As the new model corolla car was flying on the Torkham-Jalalabad highway and passing through the rough mountains that suffered badly from hands of Russians to Mujahideen and Taliban to Americans, I was heeding to listen Nangrahar Radio.
The three passengers in the back seat were discussing the new government and were hoping it should start an immediate construction of the road.
The arguments among the three passengers badly disturbed me but I was still trying to listen to the programme with full attention.
It was a programme concerning social issues. The guests at the radio programme were presenting their point of view intelligently but the presenter was spoiling it.
Noticing my attention in the programme, the driver said, “I like to listen Pakistani radios, especially the programmes airing live telephone calls”.
I read his mind. This programme should have live calls but he did not know why it had not any.
I knew it. The presenter was so unprofessional and inexperienced that she had ruined the recorded programme, then how can she handle live programmes?
It was 2002. I listened the same radio again last month. This time, the presenter was doing his job in a great manner. The programmes were good and totally different.
You can call
Afghanistan a country full of news. A conflict is still going on here for more than 25 years. This war has its own effects on the people and the most affected segment is the young generation.
It started in 1973 when former Prime Minister Mohammad Daud Khan staged a coup d’état while king Mohammad Zahir Shah was in
Italy undergoing eye surgery.
With the fall of Zahir Shah regime, there was only 50 kilometers asphalted road existed in entire
Afghanistan while financial crisis had gripped country’s economy but still a system was working and common people were thinking it okay.
There was a restricted media fully controlled by the government.
Mohammad Daud Khan introduced presidential form of government and called a republic government but there was not any independent media organization within the country.
It was until the American-backed jihad started against Russian invasion and pro-communist Afghan government.
The mujahedeen established their own media organizations in neighboring countries propagating their activities. Western media like BBC and Voice of America launched special programmes for
Afghanistan in Pashto and Dari and attracted people’s attention, as every Afghan was keen to about the happenings in their motherland.
This war left several negative effects on people lives. Thousands of people were either killed by the Mujahedeen (holly warriors) or by the government in reaction. The once beautiful cities were now turned into ruins.
Majority of the Afghans were migrated or fled to neighboring countries and to the West and the existing government system collapsed. But it brought some good things in which the improvement of the media was the one.
Today, the new generation of
Afghanistan, which is grown in the course of war, fear, migration and continuously changing situations, is more willing to do some thing for their country.
But there are still many problems exist in the country.
When we compare today’s Afghan media to the Taleban’s era, it has improved 200%. According to 2007 annual report of Reporters without Borders (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=20759&Valider=OK) “Press freedom is one of the few achievements of the five years since the fall of the Taliban regime. However, it remains fragile as journalists feel the effects of deteriorating security, threats from the warlords, conservative religious leaders and an increasingly hard-pressed government.”Nazir Ahmad Sahar, a prominent young journalist and writer complained of the government officials, warlords and lack of professional journalists.
When asked about media under the Taleban, he paused and then said, “Well, the media is now a hundred times better than that Taleban times”.
The same comments came from all the people I questioned for this article.
Another known journalist and blogger Borhan M. Younas says: “Freedom of expression and press freedom is now, of course, far better than any other time in the past three decades. However, there is still widespread self-censorship among all media outlets, particularly for the print media.”
“Journalists do face harassment. The most harassment comes from war lords and strongmen”. He added.
He further states, “In addition, the government, especially its intelligence branch tries its best to keep the media under its control by any means available. Last year, the intelligence directorate called in journalists to a meeting and warned all to follow the instructions they gave to the media. A 20-item instruction letter was handed to journalists, preventing them from publishing/airing any kind of materials that can be deemed against interests of the government”.
I remember that issue was raised by media and journalists had denied obeying the instructions given to them by officials.
The threats were not only from government but were also from the Taleban who ordered journalists to publish every thing they say, no problem it is false or true.
Last year a spokesman to the senior Taleban commander Mullah Dadullah phoned media outlets and threatened to kill their reporters if it failed to publish Taleban’s statements. Media and journalists did not take these threats seriously but when government tried to give them instructions, they denied and condemned it strongly.
Nazir Sahar explained it thus, “Journalists are brave. They don’t oblige instructions. But the problem is that if we get a ‘big’ story or report, our media is not going to publish/air it and the government harasses. And if the same story goes to a foreign journalist they can get it published easily”.
It is to be mentioned that the Taliban, when they were in government, never gave such a freedom to media that they demand today.
Recently Afghan parliament too tried to control media after some Parliament members complained that some TV channels were “crossing the limits”.
This issue grabbed so much attention that Special Representative of Secretary-General in Afghanistan Tom Koenigs had to say on Feb. 19, 2007 at a press conference in
Kabul, “I have had reports of journalists being intimidated. I have seen the Head of RTA (
Afghanistan’s national TV station) being made to resign. And I hear of efforts to have the Parliament amend the proposed media law in a manner, which would harm media development in
Afghanistan. It is often said that the first victim of war is truth. We must prevent this from becoming the case in
Afghanistan. We don’t realistically expect the Taleban to stop its propaganda war, but we must on our side ensure that a space for free media is open.”
Afghanistan is a stage of continuous conflict for last three decades and the world powers are, this or that way, involved in this conflict. That is why the world media give so much attention to
Every minor change of situation gets headlines in the front pages of world media and that is why we can call
Afghanistan a country of more news, less media.
There is still not the kind of print and electronic media within the country Afghans should rely on.
Sahil Mangal, editor of monthly Wawra (snow) from Paktya province said, “There are a few TV channels like Tolo and Aryana which air good programmes but people in a few cities have access to these TV channels. In remote areas people listen only radios. Print media is also restricted to big cities because most of the people in villages are uneducated.”
Today, there are more than one thousand media outlets including TV channels, radios, news agencies, newspapers and magazines active in
The good aspect of the situation is this that our media is improving non-stop. For the first time,
Afghanistan has independent news agencies like Pajhwok Afghan News, popular TV channels like Tolo and Aryana and FM radios in every province. Besides this, there are organizations of journalists like AIJA (Afghanistan Journalists Independent Association).
Impact of foreign media
Although most of the people rely on BBC, Voice of America and Radio Azadi (Radio Free Europe) radio programmes, there are some more media outlets, which have impact on Afghans. Particularly Pakistani and Irani media impressed people in the areas bordering their respective countries. Shafiullah Mussawerr, a young shopkeeper in Jalalabdad city read daily Wahdat every day. He also read daily
Mashriq, Pakistan and other dailies from
Peshawar. When asked about Nangrahar newspaper of Nangrahar province, he said, “It is not a newspaper, but only a brochure. I read it once a month only to know if it is improved, and every month it disappoints me”.
He also complained that Pakistani, particularly Urdu newspapers often exaggerate news stories about
Afghanistan “But still I have to read them because they are full newspapers”.
Herat and other cities bordering with
Iran, Irani media and culture has firm impact on people. Despite that,
Afghanistan still had more freedom of press than its neighbor countries
Turkmenistan in 2006, according to Reporters sans Borders (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=4116)
Pashto and Dari
Although both Pashot and Dari are official languages of
Afghanistan, most of the existing media sources are Dari language. That is because Dari speaking people are more educated and their provinces are more developed.
Pashtoons are unhappy with this situation and call themselves ‘deprived’ in
President of the country, Hamid Karzai, belongs to a Pashtoon tribe, so I enquired a friend who wants to remain anonymous, why Pashtoons are ignored, he replied, “They are not ignored by anyone, they are responsible themselves for the situation. There is conflict and explosions in all Pashtoon dominated areas, and when they burn their schools and don’t let their children to be educated, then how can they improve themselves in these fields!”
I think, lacking of Pashto media within the country created an opportunity to become popular for daily Wahdat, AVT Khyber and other Pakistani media outlets among Pashto-speaking Afghans.
In the Internet World
As the young generation becomes more educated and the people get more access to technology, their young minds go the new ways and prove their presence in this world.
Today there are more than one hundred Afghan websites in English, Pashto and Dari languages on the Internet and thousands of people visit them to get free information and express their point of view.
Sami Shor is a student of
University and he spends 10 hours a week in net cafes.
The cost of using internet is as high as 60 afghanis (nearly one U.S. dollar) an hour, still he goes every day to net café, check his email, visit Afghani websites regularly for news, chat, discussion forums and new information. He says, “I have addicted to it. I feel freer and I can say what I think more freely in the forums.”It is a good sign of improvement and we can predict that if the same pace continued for some more years, we will see big changes in
Afghanistan. Particularly the media is winning here.