The Freetown City Council regrets to inform the citizens of Freetown that the Independent Media Commission (IMC) has outrightly rejected the Freetown City Councilís application for a license to operate a Community FM Radio Station, to be named "Freetown City Radio".
The Council is shocked and dismayed at the flimsy and untenable reasons given by the IMC, which is a Commission from which much is expected, and whose decision it is hereby strongly advised to review and reverse, as this decision is of itself a very dangerous precedent, an abuse of their powers, and tantamount to being a threat to national security.
The Council is concerned about the manner in which the IMC has handled this particular application, as it is suspect for the following considerations, and smirks of a politicization of a simple process. Firstly, contrary to the spirit of the IMC Act, which clearly requires the IMC to inform in writing the Council of its intention to refuse the application, and hence give the Council an opportunity to be heard, this was never done. Secondly, the IMC rushed out with a press release forcing all main media outlets to publish its rejection of the Councilís application, which is unprecedented, and indicates the Commission is playing to the galleries. Third, it would appear that the SLAJ President in particular among others, whatever may be the motives, led a crusade through all available print and electronic media against the awarding of a radio license to the FCC. The crusade made strange and strenuous comparisons between the FCC and the APC/SLPP political parties and their now banned radio stations, in order to justify the panic and fear they spread about political conflict and violence automatically guaranteed to explode once the FCC is license to operate its own radio station. And none of them ever met with the Council to discuss their Ďconcernsí.
Their unfounded utterances spread fear among the citizens many of whom naturally reacted negatively to the granting of the license. It would appear the IMC is succumbing to the dictates of the SLAJ President. And it is no wonder, when one considers the fact that the Commissioners are appointed by His Excellency the President after consulting with SLAJ. This puts into question the independence of the Independent Media Commission, and by extension, the independence of its ruling on the FCC application. It is also in clear violation of the IMC Act as section 3 reads that "Öthe Commission shall not be directed or controlled by any person or authority in the performance of its functions".
The Council wishes to now examine the ridiculous conclusion of the IMC in their letter of rejection, and attempt an initial response as follows:
The first reason given by the IMC Board for the rejection of the application is that:
1. "The Board is not convinced that the Radio Station will not be politicized with its attendant consequences." FCC RESPONSE
1. It is an effrontery for the IMC to make this outrageous claim without a shred of evidence to back it. We demand that the IMC explain to the citizens of Freetown the basis for the claim that this Council is bent on politicizing the radio station. Council records exist that clearly indicate the Council had plans and had applied to the IMC since 2008 to set up a radio station, long before political radio stations became an issue. The Council had even procured by open competitive public tender the equipment for the radio station, and had since 2008 never made a secret of its intention for a radio station. This would not have happened if the Council has sinister motives.
2. It is frustrating for the IMC to smear the hard earned respect and reputation of the FCC by claiming the Council is not responsible enough to run a simple radio station, and that the Council has political designs through the radio to endanger national security. In order words, the claim is that the current government of the Municipality of Freetown is irresponsible and not fit to rule, if it is capable of the allegation implied by the IMCís statement that Ďthe radio station will be politicized with attendant consequencesí. This is in spite of the fact that the Councilís application letter clearly spelled out that the station will be non-political.
3. The IMCís conspiracy implied by their conviction that the FCC intends to politicized the radio station is not only not founded on facts (and therefore baseless), but it also conveniently ignores the facts that speak to the contrary. The IMC itself acknowledged receipt of the Councilís original application of 29th September 2008 by their letter dated 3rd October 2008. This was long before the political stations crisis that led to the shutting down of the stations concerned. If the FCC was planned to be used by the APC to set up a radio station after the APC station was banned, as implied by the IMC, then the FCC would only have applied for a license AFTER the ban, not long before. Neither would the FCC have proceeded to procure its own equipment, if the intention was to convert the APCís radio equipment to the FCC radio station. FCC had published tenders for the procurement of its radio equipment as early as November 27 2008 in the New Citizen newspaper among others.
4. The Local Government Act PART XV, is a whole section dealing with provisions for TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND PARTICIPATION. In keeping with that spirit, the Council had published as part of its strategic plan since August 2008, the setting up of a radio station in order to ensure and assure regular and sustained information dissemination, policy sensitization, and allow for a ready forum for receiving public opinion through call-in programmes, leading to more effective and wider public participation in the governance of the Municipality.
5. The FCC has manifested the highest degree of political tolerance and maturity, even in the face of trying times and unprovoked opposition. It is on record that the FCC took the unprecedented move of donating one desktop computer, 20 plastic chairs and other items to its next door neighbor and political rival, the SLPP. What greater evidence does the IMC require of the political maturity, responsibility and friendly posture of the FCC, that it should be accused of intentions to stir political turmoil and violence?
6. If the Board is hesitant because of fears, it has at its disposal regulatory instruments and powers to suspend or even cancel a license if it believes it is being abused. Why not wait for evidence that the FCC is intent on politicizing the station and then take the necessary action, rather than rejecting an application based on unfounded suspicion?
The second reason advanced by the IMC reads as follows:
2 "From lessons learnt in the past the Board believes it is not in the national interest for the IMC License to be issued to the FCC which is currently heavily dominated by members of one of the political parties."
1. The question here is since when is it a crime for a government to have majority membership from one political party, when the elections were free and fair, and represent the choice of the people? The IMC is not only attempting to set a very dangerous precedent here, but is literally fanning the flames of political conflict, as members of the dominant party can only see this as an infringement on their rights, and they are being victimized. This is blatant discrimination. Is it fair for the FCC to be penalized because of the political choice of the cityís voters?
2. If the FCC is disqualified merely because it is dominated by one of the political parties, does it mean that all Local Councils dominated by one political party will be automatically disqualified from obtaining a license to operate a radio?
3. If the logic of the IMC argument is followed, it means that anybody who has a family member that has abused say a passport or a driving license, should be denied one, simply because they are related to the abuser. Thus the FCC application has not been considered by the IMC on its own merits, as it is required to do, but rather on the basis of the Councilís transient link with the ruling APC Party (and the IMCís subjective interpretation of that link). This represents a dangerous precedent founded on false logic, and in the interest of national cohesion and security must be immediately rescinded, otherwise it will be a time-bomb waiting to explode.
4. Is the IMC aware that other local councils have for some time being operating or controlling certain community radio stations, including at Kenema and Makeni City Councils? Has national security being endangered by these Councils, even though their political make-up is the dominance of one political party, just like in Freetown?
5. This decision also reflects willful or neglectful ignorance of the powers, functions and working of the Freetown City Council, where Councillors who are the political constituents only make policies, which are implemented by the staff who are non-political. It ignores the fact that the Council is the highest political authority in the Municipality, is empowered to use all necessary means to carry out the provisions of its enabling Act, the Local Government Act of 2004.
6. This decision also conveniently and deliberately ignores the governance structure of the station as submitted by the Council in the Freetown City Radio Business plan. The application is for a Community Radio station, run not directly, by the Council, but by a team of staff under a Board of Trustees constituting of over twelve members representing various interests of the Freetown Community, including proposed representation from the following:
Sierra Labour Congress; Ward Committees; Council of Tribal Heads; Civil Society; National Accountability Group; A renowned Journalist; One leading rate payer; A representative of the Minister of Information and Communication, among others. This is to ensure the station is independent of political or any other considerations, in order to guarantee it is self-regulatory and independent. This was deliberately built into the plan in recognition of the fact that there is a necessary political element in the Councilís make-up, and that the Station will continue to exist and be consistent and professional in its broadcast irrespective of the political class in power per time.
7. The irony of the matter is that the matter of radio stations is a devolved function from the Ministry of Information and Communications. According to the Assumption of Functions regulations 2004, the Ministry of Information and Communication among others devolved the following:
c. Setup of radio Boards and oversee radio operations
d. Coordinate radio programmes within the local community
If above is our mandate, how can we then be denied a license to operate a radio station? If FCC is claimed to be unqualified to operate a radio station, then it lacks the moral authority to carry out the above function, which in fact it should be doing in concert with the very IMC.
3. The Board advises that the FCC makes effective use of the SLBC (Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation) and other Radio Stations in the Freetown municipality.
1) We thank the IMC for their Ďadviseí, and use this opportunity to advise them that the FCC had indeed been making as much use of the SLBS now SLBC and other radio stations, and has no intention of discontinuing the practice. We however wish to remind the IMC that air time costs money. In 2009 alone, the Council spent close to Le200 million in this area. The need for a dedicated radio station will allow for much more airtime to articulate the plans, policies and programmes of the Council, with far less cost to the taxpayer.
2) The Council under the Decentralization programme alone is assuming responsibility for over 81 major functions from 17 Devolving MDAs. This is apart from the traditional and generic functions of the Council. If the Council is to do justice in communicating with the public on these functions, it require a multiplication of our budget for publicity over five-fold, meaning it will cost tax payers at the current rate, over Le1 billion annually. The operational cost for the Freetown City Radio is projected at just Le15 million a month, or Le180 million annually. Even if the Council maintains the current level of expenditure on other media outlets, it will still save over Le600 million of taxpayerís money which can be applied to other services.
3) The importance of adequate and sustained sensitization on issues cannot be overemphasized. For example the difficulties encountered by the NRA in the implementation of the GST were attributed to inadequate sensitization. Council believes it is the right of its citizens to be adequately and regularly informed, but in a cost effective manner.
4) The Council Meetings of FCC are public, so cheap LIVE Coverage can be afforded through the radio stations so that citizens can be able to follow proceedings of Council from the comfort of their homes or places of work, which translates to open or transparent governance.
Citizens of our Municipality, in the light of the foregoing, the Freetown City Council cannot but conclude that the puerile arguments advanced by the IMC cannot by any stretch of the imagination constitute "compelling reasons" as required by the IMC Act, to justify a rejection of the Councilís application for a radio license.
The Council is therefore left with no alternative but to instruct its solicitor to give the IMC an ultimatum of two weeks to review and reverse this unjust and unfounded decision which represents a dangerous precedent and can fan the flames of political conflict; otherwise the Council will be left with no option but to exercise its right of appeal for a fair hearing in the High Court of Sierra Leone, including costs for damages.
Herbert A. George Williams
Lord Mayor of the Municipality of Freetown
Tuesday 16th February, 2010