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Local officials hijack community radio station

(CEMESP/IFEX) - Local government officials in Salala District, Bong County, have hijacked the Salala Community Radio Station, dismissed the station's board of directors, and indefinitely suspended the station manger.

Bridgestone Siakor, the station manager, was suspended by the newly-constituted board of directors on September 29, 2009 while he was away representing the station at a community radio conference in Gbarnga, Bong County.

Salala City Mayor Charles Jackson unilaterally dismissed the old board and constituted a new one, claiming he was empowered by the citizens of Salala district to do so.

But Siakor told CEMESP that he will resist his suspension, arguing that the newly-appointed board is illegal and that Mayor Jackson lacks the authority to dismiss the board.

Siakor further informed CEMESP that his suspension was based on his criticism of corruption in the area and was masterminded by local authorities headed by Mayor Jackson and Salala District Commissioner James Kerkula.

Siakor noted that his troubles began when he reported on the radio that the collection of rice and money from citizens in Salala District for the recent 162nd Independence Day celebration in Bong County was illegal and was never sanctioned by the central government.

Siakor has since been replaced by Carcious Allen, administrative assistant to Mayor Jackson.

Meanwhile, a member of the dismissed board of directors, Daniel Tubman, has described the board's dismissal and the suspension of the station manager as illegal, and says that the district authority has hijacked the station. Tubman said the board would resist all attempts by the local authority to place the radio station in the hands of their "proxies" who would "dance to their tunes."

CEMESP is calling for the immediate dissolution of the government-influenced board of directors and the reinstatement of the old board of directors and station manager Siakor.

CEMESP Executive Director Malcolm Joseph described the action of Salala City Mayor Jackson and District Commissioner Kekula as an imposition of a siege on the radio station and called the action by the two local officials an attack on press freedom.

The CEMESP director called on the Ministries of Information and Internal Affairs to intervene in the matter and restore the station to its legitimate board of directors and station manager.

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