbrella body for practicing journalists, runs training workshops when funds are available. Key funders for media development in post-civil war Sierra Leone have been USAID, the UK’s Department for International Development, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA). Despite these efforts, local media practitioners still suffer from corruption, self-censorship and politicized and inaccurate reporting. [6]

The government's general attitude towards the press has improved in recent years and the number of attacks on journalist has declined. However, there have been several incidents perpetuated by both public entities and extralegal groups. The retention of past legislation, such as the Public Order Act of 1965 that criminalizes libel, also threatens media freedom in practice. For example, in August 2008, polices forces attacked eight journalists at a State House Function. After authorities refused to implement recommendations to compensate the journalists, the SLAJ imposed a media blackout on the activities of the police. The blackout ended after Vice President Sam Sumana, the chairman of the police council, assumed responsibility for the attack and promised compensation for the journalists.

In February 2009, four women journalists were kidnapped in the eastern city of Kenema after conducting a series of joint interviews with the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation. On 6 February members of a women's secret society that practices FGM kidnapped the women and forced the journalist Manjama Balama-Samba to walk through the city's streets unclothed. Incidents such as this intimidate journalists, possibly leading to self-censorship in regards to controversial topics. [7]

Other attacks include the destruction and theft of equipment owned by the Voice of the Peninsular community radio station; supporters of the ruling APC party ransacked Radio Unity, the radio station aligned with the opposition SLPP. [8] Such events prompted media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres to rank Sierra Leone 115th out of 175 countries. [9] Similarly, Freedom House, a human rights advocacy group, categorizes Sierra Leone as only "partly free" even though the country's last round of elections in 2007 was deemed free and fair.

Sierra Leone's history of corruption is another important factor to take into consideration. In 2000, the Parliament passed the first Anti-Corruption Act establishing the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), but prior to 2007 the ACC lacked independence and was only able to obtain 38 convictions. With the election of President Ernest Koroma in 2007, new policies have been enacted in an effort to improve transparency in the conduct of cabinet ministers. Koroma also presided over the passage of a new Anti-Corruption Act in September 2008, which eliminated the need for the approval of corruption prosecutions by the minister of justice and the attorney general.

Due to these high profile efforts, Sierra Leone's ranking in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index improved 12 positions from the previous year. However, the country was still only ranked 146th out of 180 countries. [10] Similarly, Sierra Leone is ranked 148th out of 183 countries in the World Bank's Doing Business Index and 22nd out of 46 countries within the Sub-Saharan Africa region. [11]

 


 

 [1] “Facts & Figures”. Independent Media Commission. Freetown, Sierra Leone. Accessed January 2010. http://www.imc-sl.org/FactsFigures/tabid/56/Default.aspx.

[2] “Media Sustainability Index: Sierra Leone”. International Research Exchanges Board (IREX). Washington, D.C. Accessed January 2010. http://www.irex.org/programs/MSI_Africa/20067/2007/MSI07_sierra-leone.pdf.

[3] “Statement by the Independent Media Commission (IMC) on the issue of the suspension of the two political party stations”. Sierra Leone News. 8 July 2009. Accessed January 2010. http://www.thesierraleonenews.com/information/267-statement-by-the-independent-media-commission-imc-on-the-issue-of-the-suspension-of-the-two-political-party-radio-stations.

[4] “President Koroma Assents Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation Act”. Cotton Tree News. Fondation Hiradelle. Accessed January 2010.

[5] Tam-Baryoh, David. “African Media Development Initiative: Sierra Leone”. BBC World Trust. http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/trust/researchlearning/story/2006/12/061204_amdi_sierraleone.shtml.

[6] “Map of Freedom 2009: Sierra Leone”. Freedom House. Washington, D.C. Accessed January 2010. http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=22&year=2009&country=7699. And “Media Sustainability Index 2008: Sierra Leone”. International Research and Exchanges Board. Washington, D.C. Accessed January 2010. http://www.irex.org/programs/MSI_Africa/2008/sierra_leone.asp.

[7] “Four women journalists kidnapped, one subjected to public humiliation, by supporters of female genital mutilation”. Reporters Sans Frontieres. Paris, France. 10 February 2009. Accessed January 2010. http://www.rsf.org/Four-women-journalists-kidnapped.html.

[8] “Map of Freedom 2009”.

[9] “Press Freedom Index 2009”. Reporters Sans Frontieres. Paris, France. Accessed January 2009. http://www.rsf.org/en-classement1003-2009.html.

[10] “Corruption Perceptions Index: Sierra Leone”. Transparency International. Berlin, Germany. Accessed January 2010. http://www.transparency.org/regional_pages/africa_middle_east/sub_saharan_africa/national_chapters#sierraleone.

[11] “Sierra Leone”. Doing Business: Measuring Business Regulations. World Bank Group. Washington, DC. Accessed January 2010. http://www.doingbusiness.org/ExploreEconomies/?economyid=166.