Using popular TV culture to educate the public about legal rights, empowering people and provoking discussions about the justice system.
The vast majority of people in Sierra Leone have little knowledge about their legal rights. A weak justice system combined with a lack of knowledge concerning rights and avenues for redress results in limited protection for even the most basic rights.
Police Case is a TV drama series which aims to use popular media to educate the wider public about their rights in the criminal justice system and other human rights issues, such as gender-based violence. It also addresses issues of police accountability and the role of the police force in society.
Each episode was screened on SLBC (the sole national TV channel) followed by a live call-in discussion with a panel of AdvocAid lawyers, police officers and other civil society experts who were able to answer questions and clarify areas of concern raised by members of the public. The first series received an incredible response from the public with hundreds of calls and texts during the live call-in discussions, several walk-in clients to AdvocAid and partner organisation offices and local and international media coverage. The first series took justice issues from the court room and police station into houses, bars and communities and prompted nationwide discussion.
Further community screenings across the country are being planned and a DVD is being produced which can be used by other organisations and schools to promote legal education. The series will be uploaded to the internet and we hope to air the series on other pan-African TV channels as well as explore opportunities to scale up the idea to impact other African countries. The TV show is supported by a social media platform, using Facebook, where other legal education resources and information are posted.
“Without education, awareness of rights and decision-making power, women are often unable to claim their rights, obtain legal aid or go to court.”
UN Women Report, “In Pursuit of Justice” (2011)
1. Can you briefly describe the innovation, the problem it tries to solve and why is it necessary?
The vast majority of people in Sierra Leone have little knowledge about their legal rights. Sierra Leone is recovering from a brutal 11 year civil war and years of preceding decay, which severely impacted State institutions and services, particularly the justice system and educational systems. A weak justice system combined with a lack of knowledge concerning rights and avenues for redress results in limited protection for even the most basic rights.
AdvocAid regularly encounters situations where women plead guilty to charges they do not understand, forcibly sign confessions, are detained over the constitutional limit, pay bribes in order to access bail and are without any information or knowledge about their rights and the legal process they are caught up in. AdvocAid was seeking an innovative way to respond to this urgent need for legal education, given the extremely low literacy rates in the country. We were also looking for a way to engage the wider public, particularly young people, and to generate debate concerning reform of the justice system. Given that popular perceptions in Sierra Leone are often that all people in conflict with the law are “bad” people, AdvocAid saw the opportunity to provide greater insight into the particular vulnerabilities many women who come into conflict with the law face and generate greater empathy for their situations through the use of characters and narrative storytelling. Finally, we wanted to encourage Sierra Leonean women to stand up for each other and to inspire them to see themselves not just as victims but as active participants in their communities, including the justice system, with the potential to become Magistrates, lawyers, paralegals and police officers.
2. What makes your innovation unique?
There are no Sierra Leonean dramas currently on Sierra Leonean television and most TV shows are either TV series from China or Brazil. Nigerian movies have a popular following and the Sierra Leone film industry is in resurgence. However, whilst these popular media forms are entertaining there are often few positive messages or role models.
AdvocAid decided to use this growing interest in visual stories and use it to educate the wider public about their legal rights, thereby using popular culture to empower people.
We are not aware of any such legal TV drama series in Africa (or in the world) which seeks to educate the public about their legal rights and provoke discussion about the justice system in this way.
3. What triggered the development of the innovation?
As indicated above, over its 6 years of operation, AdvocAid has seen a real need for legal education and rights awareness in Sierra Leone. AdvocAid has run various legal education projects and is always looking for creative and innovative methods to educate and engage the wider public. For example, we have used posters, cartoons, radio dramas and illustrated booklets.
The idea for the TV drama was triggered by seeing the growing interest in TV and film in Sierra Leone, especially by young people, and our interaction with film makers and media professionals.
4. Which persons and organisations were involved in the development and what role did they play?
Sabrina Mahtani (AdvocAid’s Executive Director) had the original concept for the TV drama and oversaw overall management of the project. Simitie Lavaly (AdvocAid’s Legal Officer) played a key role in developing the script and providing expert legal input based on her years of representing women in conflict with the law. We also involved ex prisoners, sex workers, paralegals, members of the public and law students when developing the script in order to make sure the TV drama corresponded to the needs and interests of the target audience.
Our script writer, Jonathan Bundu, played a critical role in ensuring the characters and story lines were interesting and managed to balance humour, education and interest.
Our production team, Concept Multimedia, ensured that the TV drama looked professional, was creatively shot and also developed a catchy sound track.
5. What kind of resistance have you encountered and how have you overcome it?
We were fortunate to receive a very positive response from our target audience and key partners, such as the police. We have developed a good relationship with the Sierra Leone Police through our several years of work and they agreed to be an official partner, allowing us to film the series in the Central Police station. The Inspector General of Police even launched the series for us at our launch event at the British Council.
We were not allowed to film in the Law Courts unfortunately but managed to stage a realistic court setting so were able to overcome this challenge.
Having good partner networks and collaborating with individuals and organisations in different sectors, such as the media sector, has been instrumental to making this innovation successful.
6. How did you make the goals realistic and attainable, and at what time will which quick wins be available?
We limited ourselves to an initial four-part series in order to test the response and to learn from making the initial series.
We spent a long time working on the script and made several changes following reviews and input from the beneficiary and target groups described above.
We had a very positive response from the initial series and received several emails, texts and phone calls during the live call in discussion and afterwards indicating a quick positive response to the TV drama.
7. Will the innovation have an effect on other organisations in the chain and if that is the case, how will it affect them?
Key organisations involved in the justice system were part of the live call in discussions that occurred after the screening on the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation TV channel, for example the police, Anti-Corruption Commission, Human Rights Commission and Timap for Justice.
AdvocAid received many enquiries following the TV drama and was able to provide legal advice and assistance to several cases and refer others to relevant organisations. Timap for Justice also reported a marked increase in the number of people coming to them for legal information and advice.
A DVD is being developed which can be used by various organisations and schools to deliver legal education.
The police commented that they were pleased about the drama as it addressed issues of bad policing and also portrayed good policing and the role model the police force should be.
8. How was the development funded and what were reasons for the financing organisation?
The innovation was funded by donors such as Mama Cash, Open Society Foundations and GIZ. The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation agreed to partner with us as they thought the idea was an excellent one and offered discounted pricing for screenings.
9. Can you name 3 to 5 characteristics of the innovation that are most essential to make it work?
Well developed story lines and script, informed by a well researched context of problems in the justice system and technical legal input to ensure that legal rights are correctly portrayed.
A professional and creative production team to ensure that the end product is interesting to watch and of professional standard.
Good partner relations with key components of the justice system, such as the police and civil society.
Sufficient resources for advertising and outreach.
10. How do you measure whether it is a successful innovation?
It is always difficult to measure media and advocacy projects. However, we have measured this through the number of callers into the live call in discussion, walk-in queries, referrals to other organisations, users of our Facebook page and media coverage as well as responses from various people who have watched the series.
11. How many people or organisations benefit from this innovation now?
SLBC does not have the technology to track viewer figures. However, during the first 15 minutes of one live call-in discussion we received over 96 text messages and 44 calls, followed by several walk-in queries into our office. We have received responses not just from the capital, Freetown, but also various regions across the country such as Makeni, Bo and Kenema. We have received many positive comments from viewers and were even informed that it is the favourite topic of discussion in many local bars!
Several justice sector organisations have benefited (such as the ones listed above) as well as other organisations such as Defence for Children, Journalists for Human Rights and the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law who were present during the launch.
We have also used the programme during trainings with women who are at risk of coming into conflict with the law, such as legal education training to market women.
12. How many people or organisations could potentially benefit from it now or in the future? (Scaling-up) Can or will the innovation be used internationally and how do you overcome cultural differences?
We intend to screen the series again on TV and also use it to do community legal education clinics. The DVD will be given to several civil society and educational organisations as well as a human rights film festival in Sierra Leone and other similar festivals in Africa and internationally. We also intend to upload the series to the internet. We hope to screen the series on a pan African TV channel such as African Magic. Therefore, potentially thousands more people could benefit.
With further funding we hope to be able to do more outreach with the series and also to develop a second series dealing with other justice-related issues, such as rights of juveniles.
The TV series has English subtitles and so this could be used internationally. It could also be dubbed if necessary. In particular, it could be used in other West African countries which speak pigeon English (the series is in Krio) such as Ghana, Cameroon, Liberia and Nigeria. It would also be of benefit to other African countries which face many similar challenges their justice systems and which have similar common law systems as Sierra Leone.
With the appropriate funding, we hope to be able to scale up this innovation to other countries.
13. Can you quantify the financial benefits?
If people are more aware of their legal rights, this should lessen the number of cases in the court system and overcrowding in prisons. One of the key messages in the series was advocating for alternative dispute resolution for minor offences, offering a way to divert minor cases away from the court system. Likewise, for individuals, detention can represent a financial crisis for them and their family and thus when minor disputes can be settled outside of the courts and prison system, families are better able to maintain their livelihoods.
The TV series and DVD will be easy to use in trainings, cutting down the cost for speakers and other costs associated with legal trainings.
14. Is the innovation financially viable and sustainable and if yes, how?
We were able to produce the TV series at a low cost thanks to excellent partnership networks with media professionals and other partners. We will be able to finance additional innovations through ongoing donor support and also perhaps through TV channels, such as African Magic, commissioning a further series.
15. Did you receive any recognition?
We had extensive local and international media coverage, such as being featured on Voice of America. We received messages of support from key organisations such as Amnesty International and were featured on Open Society Foundation’s Blog, Voices. We have received many positive messages on our Facebook page, through texts and other comments. For example, viewers sent in the following messages:
“The programme helps us to understand police issues”
“It is really educative, I only hope you will continue with more episodes”
“I enjoyed every minute of Police Case. I think it was entertaining, educative and real; real in the sense that it reflected the reality of the justice machinery in our country. I will recommend it to everyone!”
“I will take the message to my village”
“One of the best programmes on SLBC, bravo AdvocAid”
16. What lessons did you learn along the way that could be useful to others?
It is important to develop good partnership networks, including with partners working in the same sector and partners working in different sectors. This ensures both effectiveness and creativity in a given project.
It is important to have sufficient time for the project and to anticipate delays in shooting and other set backs that affect production in a developing country.
It is very important for rule of law organisations to be creative in the way we approach justice problems and to “think outside the box”.