Ebola virus: College radio in Sierra Leone fights against misinformation

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is evolving rapidly and has been described by Doctors Without Borders as “out of control”.  In Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in particular, the virus has found a naturally ally in impoverished, hard to reach communities.

Sierra Leone is now at the epicenter of the outbreak, and access to affected villages has been hampered not only by rain and poor roads, but also by rumor and fear.  In this context, radio has an essential role to play, providing information in local languages and engaging local leaders in helping people understand the steps to take to avoid spreading the disease.

Independent radios have been quick to react, working together to produce and broadcast programming that responds to the acute need for more information on the virus.  At Cotton Tree News-Radio Mt. Aureol at Fourah Bay College above the capital Freetown, a team of professional and student journalists are reporting on the virus and bringing together decision makers and members of national and local government in live interactive debates. Recent guests include representatives from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, the Inter-religious Youth Council, and the Voice of Islam Radio.

Programs being broadcast are mostly straight forward fact based reporting, such as: The Ebola outbreak and partners involved in containing the epidemic; Causes and prevention of Ebola; Treatment Centers and kits for medical staff.  The radio has also explored themes such as the role of religious leaders in the fight against the Ebola disease and public perception about efforts to contain the Ebola virus, providing a platform for dialogue and interactivity and fulfilling its role as a teaching radio in the public service.

Background on Cotton Tree News

Cotton Tree News (CTN) was created in 2007 by partnership between Fourah Bay College and the Swiss NGO Fondation Hirondelle. The project has been run locally by Fourah Bay College since 2011 and is currently supported by the University of Sierra Leone and Hirondelle USA with a grant from The Ford Foundation.

For the past seven years, CTN has held a leading role in the country’s media landscape. In 2012 its coverage of the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections was commended as “balanced and neutral” by the EU Election Observer Mission in its final report. CTN’s wide reach, through the network of partners, and the trust it has earned form the population position it to successfully carry out civic education and programming in support of the constitutional review process.

In addition to its coverage of new and current affairs, CTN has gained a reputation for in depth coverage of issues of importance to women. The current Ford Foundation grant addresses an acute and urgent need for programming on all aspects of women’s rights including violence against women and children in Sierra Leone. Coverage has included in-depth reporting and PSAs on family planning, rape, customary law and women’s land rights, and birth and death registration among other topics.

CTN is broadcasting on 107.3 FM in Freetown as part of the Radio Mt. Aureol program, and on 26 community radios by satellite downlink.

Photo: Jean-Claude Capt