IRN coverage of the 2018 elections was preceded with a weekly simulcast broadcast which was tagged; “March 2018 Elections Countdown program.” A total of 52 editions of this program were produced and the programs focused on activities, processes and phases within the electoral cycle. As we approach the general elections, the focus was on election preparedness by EMB, the security sector and civil society organizations preparedness to monitor the elections. Primarily, the editions of the program during the last quarter to the elections focused on the nomination of political candidates by the political parties, public policy debate, and campaign and non-violence promotion. During this same period, IRN partnered with AYV Media Empire and the SLBC radio and TV to broadcast the presidential, youth and women’s debates live. Through the IRN’s network of 40 community radio stations dotted across the country, over 3 million Sierra Leoneans listened to the three public policy debates (Presidential, Youth and Women) ahead of the general elections.
IRN developed a mobile application (App) to enhance election coverage and reporting, and to serve as a clearing house for reliable and factual information on the electoral process. Following a long period of review and recommendations on the quality and features of the application, (in order to make the reporting of election results easier), the APP was launched on the Android and IOS platforms. This was a new innovation aimed at avoiding the inadequacies witnessed in reporting election results in previous elections. IRN trained its reporters on how to use the APP. Using the APP essentially involved two (2) stages; texting the result in line with the format provided in the APP and choosing from the list the category you wish to report on (Presidential, Parliamentary, Council, Mayor) and feeding the information to the number provided by IRN. Reporters without smart phones were also trained to use the manual format to text their reports as messages to the phone numbers provided by IRN. In total six hundred (600) Reporters sent reports using the IRN APP and fifty (50) used the manual method since they did not have smart phones. The APP was user friendly as it could be easily downloaded by the public and had easy instructions to follow to access results. The System provided a summation of results from several polling stations and individual candidates. The report shows results as per polling station for each candidate for the local council, mayor/chairperson and presidential results. The platform was linked to a Facebook page and website which makes the report accessible to the general public. In addition, IRN also maintained the usual texting of messages to the system. The general public gained access to the App by downloading it into their smart phones and accessed election results. A total of about one million five hundred users worldwide downloaded the App and accessed the result published by IRN Reporters on the platform.
TRAINING OF REPORTERS
In preparation for the polling day coverage, IRN recruited, trained and deployed six hundred and fifty (650) Reporters across the country. The training was conducted at regional level. On 27th February, 2018, one hundred and ninety (190) reporters were trained in the regional head quarter town of Makeni to cover five (5) Districts; Bombali, Koinadugu, Kambia, Port Loko and Tonkolili. On 26th February 2018, one hundred and thirty eight (138) reporters were trained and deployed in Bo, the southern regional headquarter town covering four (4) districts: Bo, Bonthe, Moyamba and Pujehun. On the 25th February, 2018, one hundred and fifty (150) reporters were trained in Kenema the regional head quarter town of the east to cover the three eastern districts of Kono, Kailahun and Kenema. On the 1st March, 2018 one hundred and seventy two (172) reporters were trained to cover Western Area Rural and Urban. The reporters were trained on how to produce quick, calm, accurate, credible and comprehensive reports. To achieve this, the facilitation was centered on; ethical issues; the use of the result reporting App; election safety and Security and Security of reporters.
MEDIA CENTRE AND POLLING DAY COVERAGE ELEMENT
Deployment of 650 Reporters was a major polling day activity. IRN established a media center in Freetown and the membership network of forty (40) radio stations across the country carried the broadcast simultaneously.
A total of thirty (30) producers were stationed at the IRN hub in Freetown where they carried out production and broadcast activities. The responsibility of the Reporters in the field was to collect vital information as well as election results from various polling centers. Each Reporter was placed to cover a number of polling centers. Four computers were programmed at the IRN hub to service four regions; North, South, East and West with each having a phone used by Reporters to transmit information to the hub.
As the election unfolded, the hub was receiving live election updates from fourteen (14) coordinators who were stationed in all the districts of Sierra Leone and were liaising with IRN Reporters on the ground. Real time update of all major activities across the country were captured and reported by IRN.
Immediately after receiving updates from polling centers after counting, IRN collated the data and started announcing provisional results as they came in. In addition, IRN was able to cover press conferences, interviews and concerns from CSOs, political parties, security forces and the general public. As the announcement of the election results went on, IRN also focused on transmitting peace messages to promote tolerance and acceptance of results.