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SLBS refutes claim Unity Radio station's antenna improperly installed; radio station's closure will limit pre-election free expression, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - On 14 May 2008, Reporters Without Borders wrote to information and communication minister Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo asking him to explain his 8 May decision to close Unity Radio 94.00 FM, a station operated by the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), and urging him to reconsider.

"With less than two months to go to local elections, we think it is inopportune to deprive an opposition party of its main means of expression, especially if there are no grounds for doing this and it is done in a coercive manner using illegal procedures," the letter said. "We had hoped the change of government in Sierra Leone would significantly improve the press freedom situation but this incident sends a very negative signal."

After SLPP Secretary-general Jacob Slaj Saffa reported that his party's radio station had been closed on the information ministry's orders, the ministry issued a release saying the closure was due to the installation of an illegal antenna that disrupted the transmissions of other radio stations, and to the SLPP's failure to follow the right procedures to register Unity Radio.

But the head of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) said Unity Radio was correctly installed under his service's supervision and he has accused the government of being unable to name the radio stations whose broadcasts were being disrupted by Unity Radio. And Bernadette Cole, the chairperson of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), has said Radio Unity is legally registered with the commission. "As far as I am concerned, no radio station has been banned from broadcasting by the IMC," she said.

A former president of the Sierra Leone Journalists Association (SLAJ), Kargbo promised to improve the press freedom situation after the then opposition's victory in September 2007 presidential election.

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