2 July 2004, Volume
IN RADIO-CENTRIC AFGHANISTAN, WESTERN DONORS WORK WITH LOCAL REALITIES
By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
A viable and free media in Afghanistan is widely recognized by the international community and Afghans themselves as a top priority in the reconstruction of one of the world's poorest and most war-ravaged countries. Yet Western donors have also come to see that conditions in Afghanistan have meant both scaling back expectations and adapting to realities on the ground. When governments pledged $5.2 billion in assistance for Afghanistan in 2002, with $3.8 billion to be given in the form of grants, media development was envisioned as an important, albeit secondary priority. Millions of dollars have now been spent to reform or create media since the war, yet money alone has not been able to surmount basic logistical difficulties and philosophical differences.
So far, the United States, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and other countries, as well as UNESCO and other UN agencies, have all contributed millions to media assistance in Afghanistan. With so many diverse projects and differing definitions of what constitutes a "media" project (some humanitarian reconstruction projects contain media infrastructure), it is difficult to assess how much of the aid packages worked out by the West really target media issues, and of that figure, how much has gone directly to subsidizing local Afghanistan media.
Noah Miller, currently business manager of Internews Afghanistan, a U.S.-based media-assistance nongovernmental organization, is working to make local media sustainable. As a graduate student last year at the London-based Stanhope Center for Communications Policy Research, he published a study of Afghan media-development issues. Miller cited the Afghan Assistance Coordination Authority's database of 31 media-assistance projects with funding requests totaling $56.8 million. But he found that the requests had generated donor commitments of only $29.8 million, of which only $4.7 million was disbursed at that time, that is actually transferred into accounts to which grantees can gain access.
Furthermore, of the $4.7 million, Miller found that $2.22 million was spent repairing facilities damaged during the U.S.-led 2001 bombing campaign or on radio broadcasts providing information on relief operations and the Loya Jirga, rather than on local community-news development. More funds have flowed since Miller's study last year, but the time lag between requests and expenditures and the difficulties of getting projects going and sustained in Afghanistan mean that such programs cannot be assessed only by their budget line at donors' conferences.
Last year, the U.S. military distributed 200,000 free transistor radios -- an indication of the very basic needs of Afghanistan, which differ considerably from nearby Central Asian countries and even some African developing nations. With only about 36 percent of the population literate and with the country's poorly developed infrastructure, radio remains by far the most popular medium. Many areas still lack electricity and television sets, so reaching most the population through television is not an option.
About 37 percent of the population, or 7.5 million Afghans, listen to the radio, Internews reports. Another Internews survey found that 24 percent of rural Afghans can be reached by local radio or television stations, although many households do not have electricity and the number of those who possess radios and batteries is not known.
In addition to the reformed government-broadcasting system, Radio Arman, the first independent station, was launched in 2003. Some conservatives were outraged that "young girls can be heard laughing on the air," according to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a nongovernmental press-freedom group. The station grew popular in what an Afghan journalist told RSF was a "radio-centric" country, and others soon followed.
Internews has now set up 14 radio stations across Afghanistan with funding from the United States Agency for International Development's Office of Transitional Initiatives. Additional support from Germany has been provided for such Internews activities as a publication called "Media Monitor," which tracks press-freedom violations and development issues for the local media community and the general public.
In July 2003, Internews asked station managers across the country to map the footprint of their radio stations. They found there is a disparity between urban and rural listeners. International broadcasters such as VOA, RFE/RL, the BBC, and Deutsche Welle have all organized programming for Afghanistan. In a study of Afghan media prepared last year called "Afghan Media Landscape," the Baltic Media Center (BMC), based in Denmark and implementing programs in Afghanistan, says that for now international stations "provide pluralism in a country where private broadcasting can hardly survive." Without a thriving, independent business sector, advertising cannot flourish, the report noted. The BMC is concerned that international projects might inadvertently displace domestic efforts that also need support. "In a midterm perspective, the immense competition from these [foreign] radios will threaten both Radio Afghanistan and possibly Afghan private initiatives," the BMC study worries.
Such concerns, however, might be misplaced. Although foreign stations have considerable audiences, when Internews conducted a survey last year of 2,000 radio sets, they found that 80 percent were tuned to the two Afghan independent radio stations, which feature mainly Indian, Afghan, and Western music with some news programming.
As with other areas of support for fledgling civil society and liberal institutions, media developers have to face the reality that journalism as a profession is not established or protected in Afghanistan. In its annual report, RSF describes as "old enemies" of the press "warlords, conservatives, and the Taliban." RSF and the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have tracked dozens of cases of threats, harassment, and even murder of Afghan journalists for their work.
With the history of suppression of women's rights in Afghanistan, donors have also focused heavily on building the capacity of women to access and use journalism training and to participate in broadcasting. Internews and other media-assistance providers have found that radio listening is a male-dominated activity, and broadcasts came at times of the day that are not convenient for some listeners.
Slowly, this is beginning to change. Women have begun to work for national media outlets, and at least four stations that are specifically run by women and feature women's issues have begun broadcasting in Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif, Jabul Saraj, and Herat. These stations can only broadcast a few hours each day, and face challenges from various forces challenging their effort to participate in society. They have experienced the difficulties of all fledgling institutions in Afghanistan, with conservatives clashing with liberals -- many of whom are returning from exile -- in a dynamic that affects all of Afghan politics, including the media.
Aina, or "Mirror," is an organization that was founded in 2001 by an Iranian photojournalist to promote press freedom. It is based in Paris with offices around the world, and it supported an educational mobile cinema in Afghanistan, the first women's radio station, and the first school for photojournalists. The London-based nongovernmental Institute for War and Peace Reporting runs training programs and publishes the weekly "Afghan Recovery Report," which uses stories written by student journalists.
Donors' plans for television have clashed with realities such as the January 2003 conservative Supreme Court ruling banning cable stations on the grounds that the programming was "pornographic" and "anti-Islamic." A Justice Ministry official has said that Voice of Afghan Women radio is "against Shari'a law." But in April, cable-television networks resumed broadcasting, reportedly evidence that more liberal forces in the Karzai government had prevailed. An official ban on singing on television and state radio remains in place, but radio stations ignore it. The cable programs likely do not reach an audience greater than 100,000, and a lot of the programming is strictly entertainment oriented.
The BMC says that when Afghanistan began to reform and reconstruct, it moved faster toward freedom of expression than most of its Central Asian neighbors did. There is reason to be optimistic about local support for press freedom. One reason is that the ministers now responsible for the media lived in the West for many years and have some understanding of the importance of editorial independence. Another reason is that the same international donors who worked in the Balkans and Central Asia have not pushed as much for full-fledged free-media legislation that "lives up to international -- in reality, Western -- standards," says BMC. Yet another factor is that donors have introduced conditionality by providing equipment under the pledge of editorial independence. This was not always done in the former Soviet Union in the haste to professionalize the media. But the freedoms gained have been quickly seized upon by factional forces controlled by various warlords, and without a clearly established institution of the "fourth estate," freedom could paradoxically lead to less freedom over time.
Education Minister Yonus Qauni was quoted in an interview with BMC as saying the media could promote a new culture, the rights of women, and national unity as long as they do not undermine the government, which he believes is the only hope for peace. The BMC voices the concerns of many Western donors when it says it believes that extensive training and the founding of ethics boards can reduce the tendency of journalism toward "destructive sensationalism."
Differences over how media should be developed reflect the larger divisive issues of the society, says BMC. For example, some officials want to promote media freedom and others want to suppress it. Even many of those promoting it want the media to perform certain missions. The official state media body Radio Television Afghanistan is described by BMC as "a profound defender of editorial independence" while also demonstrating "warm support of Islam as an integrated part of programming." Qauni defends independent public broadcasting and wants some programs featuring religion and some free of it.
So far, despite the professional training that occurred in the Soviet era in Afghanistan and that some experienced while in exile in the West, local institutions have not been formed easily. Journalists who tried to create an independent journalists' union last year with international help failed because of political conflicts, says RSF. RSF believes that the tensions playing out in other areas between progressive journalists and conservatives, made the union impossible. "The editor of an independent publication exclaimed at a preparatory meeting: 'I see so many warlords here that I wonder when they became journalists,'" RSF reported.
RSF says that one problem in media development is that Taliban groups and others such as Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have abused the media for their political goals. RSF has documented dozens of incidents in which reporters have been intimidated, detained, and even killed by various factions. Media outlets find themselves under constant pressure. For example in Jalalabad, staff at one radio station went on strike after armed mujahedin came to the station to complain it was not giving their activities enough coverage.
Although Western assistance officials fret about media footprints and have to cope with daunting logistical and cultural differences and physical danger in trying to launch media projects, war-torn Afghanistan already has an existing, durable, portable, and effective system for disseminating information and knowledge: the mosque. People might be without radios and electricity, but as the Afghanistan Peace Education Program of McMaster Center for Peace Studies in Canada has noted, "there is one mosque for every 50 to 100 households, while countless villages have no school at all."
Looking at the institutions already in the communication business, the McMaster Center has pointed out that mosques are "community-built, community-run, and community-supported institutions, the expenses of which are paid through voluntary or community-organized mechanisms." In addition to the mosque, many Afghans get their news by going to the bazaar, family weddings, or other local cultural events. These age-old methods for spreading information may be low-technology, but they are trusted and used, without any special Western training, and very accessible.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick is the editor of "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies."
THE NEW AFGHAN MEDIA LAW: OPEN TO INTERPRETATION
By Amin Tarzi
Article 34 of the new Constitution of Afghanistan, which was approved by a Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) in January states that "freedom of expression is inviolable" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003). Adding that "every Afghan has the right to express his thoughts through speech, writing, illustration, or other means, while observing the provisions" of the constitution. The article further gives every Afghan the "right to print or publish topics without prior submission to the state authorities in accordance with the law." Finally, the constitution stipulates that "directives related to printing houses, radio, television, press, and other mass media will be regulated by the law."
As per the requirements laid out in the constitution, the cabinet of Afghanistan's Transitional Administration on 23 March approved the law on the mass media, and Chairman Hamid Karzai endorsed it. The current law supersedes a temporary press law promulgated by Afghanistan's Interim Administration in February 2002 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February 2003).
The new law, in 43 articles, viewed strictly textually is a beacon of hope in a country where freedom of the mass media does not have a long or encouraging history. However, the law remains open to abuse and misinterpretation.
According to the law, citizens, political parties, registered national organizations, and foreign emigrants can establish print-media outlets without prior permission. However, printing houses can only be established with the permission of the Culture and Information Ministry. The criteria for such permission are not clarified in the law. The law is also rather unclear about whether non-Afghans can establish print media in the country. Article 24 stipulates that "the concessionaire of a mass media outlet" must hold Afghan citizenship. Moreover, according to Article 29 editors in chief of media establishments also must hold Afghan citizenship.
The right to establish audio-visual broadcast media is granted to Afghan citizens only and is regulated by the five-member National Radio and Television Broadcasting Commission. The law remains vague on the possible foreign sponsorship of audio-visual media and whether the Afghan government can censor foreign-operated broadcasts that originate from outside the country.
Article 31 prohibits the publication of "matters contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects" and "matters leading to dishonoring and defaming individuals." The religion-based restriction is also enshrined in Article 2, which states as one of the aims of the law the "observance of the right of freedom of speech and the media as enshrined in international human rights conventions, taking into account the true religion of Islam."
In a religiously conservative society such as Afghanistan, the religious-based restrictions of the new media law -- similar to Article 3 of the Afghan Constitution, which says that "no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam" -- the provisions of the media law prohibiting matters contrary to the principles of Islam might easily be used by conservative religious forces to undermine material they deem to be "un-Islamic." The interpretation of what might be "contrary to...Islam" is an open-ended proposition that is not immune to abuse.
Very vivid and unfortunate examples of such abuse was the assault on cable television launched in 2003 by Afghanistan's Supreme Court and the prohibition of the broadcasting of songs female artists by Kabul's official radio and television stations.
Finally, the law on the mass media has been officially sanctioned without the input of the Afghans through their representatives in the legislature. Clearly, the law regulating this very important pillar of Afghanistan's move toward a more inclusive and tolerant society should have been scrutinized by the representatives of the people of the country.
Amin Tarzi is RFE/RL's Afghan analyst and editor of "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report."
TEXT OF AFGHANISTAN'S LAW ON THE MASS MEDIA
In The Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate and the Most Merciful
The Law on the Mass Media
This law has been enacted in accordance with Article 34 of the constitution and Article 19 of the International Convention of Human Rights for ensuring the protection of freedom of thought and speech and for regulating the activities of mass media in the country.
The aims of this law are as follows:
To promote and support the right of freedom of thought and speech, defend the rights of journalists, and ensure the ground for their free operation;
To promote and develop free, independent, and pluralistic media;
To provide a suitable environment for the free expression of the views and feelings of citizens through speech, writing, drawing, pictures, recordings, acting, movement, and other scientific, artistic, literary media, as well as printing and broadcasting;
To observe the right of freedom of speech and the media as enshrined in international human rights conventions, taking in to account the true religion of Islam.
To support the sound development of the mass media and to enable it to become an effective means for promoting the culture in the country and reflecting the public's opinions honestly and usefully.
The following terms of this law shall mean as follows:
Media: Means or instrument of dissemination of information using the following tools:
Visual: drawings, pictures, postcards, and posters.
Audio-video (broadcast): radio, television, cable networks, moving pictures.
Information: information and press agencies.
Press: pictures and letters printed in a way conveying a meaning or picture, including all mass media such as daily newspapers, gazettes, magazines, booklets, books, and preaching outlets, as well speech and statements.
Mass Media are divided into the following categories in this law:
State-run mass media: The media that belong to government offices and are funded and equipped by them.
Organizational mass media: Media that belong to political, economic, social, or cultural organizations and are funded and equipped by them.
Journalist: A professional person whose job is to seek, obtain, and publish information through news media.
Printing House: Economical, technical, and commercial organization at which daily newspapers, magazines, books, gazettes, announcements, posters, and postcards are published.
Printer: Real or legal person who, by ownership or representation, is the actual force in charge of a printing-house's affairs.
Publisher: Real or legal person who is authorized to print and publish nonperiodical works.
Concessionaire: Real or legal person who is engaged in the printing and publishing of periodic print media or the establishment of radio, television, cable networks, news agencies, or print houses.
Editor in chief: The person who is actually in charge of managing the affairs related to the media stated in paragraph 8 of this article.
Publishing: A process through which the message of print, broadcast, and audio-video media is conveyed to the public.
Radio: An audio mass media instrument.
Television: An audio-video (broadcast) mass-media instrument.
Cable network: An audio-video (broadcast) mass media that broadcasts international information, educational, cultural, and entertainment programs to the public through a satellite connection.
Rights and Obligations
Every person has the right of freedom of thought and speech. This right includes seeking, obtaining, and disseminating information and views without interference and restraints by government officials, including freedom of expression, broadcast, dissemination, and seeking of information.
The government shall support and strengthen the freedom of the mass media. No real or legal person, including the government and government officials, can interdict, prohibit, censor, or limit the activities of mass media or interfere in the affairs of mass media through other means. The Media Evaluation Commission enshrined in Article 42 of this law is an exception to this provision.
Every person has the right to seek and obtain information. The government shall provide all information sought by citizens, except information that is a military secret or the disclosure of which endangers national-security interests.
Journalists shall come under legal protection while carrying out their professional activities, including publishing reports and critical views.
Journalists shall have the right to avoid disclosing their sources of information, unless an authoritative court issues an order thereof.
To defend their class interests, journalists and other mass-media professionals can establish independent associations according to provisions of this law.
According to Article 3 of this law, the citizens of the country can establish means of mass media.
Foreign political agencies and international organizations and their representatives in Afghanistan can print and publish news bulletins, according to diplomatic norms and after obtaining the permission of Ministry of Information and Culture.
Citizens of the country, political parties, registered national organizations, and foreign emigrants can, according to this law and without prior permission, establish print media. Newspapers, periodical publications, and other print media can be established without prior permission.
Publications with a circulation less than 200 shall not be subject to the provisions of articles 13 and 28 of this law and shall not need prior permission or registration.
The founder of a print media outlet, upon registration, shall be obliged to provide the following information to the Ministry of Information and Culture:
(1) Complete identification details and residence address of the applicant.
(2) The name and the place/location of the publication.
(3) The language in which the publication is published.
(4) The source of publication's funding and the amount of its budget.
Print media outlets shall contain in each issue their name, specified address, location of printing house, the date of publication, and the names of the concessionaire and the editor in chief.
The identity and the signature of the author shall have to exist in the original version.
According to the provision of this law, every print media shall have a concessionaire and an editor in chief.
Citizens, political parties, and government offices shall have the right to establish printing houses, provided that they have obtained the permission of the Ministry of Information and Culture.
In view of the provisions of Article 24 of this law, the applicant of a license to establish a printing house shall present the following information to the Ministry of Information and Culture:
Full identity and residential address.
Name and location of the printing press.
Language that is used for printing.
Type and kind of machinery and printing equipment.
Source and amount of budget invested in the establishment of the printing house.
The transfer of printing-house ownership is permissible. The person to whom the ownership is transferred shall re-adhere to the directives stated in Article 24 of this law.
Without a concessionaire and an editor in chief, operation of printing house shall not be permissible.
Citizens, political parties, and social organizations that do not have their own printing houses shall have the right to use private and state-run printing houses in accordance with the financial and accounting regulations of the concerned printing house.
Audio-Visual (Broadcast) Media
Citizens, political parties, social organizations, and other state-run and private organizations shall have the right to establish audio-visual media in accordance with the provisions of this law.
The National Commission of Radio and Television Broadcasting, which shall comprise five members, shall be established to regulate audio and visual media.
The chairperson and members of the National Commission of Radio and Television Broadcasting shall be appointed by the president for a period of two years, and the commission's tenure can be extended as required.
The National Commission of Radio and Television Broadcasting shall have the following duties and authorities:
Issuance of license and allocation of frequencies to radio and television systems in accordance with prescribed standards.
Issuance of professional guidance to political parties as for using radio and television.
Issuance of essential guidance to owners of the electronic media in consultation with the media directors and civil society.
Monitoring the observance of the provisions of this law by the mass media.
Determining the broadcasting policies of the state-run radio and television channels.
The National Commission of Radio and Television Broadcasting is an independent entity and shall report to the president regarding its activities.
An applicant for an audio-visual mass-media (radio and television) license shall provide the following information to the National Commission of Radio and Television Broadcasting in order to apply for a license.
Full identity and residential address.
Name and activity location of the audio-visual media.
Type of the audio-visual media.
Publication goals and objectives.
Source and amount of budget.
Quantity and quality of machinery and equipment.
Every audio-visual media outlet shall have a concessionaire and an editor in chief in accordance with the provisions of this law.
Conditions and the obligations of the concessionaire
The concessionaire of a mass-media outlet shall meet the following conditions:
Hold citizenship of the country.
Have completed 18 years of age.
Have not been sentenced to deprivation of civil rights by an authoritative court.
The concessionaire of audio-visual media and print media shall be bound to register the media in accordance with the provisions enshrined in this law.
If the publication has started prior to registration, the concessionaire shall be bound to register the media within one week, in accordance with the provisions of this law.
If the concessionaire believes that a decision of the Ministry of Information and Culture regarding the refusal to issue a license is in violation of the provisions of this law, he shall refer the case to the Media Evaluation Commission. If still not satisfied, the concessionaire may appeal to a court.
The transfer of the ownership of a publication or mass-media outlet, and the transfer of copyright shall be permissible. The person to whom the ownership or the right has been transferred shall be bound to re-adhere to the provisions of Articles 24 and 28 of this law.
The right to establish a publication organ or media outlet and the right to print and publish shall lie with the concessionaire. If this right is transferred to any body else, the provisions of Articles 24 and 28 of this law shall reapply.
The editor in chief of a media outlet shall be held responsible for its publication.
The conditions and obligations of editor in chief
The editor in chief shall meet the following requirements:
Hold an Afghanistan citizenship identification card.
Have completed 18 years of age.
Hold a certificate of professional education, or have at least three years of experience in journalism.
Have not been sentenced to deprivation of civil rights by an authoritative court.
Must not be a civil servant, unless working for a state-owned publication.
The editor in chief shall balance the rights of the critic and any criticized individual in the relevant media.
The publication of the following matters shall not be allowed in the mass media:
Matters contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions or sects.
Matters leading to dishonoring and defaming individuals.
The concessionaire shall be held accountable in case of the violation of the provisions of this law.
Real or legal persons who embark on establishing mass media outlets in Afghanistan and neglect the provisions of this law shall be sentenced to cash fines.
Should the founder or convener of a mass-media outlet be a real person, he shall be fined as follows:
Television: 15,000 afghanis [$348.374]
Radio: 10,000 afghanis.
Information Agency: 10,000 afghanis.
Should the founder or the convener of a mass-media outlet be a legal person, it shall be fined as follows:
Television: 17,000 afghanis.
Radio: 12, 000 afghanis.
Cable network: 34, 000 afghanis.
Information agency: 12, 000 afghanis.
The editor in chief can avoid disclosing the name of the author of an item. In this case, any responsibility arising from the publication of the subject is directed toward the editor in chief.
Critical articles with fictitious names of the author shall be allowed in periodicals. Any responsibility arising from the article or work lies with the editor in chief, provided he knows the writer by name and identity.
An author shall be prosecuted as the perpetrator of an offence if he/she is found guilty according to the provisions of this law, while the editor in chief shall be regarded as an accomplice.
If the identity of an author is unknown; any responsibility resulting from the publication of the work lies only with the editor in chief.
If an author is sentenced to pay a fine, he/she shall be obliged to pay the amount during the course of one month from the date of sentencing, according to the provisions of the law.
Citizens of foreign countries shall be allowed to make cinematographic films, with the prior permission of the Ministry of Information and Culture.
The activities of mass-media outlets shall be regulated by a charter covering its objectives, duties, authorities, structure, and financial affairs.
The Ministry of Information and Culture is obliged to ensure the facilities required for the free operation of local and foreign mass-media outlets.
The concessionaire and editor in chief of a media outlet who have begun their activities prior to the enforcement of this law shall have to adhere to its provisions within two months of its enforcement date.
The printing and publication of textbooks and scientific books for schools and higher educational, research, and professional institutions shall not be subject to this law.
An investigative commission shall be established to investigate violations of this law. The commission shall have the following structure:
Minister of Information and Culture, the chairperson;
Representative of the Afghanistan Academy of Sciences, as a member;
Two representatives of the journalism faculty, as members;
Representative of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, as a member; and
Two representatives of the Journalists Union, as members.
This Commission prescribed in the paragraph (1) of this article shall investigate the violations stated in this law. Whenever the matter requires juridical prosecution, it shall refer the case to a judicial authority for further proceedings.
This law shall come into force from the date of its endorsement and shall be published in the Official Gazette. Upon its endorsement, the previous media law published in the Official Gazette, No. 800, on 18 Hoot 1380 (Afghan Calendar) shall become obsolete.
Source: UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
RADIO FREE AFGHANISTAN: PRACTICAL RADIO FOR A COUNTRY IN TRANSITION
By Andres Ilves
Radio Free Afghanistan began broadcasting on 30 January 2002 under the auspices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Constituting the "Afghan Service" of RFE/RL, Radio Free Afghanistan is on the air 12 hours a day, seven days a week, broadcasting in the Pashto and Dari languages to the people of Afghanistan.
According to the most recent independent field surveys -- conducted in Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif in September 2003 -- Radio Free Afghanistan has a weekly reach of 54 percent in Kabul and 68 percent in Mazar-e Sharif. A further, smaller sample in the same survey recorded 72 percent listenership in rural areas.
Created in response to the tragedy of 11 September 2001, Radio Free Afghanistan was sponsored by U.S. Congressman Edward Royce (Republican, California), who had been calling for surrogate-style broadcasting to Afghanistan for a number of years during the Taliban period. A previous iteration of Radio Free Afghanistan, broadcasting as a unit of RFE/RL from the latter's headquarters at the time in Munich, Germany, had been on the air from 1985 to 1993 during the era of communist rule in Afghanistan.
Radio Free Afghanistan, which is on the air from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. local time in Kabul, seeks to promote and sustain democratic values and institutions in Afghanistan by presenting impartial news, information, and ideas. In addition to an hourly news segment, the daily broadcasts feature a mix of roundtable discussions, interviews, investigative journalism, call-in shows, field reports, reviews of both the Afghan and Western press, cultural programming, radio theater, public-service announcements, educational segments, Afghan music, and myriad other types of programming. During the evening and night hours, the Voice of America's separate Pashto and Dari services broadcast on the same frequencies, providing a more American perspective, including VOA editorials. VOA also broadcasts a few hours of programming in English.
As a component of RFE/RL, Radio Free Afghanistan is based in Prague, Czech Republic, where a staff of approximately two dozen journalists and producers put together the day's program, all of which is broadcast live. In addition, a bureau in Kabul provides local coverage of the capital, while field correspondents throughout Afghanistan report on developments and trends in the provinces.
Radio Free Afghanistan strives to provide programming to the broad mass of the country's population, as opposed to focusing just on the educated elite. As a result, the broadcasts focus heavily on public service and informational programming, such as landmine safety announcements and on-air health tips, including a new call-in program featuring a medical professional taking questions.
The service also strongly emphasizes the unity of the country and scrupulously avoids politically charged terminology on the air. While, for example, foreign journalists often describe the Transitional Administration president as "ethnic Pashtun, Hamid Karzai," it is Radio Free Afghanistan's strict policy to remove reference to an individual's ethnicity unless it is an integral part of the story. Similarly, although the broadcasts routinely refer to the problem of "warlordism" in Afghanistan, routine pejorative references to individual Afghans that are often found in the Western media -- such as to "warlord Rashid Dostum" or "warlord Ismail Khan" -- are not to be found in Radio Free Afghanistan's programs.
Uniquely among international broadcasters to Afghanistan, neither Radio Free Afghanistan's staff nor its programming are rigidly organized along linguistic lines. Whereas other international broadcasters have separate Pashto and Dari services and clearly delineated Pashto and Dari programs, Radio Free Afghanistan's approach from the outset has been one of overlap, collaboration, and cooperation. Although for purely linguistic reasons much of the broadcast day features separate-language programming, many staff members are fully bilingual and participate in both efforts on the air. The service's popular call-in shows are conducted in both languages, with two co-hosts -- one each for Pashto- and Dari-language callers.
In keeping with its mission of providing food for thought for listeners to make their own decisions concerning the future of the country, Radio Free Afghanistan airs no editorials, and staff members are forbidden from expressing their own points of view on the air.
Radio Free Afghanistan has adapted to cover the significant events since the fall of the Taliban live and from the scene. During the two Loya Jirga tribal councils, for example -- in June 2002 and December 2003 -- Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents in Kabul broadcast the proceedings live whenever possible, interviewed delegates inside the Loya Jirga tent itself, and organized impromptu debates. A year after the first Loya Jirga, the service invited some delegates back to the Kabul studio for a roundtable discussion on whether their expectations concerning the work of the council had been met.
Investigative and in-depth reporting from the field has included groundbreaking coverage of the Sherpur land scandal in Kabul, nepotism in the Afghan government, the issue of forced marriage, and the growing problem of the kidnapping of children. Other noteworthy programming includes ongoing coverage of the scourge of the Afghan poppy crop, as well as of the implementation of the disarmament and reconstruction processes. In the months to come, Radio Free Afghanistan will feature broad-based, extensive reportage on the Afghan elections; already, a series of roundtables and call-ins has featured representatives of registered political parties in groups of three, debating the issues of the day and fielding tough questions from listeners.
Radio Free Afghanistan broadcasts on 100.5 FM in Kabul and Kandahar, with further FM coverage to come in Mazar-e Sharif, Jalalabad, and Herat. A medium-wave transmitter and short-wave broadcasting cover much of the country.
Radio Free Afghanistan's website (http://www.azadiradio.org) is updated daily in Pashto and Dari, and in English Monday through Friday. The English page links to dozens of websites about Afghanistan, and all three pages feature special sections about the upcoming elections. Just as the programs themselves, the Radio Free Afghanistan website seeks to be a one-stop, comprehensive, and accessible source of impartial information about this war-ravaged country as it rebuilds itself.
Andres Ilves is the director of Radio Free Afghanistan.
NO MORE 'HATE SPEECH' IN SERBIA?
One of the venerable icons of the postcommunist Serbian media scene believes that the ugly days of "hate speech" are over in that country. Veran Matic, who heads the alternative Radio B92, told the "Southeast European Times" on 17 May that the abusive language associated with the Serbian media during the rule of Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from the late 1980s until 2000 surfaces from time to time but is not used on a large scale any longer (http://www.setimes.com).
Matic pointed out that aggressive language emerged in some Serbian media at the start of the17-18 March violence in Kosova but then was toned down following the burning of two mosques, one in Belgrade and the other in Nis, by Serbian crowds on the first day of the unrest. Nonetheless, he added, damage had been done that will take time to repair.
He said that the fall of Milosevic on 5 October 2000 did not mark a clean break with the practices of that regime, and that at times it is easy to feel that Serbia is still stuck back in 1993. Matic stressed, however, that ethnic hatred is no longer government sponsored or centrally directed.
Nonetheless, sometimes there are chauvinistic responses to events such as those that occurred in Kosova in March, which in turn contribute to the tensions in region in question. In short, "one type of extremism feeds another," Matic argued.
Referring to continuing pressures, threats, and even physical violence directed against journalists, the head of B92 does not think that the government is behind it, unlike in Milosevic's time. The current authorities "very much want to appear in the public's eye as a protector of freedom and the rule of law."
Instead, Matic suspects that there are various political, economic, and criminal interest groups that "for one reason or another want to inflict damage upon the media and journalists, to control and threaten the media scene, and to use such acts to destabilize an already unstable government."
Although Matic does not expect Serbia to return to the intense nationalism of the early 1990s, he warns that radicalism could reemerge in politics and society to some extent. In that case, he adds, developments in Serbia could help destabilize delicate balances in Kosova, Montenegro, and especially Bosnia.
He also considers progress made in improving the professional standards of the media in much of former Yugoslavia to be delicate as well. Matic pointed out that the recent violence in Kosova was accompanied by the emergence of "patriotic passions" in some of the media there, thereby enabling professional standards to "disintegrate."
In short, Matic expects the role and importance of the media in former Yugoslavia to increase but believes that the development of professional standards still has a long way to go. (Patrick Moore)