Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation
Posted on 8th December 2011
Elizabeth Smith, Chair, Commonwealth Media Group and Consultant, Transforming Broadcasting
Elizabeth Smith was in Freetown from 6 November to 2 December, 2011, carrying out a consultancy for UNDP in Sierra Leone. This was to make a capacity assessment of the development of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service into an independent national public broadcasting service.
Early in 2010, the state broadcaster of Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, was transformed into the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation. It was set up as an autonomous and politically neutral PSB by the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation Act, passed in 2010. It was officially launched on 15 June 2010 by the UN Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, who said "SLBC is born from a marriage of UN Radio and the country's state-controlled radio. It is a historic gift to every man, woman and child in Sierra Leone."
The local political context was that the two major political parties had their own partisan radio stations, noted for criticism of each other rather than spreading peace and understanding. It was accepted that it would be beneficial to society if both were closed. But the main opposition party felt it unfair that they should close theirs, while the Government retained the state broadcaster. Following discussions with the UN post-conflict organisation in Sierra Leone, UNIPSIL, a deal was done by which all agreed that SLBC would be transformed into a politically neutral and independent PSB, and that both political radios should close.
So, for local political reasons, this is an organisation that cannot revert to being a state broadcaster.
However, just over a year later, it is now almost overwhelmed by difficulties. The biggest of these is financial, which could threaten its independence. But new programmes have been launched and major political issues are covered in a reasonably fair way. There is still a bias in the News towards covering what the Government is doing but this is almost inevitable on news values as the Government has so many more decisions to announce. The Opposition gets a good showing in discussion programmes, and the public, sending in their views by text, gets good opportunities to comment too.
As Sierra Leone approaches Elections in 2012, the issue of fairness becomes more and more important. Various international broadcasting organisations have offered to help ensure fair coverage. It is fervently to be hoped that SLBC will be able to come through its current financial crisis soon, so that it can focus on the key editorial issues ahead.
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