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Cablegate: Apc and Slpp Re-Launch Unity Radio

VZCZCXRO5373
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHFN #0305 1791906
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271906Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2003
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS FREETOWN 000305

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/W

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR SL
SUBJECT: APC AND SLPP RE-LAUNCH UNITY RADIO

Ref (A) Freetown 300 (B) Freetown 237

1. SUMMARY: On June 12, Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma,
of the All People's Congress (APC)-led government officially
re-launched the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP)) Unity
Radio 94.9. The Ministry of Information and Communication had closed
the radio station on May 8 (Ref B). Several senior SLPP members,
former officials of the former SLPP-led government and key civil
society representatives attended the launch. The party leadership
acknowledged their political differences, but agreed to cooperate
and support a peaceful democratic process in Sierra Leone. As the
local election campaign period moves into full swing, both parties
will need to reaffirm publicly such unity of purpose and urge their
followers to do the same. END SUMMARY.

--------------------
Radio Unity Launched
--------------------

2. On June 12, President Koroma, along with SLPP opposition
stalwarts, re-launched the SLPP radio, Radio Unity. The mood was one
of playful competition between the two parties, belying the
animosity exhibited since the government shut down the station and
the heated negotiations ensued prior to the resumption of
transmission. Senior SLPP, civil society and GoSL officials spoke on
themes of freedom of speech and the press and media responsibility.

3. Roland Caesar, Acting head of the Political Parties Registration
Commission (PPRC) challenged both parties to follow the example of
the minority party, the People's Movement for Democratic Change
(PMDC) in honoring signed commitments to transparency that followed
the 2007 national elections.

4. Independent Media Commission (IMC) Commissioner Abubakarr Kargbo
stressed the importance of fair and impartial radio and print
coverage of candidates' campaign in line with the IMC Media Code of
Practice. The Media Code of Practice requires fair and balanced
coverage of candidates regardless of gender or political party
affiliation and prohibits the provocation of regional and ethnic
tensions. SLPP Publicity Committee Chairman Dr. Sama Banya called
the negotiations to restore the radio transmission the "longest
short journey," and pledged SLPP compliance with all regulations of
both the Ministry of Information and Communication and the IMC.
Banya confirmed that President Koroma also agreed to address issues
regarding the compliance of other domestic and international
broadcasters operating in Sierra Leone. Banya, however, noted that,
because of the shutdown, the radio will only have only been able to
broadcast for one month prior to the July 5 local election, adding
that during the 2007 national elections the SLPP-led government had
never shutdown the APC radio station.

5. President Koroma replied that when the APC was in the opposition,
the party did not have the same access to President Kabbah.
President Koroma welcomed an effective opposition radio because it
levels the campaign playing field. Success, Koroma said, is now up
to the truthfulness of each party's message. In a nod to the colors
of the political parties, President Koroma finished his speech with
the message that "whether red, orange, or green, the object is for
all to rise up and build a new Sierra Leone." (Note: Red represents
the APC, green the SLPP and orange the PMDC).

5. COMMENT: The government and SLPP bear equal responsibility for
the initial closure of Unity Radio and the tensions that arose from
its abrupt closure. For the government, the move to silence the
opposition station appeared to reflect political grandstanding,
bureaucratic muscle-flexing, and procedural problems in carrying out
telecommunications policy. The SLPP, while stridently expressing
their displeasure, failed to acknowledge their own culpability when
it was revealed that they had only partially carried out the
required steps to legally erect an antenna on land owned by the
government. Fortunately, such finger pointing ultimately gave way to
effective mediation to resolve the problem in relatively short
order. The negotiations not only addressed the immediate concern,
but also, with luck, set a precedent for resolving future
differences.

6. COMMENT, (Cont): The launch to restart Radio Unity transmissions
provided an opportunity for the APC and SLPP parties to affirm
publicly their commitment to seek mediation in areas of
disagreement. Given the more recent incidents of political
intolerance in the northern part of the country (ref A), more
frequent displays of unity between the parties will be needed to
remind the public that political violence and intolerance undermine
Sierra Leone's democratic development. END COMMENT.
Jameson DeBose, Thomas R. Pickering Fellow, drafted this cable.
PERRY

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