Liberia Community Radio Case Study: The Sustainability Myth
Community radio stations face several obstacles that threaten both their operations and engagement in democratic development. However, there are models of successful community radios in Liberia, and upon closer inspection there is evidence of long-term planning, accountability mechanisms and innovative management strategies. There are programs aimed at attracting community revenue and local advertisers, station managers who have identified alternative resources for capacity building, and national networks created for advocacy. This case study, carried out by Search for Common Ground in February 2009, explores exactly how these community radios are sustaining themselves, thereby revealing how the appropriate interventions aimed at increasing community radio’s stability can be identified and their growth incorporated into the development agenda. The goal of the case study was to explore how community radios are sustaining themselves, while its specific objectives were to (1) identify strategies and innovations unique to community radio that enhance and strengthen sustainability, and (2) establish the community’s role in sustaining community radio. The primary research tool was an informal interview protocol with guided questions developed in consultation with Search for Common Ground’s Sierra Leone office. Community radio managers in the towns of Voinjama, Senji, Gbarnga, Ganta and Buchanan were the primary interviewees as they were in the best position to answer questions regarding the community radios’ operations.
While all of the stations said that they provided their respective communities with information, education and entertainment, they stressed that their primary role was to disseminate educational and developmental information. They aired important local issues and gave community members the opportunity to call-in and express their ideas and opinions about their community‟s development. More specific benefits were also cited. Kintoma Radio reported that it had helped to transform the lives of its citizens as it encouraged ex-combatants in the DDRR process to come on the radio and publicly renounce their war names and former way of life. Radio Kerghemah said that it helped to mobilize citizens and promoted community events free of charge. Radio Cape Mount boasted of successfully reuniting over twenty missing persons with their families, while Radio Gbarnga promoted security through its community watch program. Radio Gbarnga was quick to point out that the benefits were mutual. Because the station served the interests of the community, people assumed responsibilities in keeping the station operating. As a result, the station greatly benefited from the community‟s assistance in the radio‟s upkeep and maintenance.