In November 2012, Radar ran a training project in Sierra Leone, one month before the national election. 45 citizen reporters participated in workshops in the capital, Freetown, the southern city of Bo and the northern rural provinces.
Sierra Leone is on a steep upward economic curve. However, a decade on from the end of civil war, there is still a national struggle with unemployment, gender violence, poor health, widespread poverty and corruption. Despite the challenges, there are strong and active civil groups who are rights-aware and keen to build an open and transparent society.
Despite recent advances in press freedom, the mainstream media is still compromised by corruption, bribery and poor press ethics. Although there are over 60 daily newspapers printed, most are openly aligned with one of the main political parties. This bias was magnified in the tense lead up to the national election in November 2012 when the Sierra Leone People’s Party and the ruling All People’s Congress went head to head in a bid for the country’s leadership. While the traditional and new media channels prepared for election coverage, few were reaching out to source news or opinions beyond the well educated city dwellers.
Drawing on the high mobile prevalence across the country, Radar delivered a series of three-day mobile journalism workshops for 45 youth and disability activists, women leaders, rural communities and slum dwellers to learn how to source and share information via SMS. In partnership with Leonard Cheshire Disability, over 60% of the training spaces were reserved for young people with disabilities under the age of 21.
The project has been a huge success. On election day alone, we received over 150 SMS reports from across the country covering late opening of polling stations, clashes with security, challenges faced by disabled voters, and the excitement of the crowds. By transferring SMS reports to Twitter, we ran the most active live feed on the election and reports were picked up by local journalists, international editors, NGOs and politicians worldwide. An SMS from Freetown-based reporter, Seray Bangura, sent to Radar about the scrapping of Braille voting cards just days before the election resulted in an commissioned article by the Guardian. The SMS report was noticed on Twitter by the Chief election observer for the EU who flagged it up as a point of concern at government level. You can read Seray’s article here
The election provided a springboard to launch a strong team of citizen reporters whose voices often remain on the margins of society. As part of our long term work with the network, we offer editorial support and small ‘travel & credit’ grants to reporters to help them develop new story ideas and write more in depth articles for the international press. Four have secured paid work as media ‘fixers’, supporting visiting media crews to shoot and gather stories in Sierra Leone. We will continue to offer refresher training and link reporters to media houses and policy makers across the world.
For a snapshot of the different reports, see our Storify of election day