The role of the media in conflict and peacebuilding in Sierra Leone

Francis Sowa

Introduction and background of the study

The world today is characterized by widespread and diverse conflicts (Cottle 2006, 1). It is largely defined by conflict. There have been many conflicts after the end of the Cold War in which there occurred many deaths. Over 90% of all armed conflicts have been civil conflicts (Harbom and Wallensteen 2005 quoted in Oberg and Kaare 2008, 3; Puddephatt 2006, 5). Sierra Leone, a country on the coast of West Africa, is among those countries. It suffered from conflict between March 1991 and January 2002. The narratives in the literature show different perspectives on how the war started and the key actors behind it. One is that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) claimed responsibility for the incursion, with an objective to overthrow the corrupt and tyrannical government of Joseph Saidu Momoh and the All People’s Congress (APC). The APC had ruled the country since 1968 (Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report 2004). Another is that group of rebels backed by the Liberian leader Charles Taylor invaded the country from Liberia. The invasion was supported by Muam- mar al-Gaddafi of Libya and Blaise Campoare of Burkina Faso, who reportedly- developed a plan to conquer Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and the Gambia (Asangna 2017; Bellows and Miguel 2006; Voors et al. n.d.).

The media, including those in Sierra Leone, have always played a role in conflicts around the world. As McGoldrick and Lynch (2000, 6) put it, conflict is built into every process of change, so journalists deal with conflict all the time in everyday life. Mass media often play a key role in today’s conflict (Puddephatt 2006, 4).

This chapter seeks to partly address Gilboa’s (2009, 88) concern that despite the critical significance of the roles played by media in conflict and conflict resolution in Sierra Leone, this scholarly issue has been relatively neglected by both scholars and practitioners. It examines the role of Sierra Leone’s media before, during and after the conflict. This is necessitated by the fact that while there is a plethora ofliterature on the Sierra Leonean conflict, including its causes and effects, there is little scholarly work on the precise role the media played during the conflict. The chapter also examines the media’s role in any future conflict, noting Betz’s (2018) assertion that the role of media in fragile and conflict-affected societies has changed enormously in recent years, as media landscapes and technologies have transformed.

Brief literature on the role of media in conflict and peacebuilding initiatives

A civil conflict is commonly understood as organized armed violence for political purposes between the government of a state and some organized opposition group. Civil (or intrastate) conflict has been the predominant form of war at least since the end of World War II (Oberg and Kaare 2008, 3).

Conflicts and peaceful coexistence share the same stand in media conversations considering that reporting on conflict may also entail seeking for another productive resolution to the impediment. Conflict is defined as a tussle amongst individuals over a myriad of issues including values, claims, ranks, power and minimum resources where in most cases the goals of the differing parties are contrary to those of the others (Goodhand and Humle as quoted in Kiplimo and Nabushawo 2015, 69).

Conflict seldom originates exclusively from the media (Cottle 2006, 4). This is not to suggest that media have not played their part in conflicts around the world. In both the genocide in Rwanda and the wars in the Balkans of these conflicts the media played a pernicious role — directly inciting genocide in the case of some Rwandan media (and organizing it in the case of Radio Mille Collines) while acting as a vehicle for virulent nationalism in former Yugoslavia. This is not just a modern phenomenon; both the Nazis and the Soviet Union used the media to create a hegemonic climate in which they could more easily exercise power (Puddephatt 2006, 5).

Frere as quoted in Bau (2010, 22) points out that it is undeniable that the media have the capacity to both increase and decrease tensions within countries in a crisis. Several correspondents covering the Bosnia war crossed the professional lines, supported the Muslims and vigorously advocated military intervention against the Serbs (Amanpour as quoted in Gilboa 2009, 100). The availability of all news global channels allowed them to mount a media campaign against one party to the conflict. Prominent journalists such as Christiane Amanpour, Martin Bell and Ed Vulliamy strongly defended their one-sided coverage of the Balkan war. Bell called his approach “journalism of attachment”, and Vulliamy argued that in the examples of Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and elsewhere, the neutrality adopted by diplomats and the media is both dangerous and reprehensible (Seib 2005, 20-21). In the words of Hume as quoted in Gilboa (2009, 101), journalism of attachment is problematic because it deals predominantly with Western coverage and ignores other types of media, such as the local media.

McGoldrick and Lynch’s (2000, 6) definition of conflict shows that during conflict two or more actors (‘parties’) try to pursue incompatible aims or goals while trying to stop the other(s) from pursuing their goals. For Cottle (2006), conflicts are basically struggles between opposing interests and outlooks. The points made by McGoldrick and Lynch (2000) and Cottle (2006) are symptomatic of the reasons that led to the war in Sierra Leone. The warring factions had incompatible goals and opposing interests manifested during the various systems of governance in the country.

There were multiple causes of the war. However, most of the narratives share commonalities. They include the failure of successive regimes before 1991 to implement positive and progressive policies, unrestrained greed, corruption and bad governance, institutional collapse, government accountability, political expression and crushed dissent. Democracy and the rule of law were dead. Sierra Leone was a deeply divided society, full of the potential for violence before the war started in 1991 (Government of Sierra Leone 2000). The conflict was, in many ways, typical of a ‘new war’. The one-party Government of the 1980s was deeply authoritarian and repressive, with pervasive corruption, patronage and mismanagement (Government of Sierra Leone 2004). It was mostly a result of the patron-client system of administration that served as a foundation for state weakness during the All People’s Congress (APC) administration (Asangna 2017). Some authors point to the prominent role of extraction and smuggling of (blood) diamonds in starting or sustaining the conflict. Keen as quoted in Voors et al. (n.d.) argues that the control of diamond-rich areas was an important objective for warring groups as battles were largely restricted to the areas with the richest diamond deposits.

However, unlike other national conflicts, ideology, religious divisions or even ethnicity did not play a central role in the country’s conflict (Bellows and Miguel 2006; Government of Sierra Leone 2004). The point on ideology is debatable because the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had a belief system that the then APC government was corrupt and they should be ousted from power (McGol- drick and Lynch 2000, 6).

While the TRC Reports did not specifically stipulate the media as part of the causes of the war, it however outlined the media before and during the war.

The coverage of the SLBS (the only radio station by then) was restricted to Freetown. Thus, when the conflict broke out in 1991, the majority of Sierra Leoneans relied on rumour to determine its progress (TRC Report 2004). The SLBS effectively promoted the government’s version of the war until junior officers from the war front descended upon Freetown to overthrow the regime in April 1992. Sierra Leoneans were over-reliant on the BBC World Service to keep up- to-date with events in their own country (TRC Report 2004, 65).

Sierra Leone elections held in 1996 ushered in a democratically elected government. After few months in power, the government was overthrown by a military junta, known as the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). The Sierra Leone government in exile, with support from the British Government, set up a local radio station 98.1 FM at Lungi (outside the capital, Freetown) to counteract propaganda from the AFRC-controlled SLBS radio station. The Commission found that at times broadcasts by Radio Democracy 98.1 FM were inflammatory and created the context for mob justice, in which human rights violations and abuses were carried out against civilians who were alleged, often wrongly, to have collaborated with the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council AFRC (TRC

Report 2004). The Commission found that messages contained in broadcasts by Radio Democracy served to enrage and exacerbate the brutal backlash carried out by the group led by the AFRC warlord, SAJ Musa (TRC Report 2004, 68).

As Khan explains a “biased” journalism took place during the conflict in Sierra Leone. Top military commanders claimed that the “derogatory” reportage against the military had a demoralizing effect on their troops in the battle fronts. This view was endorsed by the soldiers themselves who stated they were ordered not to listen to radio broadcasts to avoid the impact of this phenomenon (Khan as quoted in Bau 2010, 21).

Khan continues that significant impact on the media reporting of the conflict in Sierra Leone was also given by their reliance on eyewitness accounts after the event, which has been a prominent feature of media practice in Africa. This is due mainly to the impoverished nature of their economies and infrastructure, which discourages most if not all local news media from live coverage of conflicts or first-hand reporting (Bad 2010, 221).

The TRC Report (2004) notes that some newspapers were in danger of becoming little more than scandal sheets, relying on provocative and, at times, dishonest headlines to promote sales (TRC Report 2004). This is similar to the argument by Oatley and Rashmi (2012, 15) that the media can be linked to the incitement of violence and this has been the case in Sierra Leone. The media are seen to contribute to tensions and violence through biased news stories and partisan, subjective reporting (Oatley and Rashmi 2012, 15). However, Oatley and Rashmi point out that the role that media have also played in decreasing tensions and violence prevention had been less frequently mentioned.

Appreciating the interaction between media and conflict can facilitate further understanding of the media’s roles in conflict prevention. At its most basic level, Puddephatt (2006) points out, conflict is an extreme form of communication. Where the media can play a vital role in allowing a peace process to develop is by enabling the underlying conflicts in a society to be expressed and argued through a non-violent manner. This requires the creation of a suitable space in the media (Puddephatt 2006).

Arsenault, Himelfarb and Abbott (2011) observe that the ability to impart and share information in real time has expanded the media’s role in precipitating, ameliorating and discouraging conflict. Shaw (2012, 2) points out that the human rights-based approach to journalism holds that journalists do not only hold the power to inform the public, connect people in different parts of the world and promote public knowledge and understanding of issues and events, but, more importantly, have the moral responsibility - as duty bearers - to educate the public, increase awareness in its members of their rights and monitor, investigate and report all human rights violations (Shaw 2012, 2). However, it seems that episodic reporting appears to be the approach mostly used when reporting on issues of conflict in the country. Shanto Iyengar as quoted in Bennett (2001) explains that episodic news most often takes the journalist and the audience into the middle of already developed situation and puts the focus on the people who are in trouble or in conflict. By contrast, thematic news looks beyond the immediate human drama to explore the origins of the problem and the larger social, economic or political contexts in which the immediate news story has developed.

Another role of media in conflict is the facilitative one as conceptualized by Christian, Glasser, McQuail, Nordenstreng, and White (2009). It draws on several elements in social responsibility theory and on notions of the press as a fourth estate in democratic societies that support debate and people’s decision making. The theory of the public sphere has also identified the media as an essential element. That theory refers primarily to journalism that is deliberately practiced as a means of improving the quality of public life and contributing to deliberative forms of democracy as opposed to procedural and constitutional liberalism (Christian et al. 2009, 126). The statements support what Seaga-Shaw calls the ‘moral responsibility- as duty bearers - to educate the public and increase awareness in its members of their rights.

Collaborative role is also another important role of media in conflict and peacebuilding. This specifies and values the tasks for media that arise in situations of unavoidable engagement with social events and processes (Christian et al. 2009).

The media are also expected to play the normative role of monitorial journalism (Christian et al. 2009). It refers to all aspects of the collection, processing and dissemination of information of all kinds about current and recent developments, plus warnings about future developments (Christian et al. 2009, 125).

The media can promote peace and push back against the relapse into conflict in several ways. Three key narratives concerning the role of mainstream media in communicating conflict can be identified as: critical observer, publicist and, most recently, as battleground, the surface upon which war is imagined and executed (Thussu and Freedman 2003, 4). This role can be performed within the context of peace journalism.

Peace journalism is based on the proposition that the choices journalists make while covering conflicts tend inescapably either to expand or contract the space available for society at large to imagine and work towards peaceful outcomes to conflicts (McGoldrick and Lynch 2000; Lynch and McGoldrick 2013, 21). Peace journalism, as the name suggests, is a form of journalism committed to exploring root causes of conflict in order to “create opportunities for society at large to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict” (Lynch and McGoldrick 2013, 6). Its history can be tracked back to 1965, when Johan Galtung and Mari Ruge analysed what makes foreign news newsworthy (Galtung and Ruge 1965). Jake Lynch and Johan Galtung (Lynch and Galtung 2010) further developed the notion of peace journalism and argued that the media (war reporting, in particular) predominantly exhibit biases towards violence and rest on the conceptual belief that ‘conflict’ equals ‘war’. Within the field of peace journalism (Lynch and Galtung 2010; Lynch and McGoldrick 2013), this view was considered problematic because it prevents conflict to be considered as an opportunity for the search of a new harmony between the parties involved, via a process that does not have to necessarily develop into a war (de Michelis 2018).

Cottle (2006, 8^9) coined the expression ‘Mediatized’ conflict to emphasize the complex ways in which media are often implicated within conflicts while disseminating ideas and images about them. ‘Mediation’ tends to suggest a view of media as a neutral ‘middle-ground’, equidistant perhaps between events that the media report on and the audiences that view/read/hear about them.

Methods: data collection and analysis

The study utilized the qualitative approach. The data were collected using documentary analysis and interviews. Key documents and publications on the conflict in Sierra Leone were reviewed and contextualized. The analyses of the documents informed the review of the literature and they were triangulated with the responses from the interviews.

Ten Key Informants Interviews (KIIs) were conducted with senior media practitioners who practised journalism before, during and after the war. These interviews were conducted in 2018 in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The responses from the interviewees were transcribed and narratives were constructed from them. Instructive responses were used as direct quotations under the section on findings.

The role of the media before and during the civil war in Sierra Leone

The conflict started under the All People’s Congress (APC) regime in 1991. The political authority of the State changed ‘hands’ several times during the conflict and the media were caught in the middle of those transitions. For instance, on 29 April 1992, it was at the Atlantic Broadcasting Company (APC) that Captain Valentine Strasser made his famous broadcast that the APC government had been overthrown.

At the time, Captain Strasser and others headed to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS), the national broadcaster, to do the broadcast; the station was off-air because there was no fuel in the generator and no electricity from the national grid (interview with Joshua Nicol, veteran journalist and Mass Communication lecturer).

At the start of the civil war, the broadcast media landscape was dominated by the SLBS. There were other various radio stations that were “epileptic”, including the Atlantic Broadcasting Company (ABC), which started operations in Freetown in the early 1990s. There were also various radio stations. One was in Kenema, from the Eastern Region of Sierra Leone, which was later run by the SLBS. The brunt of the war was being fought in the Eastern Region and they wanted to get information from people who were displaced or living in the border areas about the progress of the war and also government’s attempt to prosecute the war. There was also another private radio station broadcasting on ‘Medium Wave’, that was Radio Mankneh, which was run by the Wesleyan Mission in Makeni, Northern Region of Sierra Leone. But when the rebels overran Makeni, they took over the station. The radio was moved to another district. That gave birth to a radio station called Radio Gbaft in Tonkolili District, Northern Region of Sierra Leone (interview with Nicol in 2018).

When the war was at its peak, KISS FM was established in 1993 in Bo, Southern Region of Sierra Leone. It was broadcasting from that location, but covering almost the entire country. A year after, the radio became an affiliate of Voice of America (VOA) (interview with Andrew Kromah 2018, media proprietor and engineer). The Believers Broadcasting Network (BBN) also started operations around 1993, as a religious radio station (interview with Ransford Wright in 2018, renowned journalist and National Coordinator, Independent Radio Network).

Kromah continued that Skyy FM was also opened in 1996 in Freetown, the capital city, as a sister radio to KISS FM. But as soon as the radio station was established, AFRG took over in 1997 and the station closed. In 1998, the station came back on air.

In the same interview, Nicol spoke about the African Muslim Agency which was also running a radio station called Al-Karim, Al-Quran Radio in Lumpa, Waterloo in the Western Rural Area. Other radio stations like the ‘117 Believe In God’ (WBIG) Radio was established in Freetown by Hilton Fyle, former BBC presenter of Network Africa during the era of the NPRC around 1995. The radio was vandalized when the AFRC junta were ‘kicked out’ by the ECOMOG intervention in 1998.

The broadcast media landscape was small during the war. There was only one television station and about three or four radio stations. With the lack of media presence in most parts of the country, people had to resort to “bush radio” (ru- mours/gossips, individuals spreading facts or fictions about the war) (interview with Victor Suma in 2018, Lecturer of Mass Communication).

What Suma described in an interview as ‘bush radio’ is what Ellis (1989) called ‘pavement radio’. It is a phenomenon known all over Africa, but has no really satisfactory term in English. It is summed up in the French term as radio trottoir, literally ‘pavement radio’. It is best understood in the context of the oral traditions and respect for oral culture which modern Africa has inherited from its past. Perhaps the closest English translation of the term radio trottoir is ‘bush telegraph’. The bush is used to refer to a place where gossip was really hot, but nowadays it is at the urban pavement, bar, market, living-room or taxi-park where Africa’s political pulse bears most strongly. The vogue is now ‘pavement radio’ which may be defined as the popular and unofficial discussion of current affairs in Africa, particularly in towns (Ellis 1989, 321). There is, however, Bush Radio, in Salt River, Cape Town, which has been broadcasting since 1993, the year before South Africa’s first democratic elections. The broadcaster started as an anti-apartheid initiative and has since become a broad community-based radio station. This is just a name of a radio station. It has nothing to do with the expression ‘bush radio’ or now ‘pavement radio’ (Ellis 1989, 322). Ellis’ explanation of pavement radio is in no way different from the expression ‘bush radio’ during the war. The author experienced first-hand the use of the expression ‘bush radio’ to refer to rumours and gossips about various attacks or military interventions during the war. It became the major means of passing on information during the way.

The ‘bush radio’ syndrome can be seen in Kromah’s view that the people were naive about the war. He said they did not know there was war in their backyard. The idea of establishing the sister radio station to KISS FM, that is Skyy FM, was to bring information to Freetown that there was war in the Southern and Eastern Regions.

It was a sign of hope when the station, KISS FM was on the air; people would breathe a sigh of relief. When the station was off air, then there was this fear that Bo, in the Southern Region, was under attack. The role of the media was positive. If there was an attack, I will broadcast it so that people would know they should move away.

(Interview with Kromah 2018)

Newspapers also played their role during the conflict, even where they were small in number. Newspapers were within the range of ten to twenty and most of them were weekly newspapers (interview with Julius Spencer, 2018, veteran journalist and former Minister of Information). There were several two-page tabloid newspapers like ' The Unity Now’, ’Democrat’, the ‘Sierra Leone Daily Mail’ and the ‘We Tone’ newspaper. There also mushroomed newspapers like ‘New Shaft’ and ‘ Weekend Spark’ (interview with Nicol in 2018).

Before the war, the newspapers were quite vibrant even though they operated under the one-party system. (Interview with Kelvin Lewis in 2018, veteran journalist and former President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists)

Spencer summarized the role of the media during the conflict this way:

In some respect, the media helped fuel the conflict through their biased, one-sided or unprofessional stories. The rebels were quite adept in using the media to project certain images of them and to give out certain information. There was a time when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels used the BBC to communicate with their members. For instance, Sam Bokarie alias ‘Maskita’ gave an interview on the BBC where he said ‘operation no living thing’ and that buildings should be set on fire. Shortly after that interview, fire started blazing in Freetown. That radio broadcast had a direct impact on the conflict because it was used to communicate with the rebels.

(Interview with Spencer in 2018)

Victor Massquoi, journalist and communication scholar, in an interview noted that the reporting of the rebel war was dependent on three key aspects. The first was that the journalists were not trained to report on the war. They had issues with the lack of understanding of the definition and dynamics of war. Second was their inability to use the few information, communication and technology gadget at the time; they were either abused or misused. Third, every journalist had his or her own political affiliation. Some journalists were aligned with the rebels while the others aligned with the military and the ruling government. He summed up the role of the media during the conflict as follows:

Some media institutions fanned the flames of the war because of poor reporting of the conflict and the misuse of specific expressions. That ignited or escalated the war in some instances, (interview with Massquoi in 2018).

As Kelvin indicated during the interview in 2018:

the media played a very positive role during the war. Almost all the newspapers were on one side, and the rebels were on the other side. So all of what was being published came from the side of the journalists - by extension the government. From the angle of the journalists, everybody saw the rebels as the ‘bad guys’. The question of objectivity and having a level playing field never happened; it was not realistic. But that did not mean that the media were not critical of the work of the government or its fighting forces, and the measures taken to combat the war. The media, for example, reported about the inadequate and old-fashioned weapons used by the government fighting forces (interview with Kelvin in 2018).

In the words of David Tam Baryoh, a veteran journalist and media owner, the Sierra Leonean media were peace-oriented during the war, but they were not truthful to themselves.

The media in their reportage killed more rebels during the conflict than there really existed. The journalists heaped more blames on the rebels. They told the outside world that the rebels were more to blame than the soldiers. You wrote truth about the rebels, you were seen as a collaborator.

(Interview with Baryoh in 2018)

In an interview Nicol also agreed that what mostly came out of the war were the atrocities committed by the rebels. The SLBS TV and radio were taken over by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which used them as their propaganda machinery. During the war, propaganda dominated the media as the state media (SLBS), for example, continuously misinformed the public about places that were being captured by the Sierra Leone army.

Sierra Leoneans became worried and so they turned their attention to the international media (Morlai Conteh, a civil society activist).

During the junta interregnum in 1997, the ‘We Believe In God’ (WBIG) radio was in favour of the AFRC junta regime. It was being used to propagate pro- AFRC propaganda against the Tejan-Kabba-led SLPP government that was overthrown by the AFRC.

Between the reign of the SLPP and AFRC, the media were divided along those two regimes. Some of the journalists were perceived to be pro-junta or pro-government. The media were divided. The support of some media institutions was based on primordial interests occasioned by the political economy versa vice their ownership and control.

(Interview with Nicol in 2018)

Radio Democracy and 98.1 FM were the only local alternate voice to the propaganda of the AFRC on the SLBS. Spencer said towards the end of the war, the media played a positive role:

The media played multiple roles: in some cases it fuelled the conflict and in some cases it reduced tension by providing information to the public.

(Interview with Spencer in 2018)

The role of the media in peacebuilding in Sierra Leone

According to Puddephatt (2006, 4), which role the media takes in a given conflict, and in the phases before and after, depends on a complex set of factors, including the relationship the media have to actors in the conflict and the independence the media have to the power holders in society (Puddephatt 2006, 4). The media played a significant role in rebuilding the confidence of people during the peacebuilding processes in Sierra Leone.

It was critical that the media came in and give confidence to the people that the peace process was genuine and it would succeed. The media covered and reported on the disarmament process and other peace-building measures.

(Interview with Kelvin in 2018)

The media were central in terms of peace education, whether in the form of writing editorial, opinion pieces, and producing and broadcasting programmes. There were radio drama programmes aimed at promoting the peace. This is similar to what Maweu (2017) calls ‘peace propaganda’, which made journalists and the media - who covered the 2013 Kenyan elections - generally engaged in excessive self-censorship in the name of peaceful elections thereby neglecting their watchdog role.

The journalists were careful not to be a source of war. The Sierra Leonean media were peace oriented owing to the sad experience the country had gone through. The media promoted peacebuilding programmes, reconciliation and national cohesion. The media worked with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to ensure that peace was established. The media produced contents in which victims told their stories in a professional manner.

(interview with Baryoh in 2018)

The roles played by the media as outlined by the interviewees reinforce Bajrak- tari and Parajon’s (2007) point that often, local media can contribute to peace merely by restoring levels of trust and self-worth in a population on the brink of or emerging from violence. As Kiplimo and Nabushawo (2015, 69) put it, while the debate rages on whether the media perpetrates conflicts or not, few communication experts and scholars suggest that as a powerful tool, media can still be used in the resolution of unending conflicts.

The role of the media in peacebuilding was facilitated by a number of key players, including the Search for Common Ground/Talking Drum Studio (SfCG/TDS), Initiative for Mobile Training of Community Radio (INFOR- MOTRAC)/Radio Netherlands, and Community Radio Network (CORNET). There was also the UN Radio promoting peace messages.

One of those institutions that helped a lot was the UN Radio that came in to disseminate messages of peace and reconciliation and that helped to change the dynamics.

(interview with Suma in 2018)

SfCG/TDS, CORNET and INFORMOTRAC supported the establishment of community radios across the country. The community radio stations disseminated messages of peace and reconciliation.

The focus of the media after the war was also on social integration. There were lot of radio programmes on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. The media’s activity was mostly around acceptance of the ex-combatants - getting the voices of victims and perpetrators (apologies from ex-combatants and preaching reconciliation (interview with Wright in 2018).

The role of SfCG/TDS in post conflict Sierra Leone was about conflict transformation. The approach was mediating between parties that were in conflict, and one of the key activities was to enhance confidence building in terms of parties being on table for dialogue. Participatory media format was used in the context of peace building and dialogue based programmes. Part of the process was to ensure that there is no winner and there is no loser, but a common ground method which was dialogue that enabled parties in conflict to address their grievances.

(Interview with Tonya Musa in 2018, journalist and Mass Communication


Believers Broadcasting Network (BBN) in 2002 introduced a phone-in counselling programme on radio called, ‘Someone Really Cares’. The programme provided psych-social support to people.

During the 2002 democratic election in Sierra Leone, the media mobilized again and established the Independent Radio Network (IRN), which reported on the elections in a bid to promote democratic good governance and peacebuilding and consolidation.

IRN, a network of radio stations, played critical roles of media watchdog during all the presidential, parliamentary and local council elections in 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2018. Such elections are major sources of conflicts in a post-conflict country like Sierra Leone. The IRN relayed news and information programmes on the entire electoral processes ranging from the pre-elections, elections and post-elections phases.


This study has examined the role of the Sierra Leone’s media before, during and after the conflict. The findings have shown that the country’s media contributed both to the escalation and de-escalation of the conflict. The study concluded that one of the outcomes of the civil war in Sierra Leone was the birth of peace journalism. There were training programmes on conflict and peace reporting and also exposure to and use of new communication and information technologies in media institutions. The post-war period also saw the proliferation of media institutions. From the small number of media institutions before and during the war, the post-war era has seen the proliferation of radio and televisions stations and newspapers. There are now over 400 registered media institutions in the country (Independent Media Commission Records 2019). The media have grown significantly and there have also been some improvements in the quality of the media content. The media have been useful in post-conflict Sierra Leone. The media have a role to play to ensure that the peace is maintained and sustained in the country. The media can promote peace and push back against the relapse into conflict by practising ‘peace journalism’.


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