Working with community radio in Sierra Leone is an effective choice; 80 percent of the population listens to the radio and poor literacy levels make it the first line of information for the most vulnerable communities.
After six months of training journalists in the first selected set of radio stations that I have been placed at, I can say a number of human rights related issues have been identified and broadcast, the two rounds of trainings certainly helped bring out a number of issues affecting the communities to light and some addressed.
The training & mentor program that BBC Media Action in partnership with JHR conduct in the provinces with community radio stations is clearly creating an avenue for checking and demanding accountability by concerned communities.
Working with provincial journalists who rarely get training opportunities like their Freetown counterparts is so rewarding. Most of the volunteer trainees say the JHR training sessions on rights media are helping them to recognize their true role as journalists, their responsibilities to the community, and the need to create objective rights based radio programmes for community development.
At two of the station’s, Voice of the Women in Mattru Jong – Bonthe District and Voice of the Peninsula Mountains radio in Tombo, two big stories highlighted issues that had affected the communities. So, after the training in rights reporting and writing the journalists were able to conduct exhaustive investigation with balanced sourcing, aired them and the impact was felt.
One of the stories done by a journalist at the Voice of Women was about a disagreement between the youth in Mattru Jong and World Vision, an international NGO working in Mattru Jong. The disagreement steams from a five month delay on the part of World Vision in delivering “food for work” which was meant to be an in kind reward to youth who were asked by the NGO to maintain feeder roads in the district. The story also prompted World Visions Country Director to personally escort the said food from Freetown to Mattru Jong were he also issued a press release that was carried in subsequent news.
The other story was aired at the Voice of the Peninsula Mountain, and it was about illegal water rate collections by two members of a water committee was foiled. The Tombo community set up by the committee consisting of elders and chiefs to oversee collection of water fees and subsequent repairs agreed upon by the community to help reconnect tap water, after repeated pleas to government by residents failed to yield results. The station got a tip on the story, investigated and aired it leading to the arrest of two committee members and recovery of the illegally collected monies.
The above mentioned community stations also won best community radio station awards in the Southern & Western – rural categories in the Independent Media Council (IMC) Media Awards in this year’s ceremony held on the 2 march 2012, at the Miatta conference centre in Freetown.
As we start off with a new set of stations selected to benefit from the training & mentorship program in 2012, we hope to raise more awareness of human rights and help cover and address even more rights violation related issues.