A former chief of UN peacekeeping operations once said that in conflict zones, one radio station is worth five army battalions. In other words, radio has the potential to change people’s hearts and minds and to present them with alternatives to the violence that surrounds them. Listeners and numerous expert studies confirm that “peace radios” have become powerful and persuasive voices for peace.
Beyond helping to ease tensions and to counteract malicious propaganda and misinformation, such radio stations have been important training grounds for local journalists and technicians, who make up most of their staff. They have strengthened professional standards in countries where media outlets have often been the mouthpieces of particular political actors.
In Sierra Leone, radio is the most important communications medium due to a sixty percent rate of illiteracy and virtually no newspapers outside the capital city, Freetown. Radio Shalom is voice for peaceful development in a country in which economic recovery has been slow, partly because the reconstruction needs after the civil war are so great. Around half of government revenue still comes from foreign donors.
In addition, media freedom in Sierra Leone has its limits. Media rights monitors say high-level corruption is a taboo topic, with officials using libel laws to target errant journalists. Other challenges facing broadcasters include unreliable power supplies, poor funding and low advertising revenues. There are dozens of radio stations, most of them privately owned, but very few promote peace and stability.
Radio Shalom amplifies the voices of ordinary people struggling to change their lives and livelihoods. It is a voice of conscience and critical dialogue that aims to rebuild the country’s image of itself and to help people live together in peace.
Radio Shalom continues to make progress. We have completed about 65% of the installation work and we are now at the stage of registering the radio as a Company limited by guarantee with the office of the Administration General. This is necessary in order to meet the requirement of the Independent Media Commission (IMC) for the allocation for the radio frequency by National Telecommunication (NATCOM) the agency responsible for the allocation of frequency to radio and TV stations in Sierra Leone.
Radio Shalom will soon be disseminating messages for peace consolidation and national cohesion. This is significant and relevant to the Sierra Leonean situation as the country is divided along political, ethnic and regional lines after eleven years of civil conflict.
This peace radio station will seek to bring people to think as part of a nation create a forum to discuss national unity and peace, a public sphere for critical debate for conflict management, promotion of the rule of law, equity and good governance. The station will act as a catalyst for change in society through its education and information programmes. Special attention will be placed on vulnerable groups in society:
1. Women Programmes for marginalised women/women affected by the war and the underprivileged will require advocacy for women issues on a broader framework of peace education.
2. Youth Programmes for marginalised youth/youth affected by the war will advocate for youth empowerment within the broader framework of peace education.
3. Children's programmes for marginalised children, children affected by the war will require advocacy for children within a broader framework of peace education.
The staff of Radio Shalom is greatly looking forward to meeting these challenges and is immensely grateful for the support of people and communities from all over the world. Thank you!
Over the last few months much work has been accomplished, although there is more to do before resuming regular broadcasting. Among the main achievements are:
Purchase of all equipment needed from a reputable firm in the Netherlands.
Customs clearing of all equipment purchased.
Established a volunteer task force of professionals with radio and broadcast experience.
Received commitment from the CCSL (Council of Churches in Sierra Leone) member communions to give financial support to Radio Shalom (via purchase of “annual shares” and a “one time gift”)
Broadcast studio established at CCSL premises. This includes soundproofing and the studio testing of all equipment by our volunteer engineers.
Signed an Article of Association and Memorandum with Master and Registrar Office in August related to our purpose, rights and responsibilities. This is needed to meet the application requirements prior to being assigned a radio frequency. We expect to be assigned the frequency before the end of September 2012 as per Independent Media Commission ( IMC) schedule.
Programs have been designed dealing with peace and security, religious discussions among faith leaders dealing with elections and civic responsibilities, women’s issues (health, reproductive health, women’s rights), panel discussions and “call in” sessions regarding road safety, family relationships and dynamics, youth issues (role in nation building, participation in development, education) etc.
In the meantime, we are constructing tables / shelves / and other studio furniture for proper placement of the broadcast equipment; installing an air conditioning unit in the broadcast studio; setting up both antennae required – one at the broadcast studio in the CCSL office and the other at the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation tower in Leicester Peak in Freetown.
Current challenges include generating further funding to enable us to complete the installations as well as selling advertising to support regular operational costs (electricity – fuel for generator, stationary supplies, regular maintenance of the equipment).
While we regard this as a unique opportunity to strengthen and broaden the ministry and prophetic voice of the CCSL, it has been a struggle. Payment of Customs Fees related to the importation of the equipment was a challenge. Faith-based organizations used to be exempted but that privilege no longer exists. Supervision of and reliance on a volunteer task force and juggling time schedules to accommodate them in light of the fact that we want to be “on line” for the elections (mid November 2012) has also been challenging. However, Radio Shalom is on the right track thanks to massive support and goodwill.
Radio Station Equipment Successfully Arrives in Freetown
Thank you to the many people around the world who have donated to Radio Shalom. Your donations have been used to buy equipment including antennae, microphones, computers and audio recorders. This equipment was shipped from the Netherlands to Sierra Leone on May 7, 2012. Having traveled more than 5000 km, the equipment has now reached Freetown. This week our project partner, Council of Churches in Sierra Leone, cleared the equipment with customs and transported it from the docks. They are now unpacking and installing the equipment and setting up the radio station. Rev. Solomon Campbell, officer-in-charge of the Ecumenical Department of Council of Churches in Sierra Leone is looking forward to begin broadcasting soon. An opening ceremony is taking place next month.
In the meantime, the Ecumenical Department is finalizing details on programming and content in preparation for the official launch of Radio Shalom. With a focus on peaceful conflict resolution, Radio Shalom will work with citizens to find and promote solutions to the country's many problems such as poverty, unemployment and corruption. Donations to Radio Shalom will help the people of Sierra Leone to reconstruct their country which is still recovering from over a decade of civil war.
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World Association for Christian Communication (WACC)