The struggle for independent radio

During the civil war in Sierra Leone tens of thousands were killed and a third of the population was displaced. In 2001, Andrew Kromah founded a network of independent community radio stations. During the civil war, there were no radios to communicate about the cruelties and injustices of the war so he set up a radio station to be able to inform people were for example health facilities were. The stations also played an important role in leading the process for demobilising and disarming the forces. Partnering with UN Peacekeepers, the radio was used to inform the armed forces about why they should disarm, and how and where they could do so.

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The documentary “Let Us Talk” is a story about the role of community radio in Sierra Leone and how it remains being important in reporting social injustice and holding government and authorities accountable.

Andrew Kromah explains the important role of community radio in Sierra Leone today:

“This story is about a community or a country that needs independent players among the polarised politicians. “

“Giving a voice to the voiceless” is a classic slogan for community radio, but it captures the essence of its role as a mediator between authorities and citizens, speaking up for those who otherwise would not have a place in the public sphere of communication.

“We are in-between marginalised groups in most cases. We are in between the have-nots and the haves. We are in between those who make the decisions and those for who the decisions are made.”

I think regulation and the network of community radios is important for to sustain the impartial role of the stations. The network has a shared code of conduct and an ethics committee to ensure that stations are not politically intimidated or interfered.

Independence of community radio stations globally varies greatly where some countries have well established policy and regulation to ensure their independence, whereas others do not even recognise them, or stations are forced to broadcast illegally.

The case of Brazil is a different story where a study shows that many community radios have problems with ‘incumbency advantage’. Stations are often running on licences provided by politicians  and politicians or their relatives are often found in the board of directors. This directly influence the programming to their benefit. The stations might still be participatory and community-based, but their is a degree of allegiance expected by the politician, as s/he has the power to pull the plug.

Ellie Rennie (reviewed in an earlier post) argues that media must exist within regulated media environments and that governments should “endorse community as a sphere of activity outside of the state and economy”. I’m not sure I agree with this statement. Of course it would be ideal if all media was protected by policy and regulation and if the government spent resources on it to stay independent and vibrant – but I’m not sure I agree that it has to in order for community media to exist and be effective.

What do you think?

Elias

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