By Rachel Horner and Kevin Hill
May 22, 2008
Chairperson of the Independent Media Commission, Bernadette Cole, called for the Minister of Information and Communication to honour Radio Unity’s “right to operate” and reverse his decision to close the station.
The move by government to close the station, which is owned and operated by the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party, has been widely seen as political maneuvering in advance of the upcoming local council elections.
According to Brima Koroma, national secretary of the SLPP, Radio Unity was established to inform the public about the status of the party and other developments in the country, and to serve as a check and balance to the governing All Peoples Congress’s ‘We Yone’ radio station.
For Koroma the closure of the station is an inflammatory move that is an abuse of the freedom of expression and amounts to political repression.
According to the IMC, after an investigation involving the complaints and technical committees of the commission, the station was “legitimately registered with the IMC and therefore should be able to operate”. Radio Unity had legally acquired its radio license and frequency from the IMC and National Telecommunication Commission (Natcom) respectively.
When asked what actions the IMC would take if the minister did not act on the decision, Mrs. Cole said, “I think he respects the IMC, as a former board member, I don’t think he would go against the recommendations”.
The commission announced that Radio Unity did, however, exceed the allowable wattage for stations operating in the Western area. The station was broadcasting at 1000 watts, instead of the mandated maximum of 250 watts. Radio Unity had received a certificate from Natcom allowing the station to transmit up to 1000 watts, which contravened the IMC code of practice.
Radio Unity also had requested a move to the SLBS transmitter at Leister Peak, but it was decided that because the transmitter was on government property the ministry should have been informed. Approvals for the move were granted by the SLBS, but that decision was not communicated to the government.
The SLBS has been asked to “swiftly” send all relevent documents to the Minister of Information and Communication, Mr. Ibrahim Ben Karbo to “regularize the situation and inform the IMC accordingly”.
The IMC reiterated that it is the sole statutory media regulatory body established by law, and any matter pertaining to the media should be forwaded to the IMC for arbitration.
In response to the decision SLPP Secretary General J.J. Saffa said, “We are satisfied. We have established our case and the IMC is right. We have paid our money to the SLBS for us to use the Leister Peak for some time. I don’t think they will not allow us to use the place, as we want our radio station to be on the air”.
However, Mr. Saffa did argue that the station should be allowed to broadcast at 1000 watts. “According to Natcom we have the right to operate at 1000 watts, but in general we see that it (the decision by IMC) is right”.
Minister for Information and Communication, Mr. Ibrahim Ben Karbo, was not available for comment at time of printing.