Reporters at Radio New Song, a community station located in the district capital of Koidu City in eastern Sierra Leone, are no strangers to reporting on community news. However, for them, community news is often limited to political events and interviews with local officials. Actually getting out into the communities, and interviewing “regular” citizens, on issues that affect them on a daily basis, is not something they are accustomed to doing.
However, through a three-day capacity-building workshop conducted by Internews Media Trainer Martha Kargbo in April, the reporters quickly learned the importance of talking to community residents – especially women.
While out on a reporting field trip as part of the mentoring, Radio New Song reporters met a local woman – who, while seven months pregnant, said she was hit on her stomach by an angry neighbor. Even though a number of onlookers witnessed the incident, and a district doctor officially confirmed serious complications with her pregnancy as a result, the woman explained that local police were still hesitant to charge or arrest the alleged perpetrator. Two weeks had already gone by since she had made an official report to the police, yet nothing had happened.
Armed with their new knowledge, and the support of their mentor, the reporters immediately started on the task of following up with the story – interviewing other neighbors, as well as the village chief, and the officer in charge at the local police station. As a result of the added pressure from the journalists, the individual accused of the assault was finally charged – and within one day, was detained at the district prison, and awaiting trial.
“This experience showed the Radio New Song reporters how journalists can empower citizens and create change in their communities,” says Kargbo. “In this case, they saw that their investigations led to an immediate arrest, and – hopefully – justice for the injured woman. As a result of the increased attention, the woman was also able to get specialized medical care and has since given birth.”
After airing their story about the incident, Radio New Song reporters say they’ve received multiple calls and texts from listeners, who commended them on highlighting such a case. Some listeners were even encouraged by the story to speak out about other issues affecting their own communities – in the hopes that the journalists could have a similar impact in future.
“Thanks to this program, we see that these stories involving the community are the stories that people want to listen to,” says Radio New Song’s station manager, Problyn J. Alpha. “And while we continue to face constraints in following up on such stories – because many communities in our area are far apart, and expensive to travel to – we continue to do our best to tell these stories, to serve our community the best we can.”
The capacity-building project targeted four community radio stations located around the country to encourage station staff and volunteers to take a closer look at the needs and issues present around their own communities.
The project was part of Internews’ ten-month program in Sierra Leone that supports increased professionalism among Sierra Leone’s press, and was aimed at ensuring balanced and accurate mass media coverage of the March 2018 elections and post-election period. This program was implemented by Internews as part the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS), funded by USAID.
(Banner photo: Radio New Song staff and volunteers pose with Internews Media Trainer Martha Kargbo (front row, dressed in black), during an in-house training and capacity building session in April 2018. Credit: Internews)