From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Local News
In Sierra Leone, Radio Democracy FM98.1 is now 13 Years Old
By
Jul 9, 2010, 17:10

Sunday May 25th 1997, a Military Coup led by a jailed military Major, Johnny Paul Koroma ousted the legitimate elected government of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) led by Alhaji Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kabba. In the process of the take-over, damages to human beings and infrastructures were undertaken by the military and disgruntled people within the rank and file of Johnny Paul Koroma’s Coup who subsequently were to invite in the dreaded RUF rebels into the capital city all in a stated bid to bring peace to the war-torn Nation. However, despite their lofty stated ideals, the violence with which the coup was initiated as against the bloodless NPRC coup of April 1992 revolted the world; leading to the coup-makers’ AFRC Government being resisted locally and internationally. May 25th had been supposed to be the annual celebration of Africa’s Liberation Day but it soon symbolized a day of the advent of horror and carnage in Sierra Leone. International actors tried to intervene but however, as time passed, it soon became obvious that the AFRC had been digging to set itself in with little sight of them relinquishing power to the democratic Government that was then in exile.

On this concept, the international community in support of democratic and good governance in Sierra Leone collaborated with apparently well meaning Sierra Leoneans to set up an electronic media to give solace and courage to the civilians that had been left behind in the capital city when the Government of Tejan Kabbah fled with many others in tow, to neighboring countries. The electronic media named Radio Democracy FM 98.1 was set up at Lungi in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone on the 7th July, 1997. It came on air the same day with a voice from one Joe Williams (Dr. Julius Spencer) informing the nation of the radio’s intervention to reportedly counter all the false propaganda moves of the AFRC. This was most welcomed as essential views and information were being deliberated upon day and night. Thus, FM98.1 became a thorn in the flesh for the AFRC Government as it seemingly exposed all AFRC’s demonstrations of hooliganism, barbarism and negative existence to the Sierra Leonean populace yearning for their democratic freedoms.

Radio Democracy, fondly dubbed as FM 98.1D became the mouth piece of many Sierra Leoneans who sent in reports to be aired; Others listened in closed environment or with ear-pieces, as it was not uncommon for people listening to this radio frequency to be brutalized or, on at least one occasion, even killed. There were series of efforts to locate and damage the radio station by the AFRC but these all failed thus the Radio kept hope alive for many.

Six of longest serving staff members who have served for a period of more than 10 years each, pose for Awareness Times

However, as revealed in the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report, the effectiveness and efficiency of Radio Democracy 98.1 FM under its operational drivers with pseudonyms of Joe Williams, Abdul Akim Sesay and Yeabu Dumbuya soon became a nightmare for many others who found themselves being vilified over the radio airwaves with barely hidden glee from the three broadcasters who wittingly and unwittingly broadcasted vicious, unfounded and unchecked reports against citizens whom they or their agents had grudges against. The clandestine radio became the tool used to settle such scores. The TRC Report indicates it was radio broadcasting at its worst!

The popular President of Journalists, Umaru Fofana poses with a cross-section of the team at the Signal Hill premises

If people were brutalized during the era of the AFRC for listening to the radio, an even worse scenario developed when, with the support of the military might of ECOWAS, ECOMOG, an intervention into the city of Freetown in February 1998 was successful, leading to the restoration of the Kabbah led SLPP government back into power in March 1998. Gruesome killings and lynchings were systematically carried out with the loud broadcasted endorsement of such over the FM98.1 airwaves. Innocent persons suffered undue brutalities that belied the stated function of the Radio as a tool for civilized co-existence. Those who were not brutalized, had their characters assassinated with a breath-taking viciousness that astounded even the most hardened of hearts. Many people died of a broken heart being unable to withstand the pains of the character assassination that they suffered. Their numbers were added to the numbers of those who were slaughtered on the streets in cold blood after their names were announced over Radio Democracy 98.1 as ‘AFRC collaborators’.

It was at this point that Radio Democracy 98.1FM was brought into Freetown in August 1998 and installed at its present Signal Hill Location at Wilberforce. Things did not get better for ‘AFRC collaborators’ who had to go through the pains of being maligned day in and day out over the radio airwaves with no means of defending their honour. There was a State of Emergency and who dared you, "AFRC Collaborators", back then to come out of hiding or fly back to Freetown from exile to counter the all-powerful propaganda spewing out of FM98.1? Intense bitterness for the operators of FM98.1 developed within this class of AFRC collaborators. Inspite of this, many unsuspecting citizens still saw the radio as a symbol of good, democratic broadcasting. So, the radio was seen as either villainous or heroic depending on which side of the spectrum you found yourself. It was a symbol of sharp divisions in Sierra Leone that were hallmarks of that unfortunate period in our Nation’s History!

With the passage of time and to the credit of the Tejan Kabbah 2002-2007 tenure, much of this sharp divisions and bad blood in the society melted away.

And today, Radio Democracy 98.1 is definitely one of the darlings loved by all shades of political thoughts in the country. This is as a result of not only the enabling environment created by President Kabbah’s leadership but also because of the quality of Management that the radio has enjoyed especially in the last few years. During its initial operations of Patrick I. Lambert as General Manager, the professional head was Hannah E. Foullah, (Yeabu Dumbuya) at Lungi whilst Dr. Julius Spencer (Joe Williams) became the Minister of Information and Broadcasting and Ali Bangura (Abdul Akim Sesay) became Sierra Leone’s Trade Minister and eventually High Commissioner to Ghana.

FM 98.1D was initially functional with a minimal staff of six broadcast staff and only four management personnel. Various programmes were being done by rotational means and being done well.

One of the Long-Service Awardees Mr. Alfred P.Conteh

An Long-Service Awardee Mr. Parkinson Otis Thomas

Radio Democracy in all those years to date, had been functioning as a non-sponsored institution only existing on its commercial advertisements. It should have been the most viable radio station had it not faced with improper administration which unfortunate situation was quickly overturned when the dynamic Hannah Foullah ran the station until June 2008 when she resigned and took up appointment with ECOBANK. During her tenure in office, all was well and good in terms of workers welfare, administrative set-up and proper accounting procedures, thus creating an atmosphere of future hope.

Presently FM 98.1D is now being headed by a former Reporter/Presenter of the Radio Station just from college in the person of Ms. Hannah M. Johnson as head and two members of staff as her Management Team. She easily tells everyone that she could not be what she is if not for the solid support she receives from Mrs. Asmaa James and Ms. Olabisi Olu-Garrick. Indeed, there are three powerful women at the helm of radio Democracy 98.1. Ever since Hannah Johnson took over from Ms. Hannah Foullah in June 2008, she has been following the admirable foot steps of her predecessor, implementing developmental programmes to build a viable Radio Station in the future.

Radio Democracy, is now one of the leading radio stations in the country and produces programmes geared towards development. It helps to build democracy and good governance as well as educates and advocates for women’s rights. Radio Democracy received the All Works of Life (AWOL) award for the best media house (electronics) in 2009 and Olabisi Olu-Garrick received the Independent Media Commission’s special award for outstanding journalist 2009 and just recently also received the Sierra Leone Excellence award in the U.K for best radio station.

Mrs Asmaa A. James illustrates to Awareness Times, the out-dated equipments that dedicated staff today work with

Today, people from all walks of life view Radio Democracy, 98.1FM as the "voice of the people" and everything said on that radio is believed as the gospel truth. Radio Democracy, in recent years has won the hearts of the people of Sierra Leone for its role in the informing and educating of the people of Sierra Leone, through programmes like, gud monin salon, watin de bi and salon tidae. It has come a long way from the days when it served only the interests of one section of a sharply divided Nation. As Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, (who definitely counts herself as one of the victims of those early days of mal-broadcasting) stated during her July 7th 2010 proud presentation of Certificates to long-serving staff and other dedicated staff, her mere presence at the radio station in full support of what the Radio was currently doing, speaks volumes about how far Sierra Leone has gone in achieving reconciliation for its people.

Sylvia Blyden hands Certificate to Mohamed Faray Kargbo who won a cash prize and award as Best Presenter 2010

To mark its 13th Anniversary celebrations, the Radio recently turned the sod on their new Building Project where they eventually hope to relocate their offices as a permanent edifice. Indeed, Radio Democracy FM98.1 is here to stay and it is hoped that Civil Society Organisations, the real owners of the Radio Station, will step up their support for this powerful tool that has a unique History which can never be erased from the annals of Sierra Leone. May God continue to bless and guide Radio Democracy FM98.1. All Sierra Leoneans wish you well! Amen!


PROGRAMME OF EVENTS FOR FM98.1's 13th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS

Tuesday July 7th 2010

[Mistress of Ceremonies: Mrs. Asmaa A. James]


Opening Prayers

Welcome Statement – Mohamed Faray Kargbo

Background to 98.1FM – Hannah M. Johnson

Update on Building Project – Olabisi Olu-Garrick

Side Attraction – Comedians

Turning of the Sod – Dr. Julius Spencer, Rev Modupeh Taylor-Pearce & Sheikh Abu Bakarr Conteh

Launching of new Signature Tunes – President of SLAJ, Umaru Fofana

Distribution of Certificates – Awareness Times Publisher, Dr. Sylvia Blyden

Pledges from Public

Vote of Thanks by Otis Parkinson Thomas

Closing Remarks

Refreshments

 

 



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