September 1, 2012
This 41-page dissertation explores the case of Star Radio in Liberia, highlighting a number of issues about media development in post-conflict countries. According to the report, Star Radio is one of Liberia’s leading nationally broadcast radio stations, which went off-air at the end of 2010 following a staff strike. This study argues that it may be impossible for stations attempting to provide national public service to be either fully commercial or partially state-financed. The four sections of the study discuss relevant theoretical debates about media development, the use of interviews to collect and analyse data, themes that arose from the interview material, and the implications for the broader media development debates. The report also makes suggestions for further innovation in media development practice and research.
The report explaisn that in January 2011, amidst much public controversy, Star Radio “temporarily’ closed, though the station had effectively been off air since November 2010, starting when station staff, demanding salary arrears and the resignation of the station manager, had gone on strike. In the intervening months a series of bitter negotiations, at times brokered by the Ministry of Labor had ensued. By the end of December 2010, salary arrears had been made and the station manager did resign but shortly thereafter the Board, wanting to ‘start afresh’ retired all staff, awarded them severance packages, and invited new applications for all positions. Besieged by new financial, staffing, and credibility challenges as a result of this controversy, eight months after its closure, at the time of writing in August 2011, the station had not reopened. A significant amount of the research for this paper involved understanding the events that led to Star Radio’s closure. According to the author, at first glance it might appear that the challenges Star Radio encountered were strictly technical it does not account for the entire puzzle. The report outlines the following as key aspects of the closure, as raised in the course of the research.
- Capacity Limitations: To begin with, staff at the station had very limited experience in the business side of a commercial radio station. Star Radio never had a clearly articulated strategy for positioning themselves within the competitive, but nascent, commercial media environment that has been growing in Monrovia. One of the key lessons Foundacion Hirondelle representatives attribute to the experience of Star Radio is that it takes more than three years to successfully strengthen management skills within media institutions so that staff can maximise commercial funding opportunities.
- Resource Mismanagement Allegations: five of the seven interviewed for this research raised allegations that the station manager had deliberately ‘mismanaged’ Star Radio revenue, to his own advantage. These concerns seemed to have made their way throughout media circles, and several other respondents alluded to potential problems of corruption.
- Lack of strategic vision: Several respondents speculated that some of Star Radios’ financial problems might have been resolved had Star Radio pared down its operations earlier, an option that had been discussed with Foundacion Hirondelle but ultimately discarded. As has been noted elsewhere, ‘a major hurdle to sustainability is over-sized support, where donors have come in with expensive equipment, facilities, high salaries and vehicles, only for the media organisation to collapse when donors pull out.
- Issues around independence: Concerns were raised about the continued independence of the station’s management. These concerns only rose to importance once the station had run into the financial troubles that precipitated the staff strike of November 2010. The concerns about independence were not about editorial control, but instead centred on three key points: 1) the perceived relationship between Board members and the Government of Liberia; 2) the role of the government in resolving the crisis; and 3) a lack of clarity about the ownership structure of the station.
- Relationship between the Board and the Government of Liberia: Star Radio Board members were not supposed to hold positions in government.
- Lack of clarity around ownership issues: There was not a clear understanding on the ground as to what ownership structures had been worked out once Star Radio transitioned completely to a nationally-owned and -managed entity. Given the other concerns about independence discussed above, this ultimately meant that station employees were able to question whether or not the Board was even the right authority to be making decisions about the station.
The study concludes that the case of Star Radio highlights at least two important considerations in media development theory and practice: 1) the value of, and role for, national-level media in contexts of both state- and nation-building; and 2) the benefit of public service-style media within these contexts, emphasising the need to delink this concept from its traditional business model corollary of public-sector funding. This leads to a third conclusion about the need for further innovation and coordination in support for public service-style media in post-conflict countries, given constraints on both private- and public-sector resources.
The report states that, as the case of Star Radio exemplifies, the state-building and nation-building needs of post-conflict settings demand a reconsideration of many of the liberal democratic assumptions that underpin media development. Further empirical research on media development in these contexts, especially in countries like Sierra Leone where PSB initiatives are underway, are needed. Similarly, greater collaboration and interaction between actors involved in the development of various sectors is required in order to move the debate forward.
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Credit: Communication Initiative http://www.comminit.com/africa/content/peace-building-and-public-service-media-lessons-star-radio-media-developments-liberia