Kenya: Arua Radio Wins Africa Award

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Grappling at home with rapid mysterious staff exit, Arua-based Radio Pacis FM on May 26 sailed to continental stardom after it was declared the best "New Radio Station of-the-year" in Africa during the inaugural BBC-Africa radio awards - 2007. Former Nations Media Group Chief Executive Officer Wilfred Kiboro handed over the coveted prize to the radio managing director Fr Tonino Pasolini at a colourful ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya on May 26.

Radio Pacis, hit by staff resignations, now stands to receive broadcasting equipment worth Shs 8.3 million. "It is very exciting to be a winner but winning is also a challenge because we now need to maintain high standards and ethical behaviour," Sherry Meyer, the station manager said.

The BBC's final panel of four expert judges - led by former World Broadcaster's Focus news anchor Robin White - were mesmerised by a one-hour long audio entry by Radio Pacis that combined 10-minute segments of its news journal, live talk shows, prime news, women as well as children's programmes.

"Radio Pacis is a fine example of what a community radio station outside the capital can do. It may have few staff and modest resources, but it still addresses challenging issues including providing advice on medical and health problems. It also offers debate on matters of local interest alongside local and national news," the judges said in declaring the station winner.

Commenting on the high labour turnover at the station, Mr Meyer who doubles as the human resource manager, said they were "concerned" about the sudden exit of staff but were undertaking candidate mentoring and in-house training to develop capacity of recruits to understand employment and management policies. At least 20 contract employees at the station have quit over the last two years; some for further studies but others due to unexplained reasons. Now the total labour force stands at 50 contract staff.

The Catholic-owned 90.9FM radio began broadcasting on October 25, 2004. Its establishment spearheaded by Frederick Drandua, bishop of Arua Catholic Diocese, followed an appeal by grassroot Christians through the diocesan synod.

Buoyed by the sudden feat, Father Pasolini disclosed that arrangements are in place to acquire an additional frequency for the radio that intends to dedicate one frequency to broadcasting in English, Alur, Acholi while the other takes care of the native Lugbara, Madi and Kakwa languages."We may get the second frequency by February next year. Our stand is to be professional everyday and use the radio as a means of communicating with people to promote development, faith matters, and issues of health, education and women dignity," he said.

The award, the first of its kind in Uganda, has received overwhelming appreciation from the station's estimated 5 million listeners in northern Uganda, South Sudan and parts of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo as a pioneering example of excellent media work and has effectively redefined the significance of the broadcast industry in championing development of rural areas.

Other stations in the West Nile border enclave include; Radio Voice of Life, which is currently marking its 10th year of existence, Nile FM, Arua 1 FM, radio Paidha FM and the Koboko-based Spirit FM. Ghanaian Citi FM, one of the only two finalist stations, lost the top-notch New Station of the year honour under which only stations that started transmissions on or after September 1, 2004 were eligible. But Citi FM, through its flagship breakfast show scooped the Interactive/Talk show of the year award in the premier edition of the 7-category BBC-Africa radio competition organised primarily to celebrate "excellence" in African radio broadcasting.

The South African-based 702 Talk radio emerged overall radio station of the year. The Local On-air campaign of the year went to Matilda Asante of Joy FM in Ghana, Esther Mbondo of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) took the News Journalist of the year slot honours and her Kenyan Capital FM counterpart James Wokabi led the sports journalist pack. Talented teenage South African presenter Qaanitaah Dramat of Radio 786 won the Young broadcaster of the year prize.

(The Monitor (Kampala), 6 June 2007)