As Sierra Leone enters the campaigning period for the crucial August 11 Parliamentary and Presidential elections, the Independent Radio Network (IRN), an umbrella body comprising 20 Radio Stations across the country, has issued guidelines on how member radio stations should air political programs.
These guidelines, which were agreed upon at an IRN Strategic Management Committee Meeting are contained in a memo dated 10 July, 2007 and circulated to all Station Managers of the 20 radio stations.
According to the organization, with political parties engaging the services of radio stations in different parts of the country, there have been instances in which basic media ethics and electoral laws are violated.
“As we envisage the occurrence of problems with political parties of this nature, a policy statement developed by Eastern Radio has been adapted to be used by all IRN stations to ensure that all political parties engaging our radio stations commit themselves to the rules of engagement,” the memo sent by IRN Coordinator Ransford Wright affirmed.
The guidelines are a demonstration of the network’s commitment to giving every political party equal access to the media.
The program policy states as follows:
1. Any political party, or political support group, wishing to buy airtime for a paid discussion program agrees that (this station)……………………..will provide a moderator of its choice. Political parties and political support groups are in no allowed to even recommend a moderator, even if that person is a paid or volunteer staff at this station.
2. Any Political party or political support group acknowledges and agrees unreservedly that the moderator chosen by this station will be critical of them on air should he, or she, feel they are straying from this agreed upon program policy.
3. Any political party or political support group conducting a discussion program in this radio station agrees that the program will be solely to inform people about the party’s platform, manifesto, and activities. In no way will this station tolerate any attacking of rival parties, groups, or individuals. The buyer of airtime agrees to inform not to attack.
4. Any political party or political support group wanting to hold a paid discussion program agrees to the fact that this station reserves the right to inform listeners at any time it wishes that the program is in fact paid for and not being provided as a way of free campaigning over the airwaves.
The program policy further states that “any political party wishing to conduct a paid discussion program on this station agrees with all the above mentioned rules and will acknowledge with the corresponding hand written signatures that if any are strayed from, in the slightest way, this station will exercise its reserved right to immediately stop the program, even if in mid-show, and even if full payment has already been made. The party or group agrees that absolutely no cost will be refunded if this agreement is broken.”
The political parties or support groups are expected to sign the policy before their programs are aired.
The twenty (20) IRN stations expected to follow this policy include: KISS FM, Bo; Radio New Song, Bo; Radio Mankneh, Makeni; Radio Maria, Makeni; Radio Kolenten Kambia; Radio Moa Kailahun; Eastern Radio, Kenema; Radio Bintumani, Kabala; MODCAR, Moyamba; Radio Gbafth, Mile 91; Radio Tombo, Tombo; Radio Democracy, Freetown; SKYY Radio, Freetown; BBN, Freetown; Radio Bontico, Bonthe; Radio Mount Aureol, Freetown; Voice of Women, Mattru Jong; Radio Wanjei, Pujehun; Choice FM, Lungi; and Radio Kalleone, Freetown.