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IPI honours Radio Okapi with 2010 Free Media Pioneer award

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna 7 September 2010 - The International Press Institute (IPI) today honoured Radio Okapi, based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with the 2010 'Free Media Pioneer' award.

Radio Okapi began broadcasting on 25 February 2002 as a public service station with the aim of contributing to the building of peace in the DRC. The radio station is jointly managed by the Fondation Hirondelle in Switzerland, and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO) in Kinshasa.

The IPI Free Media Pioneer award was established in 1996 to honour media outlets that have contributed, through their tireless efforts and sometimes at extreme risk, to the development of a free media in their countries. Recent winners include Novaya Gazeta of Russia (2009), Talking Points Memo (2008), the Mizzima News Agency of India and Burma (2007), the Yemen Times (2006) and SW Radio Africa from the United Kingdom.

Eight years after it first went on air, Radio Okapi has proved its sustainability and changed the face of news reporting in the DRC. In a country that has suffered from violence and underdevelopment, Okapi contributes to peace and democratization by allowing the free flow of information. The station sets a benchmark for media professionalism and ethics, as well as diversity, with daily broadcasts in five languages, including the country's four national languages. Most of the broadcaster's programming is in French.

Radio Okapi has also contributed to the online spread of news in and about the DRC. Its website ( ) is the first news website in the DRC; and with more than 400,000 visits a month, it gives the outside world a portal into the country's daily developments.

Sadly, the station has also paid a high price for its reporting. In June 2007, news editor Serge Maheshe Kasole was killed. He and other journalists at Radio Okapi's office in Bukavu had received threats because of their reporting on fighting between rebels, government forces and local militants. One year later, his colleague Didace Namujimbo was also killed, possibly because of his reporting on Mr. Kasole's death and the flawed trials of various suspects that followed.

Nonetheless, the station has become the most-listened to broadcaster in the DRC, with a full third of the country tuning in every day.

"It is a delight and honour for IPI to name Radio Okapi as its 15th Free Media Pioneer," said IPI Interim Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. "They are a shining example not only for media in other conflict or post-conflict areas, but for radio stations around the world. Their professionalism, high standards, and courage have borne fruit - in the form of an incredible 20 million listeners. We applaud Radio Okapi, the Fondation Hirondelle and the United Nations for their tireless efforts to bring news of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the country's citizens and to the world."

Representatives from Radio Okapi, the Fondation Hirondelle and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo will receive the IPI Free Media Pioneer award during the Opening Ceremony of the IPI World Congress in Vienna, Austria, which will be held from 11-14 September 2010.

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