Community Radio Puts Local News First

The people of Port Loko, Sierra Leone used to get news about their town from radio stations in the capital even though they had their own community radio station.

In November 2011, I left my home in Freetown to teach a workshop at Radio Bankasoka, a community radio station in Port Loko, which is the administrative center for all the chiefdoms in the district, an important trading hub between Guinea and Sierra Leone, and a part of the country’s growing mining sector. At the same time, this small town is in many ways quite unassuming. It has a population of slightly over 20,000, one bank, no supermarket, no local newspaper and just one radio station.

Radio Bankasoka has been in operation for just over four years and it would be an understatement to say it is modestly equipped. It has a transmitter, a generator, an antenna, CD player, a mixing board, a soundproof announcer’s studio and a couple of microphones. They have no computers, no audio recorders, and full-time employees.

As a community radio station, what they do have is a group of dedicated volunteers who manage the station, DJ, and broadcast syndicated programs. What was missing at the station was any sort of locally-produced news content. It was a community radio station that wasn’t covering what was happening in the community.  This was because in addition to not having the funds to hire a news team of professional journalist, there were no training opportunities to improve the skills of those who were willing to volunteer their time.

Abdul Kareem Dumbuya, the public relations officer at the University of Sierra Leone’s Fourah Bay College, was born in Port Loko and is a member of the committee that has managed to scrape the funds together to keep Radio Bankasoka in operation these years. He approached a reporter from Cotton Tree News, Mustapha Dumbuya (no family relation, but also originating from Port Loko), to help him create a news training program to begin covering what was happening in the community, from the community.

As I was working at Cotton Tree News as a Radio Media Trainer with jhr, I found myself lucky enough to be invited to help facilitate this news reporting workshop.

The workshop was only three days long meaning it had to be intensive and focused. Of  course we knew that with a long-weekend of training, limited equipment and unpaid staff, it would be a challenge to leave a fully-functioning news program, but this would be a start and hopefully leave with something simple and sustainable.

The first day of the news training workshop was held in Port Loko’s Human Rights Library. Twenty seven people showed up for the workshop, many of whom are teachers, but also students, farmers, traders and others looking to help build their community through its radio station.

The first two days of the workshop were in-class work that aimed to build basic reporting skills like finding the elements of a news story, how to conduct and interview, and where to find story ideas. On the second day, participants went into the field to collect stories, bring them back and write them.

Then, at 8am on Saturday, December 14, Radio Bankasoka aired its first newscast, in English, Krio, Temne and Limba. Although the station still have a long way to go, both in terms of training, as well as access to equipment, the news program has continued thanks to the members of the board, and dedicated volunteers.

Today, the people of Port Loko no longer have to tune into a station in Freetown to hear news about their town.

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