Sierra Leone Radio







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Radio Access And Use in Sierra Leone

Radio is by far Sierra Leone’s most accessible and used communication medium; seventy-eight percent of the population has household access to a radio, and nearly all of those who have access rely on batteries to power their radio.

Ironically, the cost of batteries is the biggest inhibitor to using a radio, according to survey respondents. Batteries themselves can cost more than electricity flowing from an electrical grid. However, the vast majority of Sierra Leone do not have the choice of grid power because they are not connected to it. Public power distribution is limited mainly to the capital Freetown and the city of Bo. In addition, some 20 percent of respondents said that a radio set is simply too expensive for them to afford.

Chart 1

In 2008 the programming of the UN’s radio network, UNAMSIL, and the state-run Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) network dominated the airwaves on a national level. However, starting in 2010 the radio market will see a shake up as UNAMIL will be officially closing and its assets will be transferred over to a new public broadcaster the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). The Public Communications Act passed by parliament and assented by President Komora in late 2009, established the SLBC.

The purpose of the SLBC is to provide a public interest radio station that is independent of the government influence. In 2010, the SLBC is expected to begin broadcasting two radio stations, one dedicated to providing political analysis and a second station broadcasting social and cultural programs. [1] The Secretary-General’s Executive Representative in Sierra Leone, Michael von der Schulenburg pledged that UNIPSIL, the United Nations Integrated Peacekeeping Office in Sierra Leone, would provide technical and material support from UNIASIL to assist in the development of the new public broadcaster. [2]

Chart 2

General weekly use of radio is nearly even with household access at 71 percent of all respondents. This indicates that even though the cost of batteries may be burden it is not a large enough hurdle to constrain regular use. Interestingly, listening to the radio is primarily an activity conducted at home; only a small percentage of respondents said they listen to the radio in a public place or at friend’s or family member’s house.

Chart 3

Even though a small portion of the population watches TV or reads a newspaper, Sierra Leoneans do have a diversity of sources for news and information. While radio leads all communication mediums, quite a few also receive information and news from various members of their community using word-of-mouth, see Chart 3.

Chart 4

Language and place of residence are two other factors influencing how often and which radio stations Sierra Leoneans listen to. The linguistic minorities who speak either Mende or Temne tend to concentrate in particular regions of Sierra Leone. In the Northern Province, 47 percent of respondents said they would prefer listening to the radio in Temne, and in the East and South provinces, a large proportion of respondents said they prefer radio programs in Mende.

These language preferences influence which radio stations they are more likely to listen to. For example, in the Southern province the most popular radio station is Kiss FM, which broadcasts programs in both Mende and Krio and transmits from the city of Bo in the Southern province. While national radio networks like UNAMSIL and SLBS were the most popular stations overall in 2008, district-level community radio stations are also highly popular on the local level, as they provide local news and information in local languages. For a thorough analysis of popular locally-based radio stations see our Regional Analysis Tab.

Chart 5

Chart 6

Post-Civil War Expansion

The radio market began to expand quite rapidly in Sierra Leone after the cessation of violence in 2002. At the end of 2000, there were only eight stations: 6 state-run and 2 privately-owned. [3] The state-run stations were spread out across different provinces to fully cover the country. As of the end of 2009, there were 46 local and regional radio stations, according to the Independent Media Commission. In 2006, the IMC felt compelled to place a moratorium on new broadcast licenses in Freetown. [4]

A number of new community radio stations were created with assistance from domestic and international non-governmental organizations (NGO). One such program, INFORMOTRAC, was initiated in 2004 and supported by the Radio Netherlands Training Centre. INFORMOTRAC is the Initiative for Mobile Training of Community Radio, which supports community radio by providing equipment, technical support, ongoing training opportunities and the establishment of network of stations. INFORMOTRAC currently supports 11 community radio stations in Sierra Leona. [5] CORNET, a loose network of community stations, was formed in 2003 and receives support from the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA) in the form of training and donated equipment.

Most community radio stations are operated by the citizen groups and NGOs involved in their formation. For example, the NGO-backed Talking Drum Studio project set up FM Radio Moa, and the NGO C-MET, supported by the OSIWA, founded Citizen FM 103.7. Such community radio stations are run by committees, which act as their board of trustees.

Donors say sustainability is the key challenge for these projects. Maintenance of the stations cannot be funded by selling air time, as dictated by government legislation, thus the stations depend on funding from domestic and international organizations. Some stations, unable to find sufficient support through these channels, have transitioned to commercial status in order to stay afloat. [6] How this effects community radio stations' mission of public service remains to be seen.

Social Change and Media Development

In addition to supporting the creation of radio stations, development organizations and local groups have also sought to use them to facilitate social change. One such project is the aforementioned Talking Drum Studio is a multi-media studio producing seven national and eight district-level radio programmes for distribution to 18 local and international radio stations across Sierra Leone. The Talking Drum Studio was established by the Search for Common Ground (SFCG) and work collaboratively with the Independent Radio Network (IRN) to create original radio content aimed at stimulating dialogue on critical issues. In addition, the SFCG supports the two main national platforms developed with the IRN to increase access to information on the political reform process: Parliament Bol Hat and Wi Yone Salone. Atunda Ayenda, translated “Lost and Found”, is a radio drama produced by the Talking Drum Studio and airs Monday-Friday for 15 minutes on 21 radio stations. Atunda Ayenda is the first of its kind seeking to educate and spur conversation about a wide range of social issues such as HIV/AIDS, corruption and community sanitation. [7]

Along with the broadcast of these educational radio dramas, IRN radio stations have been particularly active in broadcasting independent and impartial news. IRN stations played the critical role of media watchdog during the 2007 Presidential and 2008 local council elections. Key to their success has been the development of the two aforementioned programs, Parilament Bot At and IRN National News. Parliament Bol at is an issue-based radio program that seeks to strengthen the relationship between Members of Parliament (MPs) and their constituencies by educating listeners about current topics of debate in parliament and by informing them about the roles and responsibilities of Parliament. IRN National News is a cooperatively-produced, community-oriented national news program that broadcasts local news from all over the country. The program is working to solidify the community radio sector and improve its role as media watchdog.

One of the more significant media development projects is Cotton Tree News (CTN) out of Fourah Bay College at the University of Sierra Leone. CTN is broadcast and produced by the Fondation Hirondelle, Media for Peace and Human Dignity, a global nonprofit based in Lausanne, Switzerland in coporation with Fourah Bay College and the local FM station Radio Mount Aureol.  Fondation Hirondelle is an organization of journalists that set up and operate media services in crisis areas. CTN is funded by the European Union and the national development agencies of Germany and Ireland. CTN’s staff is predominantly local media professionals and aspiring journalists.[8]

CTN produces a daily package of news and information that are broadcast by Radio Mt. Aureol, the CTN short-wave station, UNAMIL (the United Nations operated station) and by community radio stations who are fed the programs by satellite. CTN describes its programming as not only entertaining, but also informative as it acts as a proxy for health clinics, schools, and social support networks. CTN produces individual programs that focus on particular topics such as women’s issues, the environment, youth, and religious issues. [9]


[1] “President Koroma Assents Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation Act”. Cotton Tree News. Fondation Hiradelle. Accessed January 2010.

[2] “UN lauds Sierra Leone move to create new independent broadcaster”. UN News Centre. 4 May 2009.

[3] “Africa Media Development Initiative: Sierra Leone-Radio”. BBC World Trust. Accessed January 2010. Pg. 17.

[4] “Facts & Figures”. Independent Media Commission. Freetown, Sierra Leone. Accessed January 2010.

[5] “INFORMOTRAC”. Radio Netherlands Training Centre. Freetown, Sierra Leone. Accessed January 2010.

[6] “Africa Media Development Initiative: Sierra Leone-Radio”. BBC World Trust. Accessed January 2010. Pg. 17. and “Dissemination Workshop on Evaluation of OSIWA Projects in Four West African Countries Report”. Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA).

[7] “Sierra Leone”. Talking Drum Studio. Freetown, Sierra Leone. Accessed January 2010. Also see, “West Africa: Regional Strategy”. Search for Common Ground. Freetown, Sierra Leone. Accessed January 2010. and

[8] “Cotton Tree News”. Fondation Hirondelle. Lausanne, Switzerland. Accessed Januray 2010.

[9] “Cotton Tree News”. Cotton Tree News. Freetown, Sierra Leone. Accessed January 2010.