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Afghanistan: National TV And Radio Understaffed, Hampered By Limited Reach

Immense changes are under way in Afghanistan, but without an effective national media, the Afghan people cannot follow, understand, and guide these changes. The vast majority of Afghans cannot read or write, which places the burden of informing the population on radio and television. The national broadcasting company faces severe problems -- understaffing, poor equipment, and insufficient reach. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier spoke recently with the director of national broadcasting in Kabul about the challenges facing radio and television.

Kabul, 30 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The new government in Afghanistan will need the national media if it is to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

As many as nine out of 10 Afghans cannot read, which means the main burden of informing the population will fall to the country's radio and television stations.

But the question remains whether the country's broadcasters are up to the task.

Hafiz Mansoor is the head of national radio and television. In an interview with RFE/RL, he says the range of national broadcasts is limited and the signals cannot reach the entire country.

"You know the problem right now -- we have six hours of radio and five hours of television broadcasting [daily]. Our television programs [only] cover Kabul city, and radio covers about 75 percent of Afghanistan's territory. Up to now, we are not able to send our voice to all of Afghanistan. It is very important for us to have television that can cover Kabul and areas around Kabul city. More important than that is to make contact between the central and provincial television stations."

Currently, radio broadcasts are limited to two hours in the morning and four in the evening. Television is not available in the morning and is limited to an evening block from 1700 to 2200 hours.

Mansoor says there are no plans to expand broadcasting time.

Further, he says the broadcasting company is understaffed and inexperienced.

Before the Taliban militia took the capital, Kabul, in 1996, national radio and television employed about 2,500 people. Over time, that number dropped to around 250 as the Taliban banned television and broadcasts of music.

The number has now grown to around 1,000 employees, but many of the new staff are underqualified. Leading specialists fled the country during the Taliban years and have not returned.

Mansoor says the content of the broadcasts is a problem as well.

"If we divide programming into percentages, political news and reports account for less than 15 percent of our programming. The remaining programs are about sports, entertainment, literature, programs for families, the situation in the city (Kabul), and people's views."

Broadcasting centers do exist in outlying areas, including Badakhshan, Takhar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Ghazni, and Nangarhar. But contacts between the national broadcasting company in Kabul and the regions is poor. Mansoor says tapes of television and radio programs must be shipped by car or airplane, meaning the news is often old by the time it is put on the air in the outlying regions.

Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Hamid Mobarez recognizes the problem and the obstacles it poses for conveying important information to people at a time of immense political change.

A 21-member commission was recently appointed to form a Loya Jirga, or grand council, that will choose Afghanistan's next government when the six-month mandate of the current interim administration expires.

Mobarez said the commission and the Loya Jirga will receive priority attention in the media. Mobarez, a historian, points out there has not been a Loya Jirga in Afghanistan since the communist regime called a grand council in 1978.