Originally posted on the BBC Media Action blog by Mukhtar Yadgar, Project Officer, Afghanistan, on December 15 2016 - Security threats against journalists and financial pressure are just two of the challenges facing local radio in Afghanistan. Mukhtar explains how training and information-sharing helped stations survive against the odds in 2016.
Take five very different radio stations from across Afghanistan, add an intensive schedule of training and mentoring then throw security challenges and an unstable political situation into the mix.
It has all the ingredients of a seriously challenging media development environment. But as the year comes to an end, I’m proud that the resilience and creativity of the people I’ve worked with has helped us overcome these obstacles and deliver change for the better.
The five stations I supported – as part of our media sustainability project - walked a difficult tightrope. They were struggling to balance their books due to cuts in donor funding and a flagging economy. They’d downsized staffing, reduced the hours they broadcast and closed a number of community programmes on health and women’s issues.
We trained teams at each station, giving them a raft of new skills that would put them in a much stronger position to stay on air, remain independent and keep serving their audiences. We then asked each station to produce a series of audience-led discussion programmes, develop solid business plans and implement innovative ways of raising funds.
I quickly discovered that what the radio stations lacked in resources, they more than made up for in creativity. The manager of Radio Bamyan would spend time in tea shops listening to the conversations of local people to understand what audiences wanted to hear more about. Radio Nargis, a station run by women for women in Nangarhar, launched “An Evening with Nargis”, a new programme encouraging families to listen to the radio together. And Radio Rabia Balkhi provided 150 local women in Balkh province with the unprecedented opportunity to put their health and beauty concerns to a live panel of experts. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house!
A chance to share
Our radio managers seized the chance to share their work at our regional media sustainability conference last month. Representatives from provincial media, media networks and journalist unions gathered in Kabul, eager to discuss their experiences. Topping the agenda were common challenges including financial pressures caused by high taxes and electricity charges; the ongoing security threats facing journalists - particularly female journalists; and the consensus that women’s voices were fading from local airwaves.
The onset of our harsh winter didn’t deter people from attending.
“My flight was cancelled due to heavy snowfall, but I travelled by car instead. It took 10 hours by road and as we reached the Salang Pass more snowfall meant we were stuck for four hours in freezing conditions’, said Najia Sroosh, founder of Radio Banowan in the remote northern province of Badakhshan.
Radio Banowan supports the rights of women through programmes like ‘Hidden Girls’ which recounts the real-life stories of women, including those who have witnessed honour killings in their families or who have been detained in female prisons. The station has been subject to arson attacks but still keeps broadcasting.
Violent actions won’t silence
Zarghoona Hassan, manager of Radio Kayan in Kunduz province, vividly described the two recent occupations of the province by the Taliban: “Our radio equipment was destroyed, but we managed to begin broadcasting again with very limited equipment – violent actions cannot silence our voices.”
And I felt really proud when our project partner Zahid Shah Angar, manager of Radio Sule Paigham in Khost, told the conference about a phone call he received from a man attending a wedding, thanking him for covering the issue of high dowry prices for brides. Spiralling dowries put young men under huge pressure to go abroad to work or to find illegal ways of raising funds. Religious and tribal leaders who participated in the radio debate agreed that there were no religious grounds for high dowries and asked local people to stop the practice. This advice has also been taken on board by several other communities.
The conference highlighted a whole range of issues that regional media face daily in Afghanistan. But more importantly, it demonstrated how motivated people are to make sure their voices are heard, during extremely challenging times for the people of Afghanistan.
Our media sustainability is supported by the EU - European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
Image credit: BBC Media Action, Caption: Shahla Shaiq, founder of Radio Nargis
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