“IRN is particular about the independence of its member radio stations. They must be non-partisan and should give a level playing field and access to everybody. That’s why we are called Independent Radio Network,” says Wright, adding that they will terminate the membership of any radio station that fails to adhere to this key value.Wright’s appeal comes in the wake of a donation of complete brand new radio station equipment last week to Radio Bontico, thanks to IRN through support from UNESCO. The equipment includes a 700 watts transmitter, mixer, two desktop computers already installed with editing and production software, digital recorders, five microphones and five microphone table stands, and professional cables.
Radio Bontico becomes the second radio to receive such infrastructural capacity building support from UNESCO, the first being Radio Bintumani in Koinadugu district, Northern Province.
Wright says it was difficult to choose from the many member stations, but Radio Bontico was considered because of its significant location.
“We can’t reach various parts of the country alone. But what we can’t do alone we can do successfully together,” says Wright, adding that that was how the vision of IRN was born in 2002.
He says IRN is developing into a national information network, recounting their successes in the three last national elections after the rebel war and their leading role in the current Ebola crisis in the country. IRN has become the official announcer of elections results for the National Elections Commission (NEC). The network has ensured elections are independent, transparent, fair and credible.
Wright and IRN’s Board Chairman, Andrew J. Kromah, traveled with a team of engineers all the way to Bonthe Sherbro Island to officially present the equipment and to professionally install them.
Kromah describes the equipment as brand new and complete.
“These are not spare parts for your radio. This is a complete radio station,” he emphasizes, and reiterates Wright’s appeal for the station to be free from whatsoever interference.
He admonishes the radio station to allow free expression of everyone’s view.
Until now Radio Bontico had a 100 watts transmitter but broadcasting a coverage almost half of that because of technical problems with its equipment. There’s also the challenge of maintaining power supply, remuneration of its staff and mobility.
According to the Station Manager, Samba M. K. Koroma, the generator plant they are using is far above the means of the station to maintain it.
“The generator is huge and we will not be able to meet its running cost for long,” says Samba.
There are plans by the Mayor of the municipality to approach mobile company Airtel Sierra Leone to host the antenna of the radio in their tower in the town to save the station the burden of energy cost. This will mean relocating the radio station to the Airtel site, and hence another challenge of erecting a new building to house its offices.
“As a municipality we keep asking ourselves ‘how do we support our radio station?’. If we had the economic power, we would have factored Radio Bontico into our budget enbloc,” laments Mayor Layemin Joe Sandi.
He adds: “When you support the radio station it doesn’t necessarily mean you are controlling it. That’s why there’s a separate management team running it.”
Mayor Sandi reveals that the municipality holds the radio management in high esteem, and sees the station as a very important tool to enhance good governance and democracy and uphold freedom of expression in Bonthe district.
The challenges of Radio Bontico are common to all community radio stations in the country, says Wright.
Note: This is a Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) sponsored reporting.