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RADIO MANAGERS PETITION MEDIA COMMISSION…Exploiting Sierra Leoneans with poor service

The Independent Media Commission (IMC), the institution that was established by an Act of Parliament to regulate the Media Industry in the country is gradually falling on the way side and fast becoming a disappointment to Media Practitioners, Radio Managers and Proprietors inclusive in the Sierra Leone.

Radio Managers and Proprietors are of the view that the Independent Media Commission has teamed up with some Mobile Companies to put them out of business instead of protecting indigenous Radio Stations with local contents. The accusation came as a result of recent unpopular decision by the Commission in the award of a Radio license to a Mobile Phone Company under the guise of a Company called Africa Media.

The Africell Phone Company has 100% shares in Africa Media, its document explains, which automatically qualifies its ownership of both the Company and the Radio Station.

 

Initially, it started as a rumour that the IMC was going to award a Radio license to the Mobile Company. This prompted a reaction from some senior Media Owners who wrote a letter to the Chairperson of the Commission, highlighting the unfair advantage and consequences it would cause if a license to operate a Radio Station was to be issued out to a Mobile Company. The Media Owners pleaded with the Chairperson not to make the dream of the Mobile Company come to a reality, citing several countries that had refused issuing Radio licenses to Phone Companies. This however did not stop the Commission from granting the request of Africell to operate a Radio Station.

In February, 2013 the Africell, Africa-Media commenced broadcasting with a Radio Station called Afri-radio. The operation of Afri- radio has caused lots of signal interferences to both Community and Commercial Radio Stations in the Country with transmitter powers that far exceeded the IMC and the National Telecommunication Commission’s requirements of both Antenna and Transmitter Gains. Sources at Leicester Peak where the Afri- radio had installed its transmitter state that the Mobile Company is using over 2000watts in Freetown and in the Provinces of Bo and Kono 1,500 watts and each of the Company’s mast is accommodating Eight Antennas. This has generated interferences and signal disruption in the airwaves, affecting Radio Stations with less Transmitter Power and Antenna.

With the level of disruption increasing every passing moment Radio Managers and Proprietors have petitioned both the Independent Media Commission describing its action as unpatriotic and unguarded and the Afri- radio calling on President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma to protect indigenous stations by withdrawing the license and spectrum issued out to Africa Media and advised that the Africell Company concentrates on improving its poor communication services that it is providing to Sierra Leoneans.

The issuance of Radio license by the Independent Media Commission to a Mobile Company, according to some Managers and Proprietors is being described as suspicious and dubious especially when arguments advanced by the Commission seemed to have supported its action based on the Memorandum of Association. Members of the Commission claimed that the document is authentic and had originated from the Office of the Administrator and Registrar General on Walpole Street. The IMC claimed that the authenticity of the Company’s M&A had compelled them to issue out a license to operate a Radio Station. This argument may have convinced some of the pro Africell fans and Journalists that probably prompted them to take up several lines of defense that  are absurd and incompatible with the document the Independent Media Commission had relied upon.

Section 3(c), of the Company’s M&A was violated by Africa Media “It states thus…to establish, set up, run, operate, manage and to carry out the business of radio broadcasting, radio stations, audio communication and to produce, manage and acquire audio related programs, broadcasting of international/national satellite/terrestrial wireless and radio signals, subject to the approval from any concerned ministry/authority. According to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communication, Mr. S.A.Tamu no approval was granted to Africa Media or Africell and that the Company did not seek for it prior to establishing a Radio Station and commenced broadcasting.

Further allegation of conspiracy against the Board of the IMC has not been challenged either by the Chairperson or any of its Commissioners last Thursday at the Ministry of Information and Communication where all of the parties, including NATCOM, Africell, Protesters, IMC and officials of the Ministry met and discussed.

Representatives of the Protesters informed the body that the process of registering the Afri- Media Radio Station was fraudulent according to the IMC Act 2000. They reveal that a member of the Technical Committee, in charge of Technical aspect at the Committee advised them that there was no reason to issue out a Radio license to a Mobile Company. Apart from the fact that the document was faulty it has never happened before in any country that Mobile Telecommunication Companies operate. He reportedly refused to append his signature when other members tried to do the wrong thing. Another Technical Committee member in charge of contents was absent. Despite the errors and faulty M&A the Board at the IMC went ahead and issued out the license.

The Protesters are saying that the Africell (Africa Media) and that of Mercury Radio Stations fall under no category on the listing of Radio Stations at the IMC. There are four categories, namely Commercial, Community, Public Broadcaster and Religious Stations. Sadly none of the category as contained on the application form the Africa- Media falls under therefore the IMC should not have registered it since there is no category it can be plugged into.

Argument by Managers and Proprietors of Radio Stations are saying that since Africell commenced business operation in the Country its Corporate and Social Responsibility like other Mobile Companies in Sierra Leone have been ridiculous and provocative to the citizenry of this Republic.

The protesters reported that Africell is not only operating as a Mobile Telecommunication Company, but also as a Printing Company for which the Company did register and be part of its M&A. They have a Printing Press, a Public Announcement System (PA) Fleet of Vehicles that are used by the Company to do its Street Parade, a Recording Studio where jingles and other advert messages are recorded and now a Radio Station which makes the Mobile Company a “Shylock” and an Agent of exploitation of the meager financial resources of the people of this country.

In a document sent to the Independent Media Commission (IMC) dated 15th March, 2013 by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communication, he conveyed the outcome of the decision of the meeting that took place last Thursday at the Ministry to the Chairperson of the IMC, Mr. Rodmac Johnson that he has been directed to instruct him that the license issued out to Africa Media be suspended after following the due process under the IMC Act. Since the letter was sent to the Chairperson of the IMC, it would appear that he has shown no regard for it and has refused to effect the instruction.

The Afri Radio is still on the air disturbing other Radio Stations in the Country. Owners of the Station, who are foreigners that are operating both the Mobile Company and Radio Station also, seemed to be challenging the authority of the present Government and give deaf ears to what was discussed and agreed upon at the Thursday meeting (see signatures of Managers and Protesters of Radio Stations in the Country in this edition)

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