Bernard Avle(left) He cuts a contemplative and tall figure. Be-spectacled with some degree of seriousness etched on his face, you could be forgiven for thinking that the dynamic Bernard Avle, host of the CITI Breakfast Show is only recently a busy man. But he's not. He's been busy ever since he became the host of the young and private Accra-based radio station in late 2004.
Recently from Nairobi, Kenya, where he accompanied the station's managing-director Samuel Attah-Mensah to receive an award for the "Best Interactive TalkShow of the Year", I took the opportunity to ask him over to my workplace, whilst he was in the East Legon neighborhood for another interactive Friday show.
I ended up agreeing on a time to set up an "online" interview with him. These are the results.
Congratulations on your station winning the first-ever BBC Radio Award for "Best Interactive Show in Africa". How does it feel?
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be on Global Voices Online. It does feel good to have been acknowledged by the BBC as having the Talk/Interactive Show of the year
Tell me about the BBC Radio Awards
The Africa Radio Awards were instituted by the BBC to celebrate excellence in African Radio, according to the organisers, Radio is a powerful medium for reaching Africans with over 700 million listeners across the continent.
The awards were held in two phases-the 1st being the regional finals for East, South & West Africa. There were 7 categories in all; Radio Station of the Year, New Radio Station of the Year, News Journalist of the Year, Sports Journalist of the Year, Local On-Air campaign of the year, Talk/Interactive Show of the year and Young Journalist of the year.Citi FM got into the finals after being selected as regional winners in the categories of New Radio Station of the Year, and Talk/Interactive show of the year.
Tell me about the entry you sent
For the category which my program won, we were expected to send excerpts of our program totalling not more than 30 minutes, to the BBC. As you would know, my program airs 3& 1/2 hours every weekday, thus it was quite a challenge putting the best of my work into 30 minutes.I sent a mix of programs, including the outdoor broadcasts we held at Gbawe and Oblogo, as well as the heated social discussions we held on "Sex for Jobs"; “Irresponsible Fatherhood”, and “Condoms for Students”. I also sent in excerpts of the program I did on the Legacy of Dr Kwame Nkrumah , on the 97th Anniversary of his birth, plus a few others.
What do you think was the defining element for BBC's choice of CITI?
To answer that i'll just paste verbatim, what the judges said about my entry."Interactive/ Talk Show of the Year: The Citi Breakfast Show hosted by Bernard Avle, Citi FM, Ghana
This show successfully mixes studio guests, outside broadcasts, phone-ins and text messages to ensure it is tapping into the stories the local community want to hear. Bernard Avle has a questioning, out-going personality which gets to the heart of issues in a fun and informative way. He often takes his listeners' complaints direct to those responsible and nothing is taboo with everything from free condoms and sexual harassment to Kwame Nkrumah's legacy coming under scrutiny.
I've heard you on radio many times. You sound rather combative in your interviewing techniques. Or so your critiques say. What's with that style?
Combative might be a strong word, assertive is probably more accurate. I ask simple questions when I have to elicit information for listeners, but I sometime ask pointed questions in a bid to clarify a point or even play the devil’s advocate when necessary to ensure that all sides of an issue are articulated.
Ghanaians appear to be turned off by aggressive and combative interviewing, whilst at the same time being very vocal about criticizing their policy-makers. In your view, why is there such a disparity?
Ghanaians value respect for authority but also appreciate probing questions from an assertive interviewer who does so in a courteous way. A few listeners complain sometimes about my style, but generally, there is no disparity there; one does not have to be rudely aggressive or "combative"- a word I still disagree with - to be robust and thorough in an interview. The essential point is to ask well-grounded, relevant questions.
Interactivity is fine; topics are another. The CITI Breakfast Show has covered international topics, such as Zimbabwe, but doesn't cover that many ECOWAS or other-Africa related issues. Is this because there is no appetite for this? If not, why not?
The BBC was pleased by the broad mix of subjects discussed on the Citi Breakfast Show. Although our audience is of an international nature, pre-eminence is sometimes given to local issues because local listeners predominate.I do not agree that we do not cover Ecowas issues. My show did a live outdoor broadcast from the Budumburam camp of Liberian Refugees, during their 2005 elections. We also did many shows on the Nigerian elections. Anyhow, as we grow our audiences we would definitely put in more hours for the sub-region.
As Ghana becomes the hub, or gateway, for West Africa, what challenges do you foresee will emerge for broadcast journalists?
If your question is in reference to the Ghanaian Journalist, I think the challenge of objectivity will always be there. Ghanaian journalists will need to move away from what has become partisan and parochial agenda setting to objective coverage of the country, to give the international community a more accurate picture of the situation in Ghana.
What do you think is the future for radio broadcasting in Ghana?
Huge potential, Radio is the most powerful means of reaching both urban and rural Ghanaians. Over 70% of All Ghanaian own a radio set* as compared with less than 50% for TV. The Ghanaian is hungry for information and presently radio provides that in good, credible measure, largely because people see radio as the first port of call to channel grievances.
In the West, citizen journalism and blogging is big vis-à-vis the media, with many debates raging on the threat-- or lack thereof-of how Media is changing the face of journalism. Last August, the BBC reported that 61% of Nigerians had accessed the BBC website via their mobile phones ( **). Where do you see Ghanaian journalists going with New Media?
Its obviously a big opportunity which I do not think Ghanaian electronic media owners have fully opened up to. It has more to do with where media owners want to invest in. Having said that, the Ghanaian journalist has a big opportunity to take advantage of these technologies to learn from across the globe.
* Ghana Statistical Service; Pattern & Trends in Poverty(Ghana Living Standards Survey v;2007)