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New broadcasting act keeps public media under state control

Parliament passed a bill earlier this month that turns the state-run Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) into a public service broadcaster, but the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) says the President will still have undue powers.

The Broadcasting Act, passed unanimously on 7 August, seeks to merge Sierra Leone Broadcasting Services with United Nations Radio, a station set up by the world body during the civil war, to become the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).

But under the act, President Ernest Koroma will have unilateral powers to appoint the director-general and the deputy director-general of the SLBC, say MFWA and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ).

The association's president, Umaru Fofana, told MFWA that the powers given to the President would not only entrench executive control over the new media, but also undermine the interests of SLAJ members that work with the two stations.

According to Fofana, SLAJ was sidelined during the allegedly consultative meetings. "We should be seen to be making an input," he emphasised.

"We are calling on President Koroma not to assent to the bill but to conduct a proper consultation - by incorporating the views of all stakeholders to ensure that the station truly reflects its public service character and be accountable to the state and people of Sierra Leone," said MFWA.

MFWA is encouraging SLAJ and other civil society organisations to join forces and ensure Koroma does not assent to the bill. Koroma must sign the bill within 21 days of it being passed.

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