THE SIERRA LEONE BROADCASTING SERVICE (SLBS) TO BECOME THE NEW AND INDEPENDENT SIERRA LEONE BROADCASTING CORPORATION (SLBC)
Plans are now well advanced for what Sierra Leonean professional broadcasters and all those interested in restoring the glory of broadcasting had for a long time hoped for - the creation of an independent national broadcaster.
Now for the first time, Parliament has been presented with a draft bill that should see, for the first time a national broadcaster that will be truly independent, with politicians and the government washing their hands clean off the professionals and leaving the business of broadcasting to them - the professionals.
The draft bill makes encouraging reading. Take this section dealing with the aims and objectives of the new body and one can easily see that if things go as envisaged national broadcasting is in for the much-needed uplift that truly caters for the needs of all sections of the mother country.
Indeed the draft bill has noted that the SLBC will be - "an autonomous legal entity established by this Act, to provide non-profit public broadcasting services in Sierra Leone in a business like, efficient and professional manner."
And the staff are expected to be - "committed professionals aiming to inform, educate, entertain and reflect all shades of opinion throughout the nation. SLBC observes strict political impartiality in all the programmes produced."
And that is not all - take a look at what the draft bill states about how this body will be governed.
A 13-member board is to oversee the operations and performance of the new body and they will be drawn from a number of sectors.
5 members will be nominated by District Local Councils from the East, South, North, West Urban and West Rural regions of the country while 1 member will be a Youth representative There will be 1 representative each from the Council of Paramount Chiefs, the Inter-Religious Forum, the Women's Forum, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, the Chamber of Commerce, the Bar Association and from the Private Broadcasting Industry. The Information Minister and the appointed Director-General will sit in as ex-officio members.
The responsibilities of the Board according to the draft bill will include Representing the interests of the general public in relation to national Broadcasting, the conduct of corporate relations with the Government, its agencies and stakeholders and monitoring and supervision of the Corporationís activities.
And on the important matter of the appointment of the Director General and Deputy, the draft bill notes
"A person to be appointed Director General/Deputy Director General of the Corporation shall be a person who has experience and demonstrated competence in successful running of public and /or private commercial enterprises in, among others, utilities, industry, commercial services, including broadcasting, etc."
Nice one. No longer will the Director General of Broadcasting take upon him/herself to hang around the corridors of State House the whole day while leaving staff to their devices with the station off air and no electricity to make programmes!!!
The obvious question that comes next after the appointments of the professional and administrative head would be the fate of existing staff members of the SLBS. Will they be laid off en masse or will there be an opportunity for the good eggs to continue while the bad who had always relied on political patronage and the right connections will be given the opportunity to head for the door because in the new SLBC - if you cannot perform kindly pack your "panchees" and leave. The new SLBC is not for pretenders.
Here a gist of what the draft bill has to say on staff matters -
"The pensionable staff serving at SLBS upon the formation of the Corporation will be given the choice of being re-deployed or terminated from their civil service contracts and to receive severance if they choose to terminate.
Contracted staff of SLBS will be be terminated with severance.
Freelance staff will be terminated with no severance.
The Corporation, will restructure, reorganize, and hire new staff as employees of the corporation, as required by the Corporationís business and organizational plan. Former pensionable, contract, and freelance staff are welcome to apply."
And, you may ask who carries the financial burden of all this? Read this please to see that all has been taken into consideration.
The funds of the corporation shall include - grants made by the Government to the Corporation from the consolidated fund. Such grants, the amount of which shall be decided by parliament as part of the debate on the Annual Report on the corporationís finances and activities, will be budgeted on a three-year basis, but allocated annually, as a lump sum indexed to inflation, at the beginning of the Corporationís financial year. This three-year budget will represent the base funding for the operational costs of the Corporation.
Additional grants for special projects or infrastructural investments may be requested and made on an annual basis.
Revenue derived in part from fees to the State for telecommunications broadcasting licenses, including radio and television stations and mobile phone providers. The amount or percentage to be set in future legislation as an amendment to this bill.
Parliament may add other funding sources for the Corporation via tariffs and fees.
All funds received through fees or tariffs shall be held by a Public Broadcasting Trust Fund, which is hereby established.
The Board of the Corporation and the IMC will each appoint members to serve as the trustees of the Trust Fund and determine how the revenues are to be used by the public broadcaster.
The Sierra Herald hopes that the mother country will soon boast of a state of the art technology in broadcasting and that the new SLBC will be manned by so efficient a professional body of people to make everyone proud and truly say that as the then leaders of broadcasting in the West African sub-region, we are slowly getting back on our feet.
At last national broadcasting will move into the digital age and get rid of the reams of tape used in editing audio in the ancient cut-and-join method using a blade, splicing tape and editing block as well as saying goodbye to those colourful leader tapes.