The subtitle of this report, "Three Years After", reflects the fact that, since early 2002, a large number of initiatives have worked to restore and develop media in post-conflict Afghanistan. In an effort to evaluate the impact of Afghan media at a nationwide level during this 3-year period and to measure the interaction between newly born media and traditional sources of information in Afghan communities, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) - Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) and Internews commissioned Altai Consulting to conduct a 6-month research project (September 2004 - March 2005). The resulting report, released in April 2005, covers 50 communities, from urban areas to remote villages, and describes trends in knowledge, attitudes and practices as well as expectations related to all types of media (radio, television, print, mobile media, and the internet).
In terms of coverage,
- Radio is the leading medium with a variety of stations available - e.g., foreign stations with Afghan production and nationwide coverage (the BBC, Azadi/Radio Free Europe, Voice of America), Radio Afghanistan state network, commercial radio stations available on FM in Kabul, local independent radio stations on FM (e.g., Internews, IMPACS, Sayara), and foreign stations transmitting from neighbouring countries on AM (e.g., Radio Iran, Mashad, Radio Free Europe Iran, Radio Pakistan, Radio Tajikistan).
- Broadcast and cable television are limited to the large provincial centres, but are quickly expanding - e.g., Television Afghanistan (state), private stations (Afghan TV, Aina TV, Tolo TV, Ghorian TV), and foreign broadcast television. Satellite television signals are available everywhere.
- Press is available in most provincial centres, but scarce in rural areas - The privately owned Nye Network (Killid) distributes newspapers and magazines on a weekly basis to provincial centres, and to the district level when not too remote; some local publications are available, and ad-hoc distribution by commuters and transporters provide additional access.
- Public internet access is available in 5 main urban centres (Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Mazar) - Additional access points are being developed in smaller cities.
To highlight the radio-related findings in particular, the report finds that local independent radio stations in Afghanistan are very popular in their coverage areas; listenership was estimated at 79%, and 29% of the respondents have called or sent a letter to a station. These stations were established by Internews in Afghanistan under a grant from USAID.
Key findings spanning all types of media covered in the report include these:
- Most of the Afghans surveyed are intensive media users: high frequency and length, high number of media known and used.
- Media usage is sophisticated: information sources are chosen according to content, which is then cross checked with other sources.
- Cultural barriers to media usage are rare - women and children can usually listen to the radio or watch television.
- Media are trusted more than other sources of information. Traditional sources are still used, playing complementary roles and often relaying information obtained from the media.
- Media have a very positive image - seen as a source of education and progress throughout the country.
- Sensitive topics can - and are expected to be - discussed in the media, but in the proper way and by the appropriate individuals.
- Media are expected to be a tool for progress in society. They are doing so, in the first place, by providing people with a forum to discuss their problems.
- Public information campaigns are most effective when they combine various media and direct interaction with the community.
- Media are a primary source of education for women, who have specific and high expectations.
Researchers claim that the study "has shown the integration between media development and the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Media has long been one of the reconstruction priorities. It is now playing an integral role in the process." They also stress that "It is likely that the Afghan media audience will evolve faster than the country's media. Journalists, managers and media development specialists will have to use innovative approaches to meet changing and maturing demands while respecting the traditional roots of society. This will be one of the major challenges in the next three years."
Local Independent Radio Popular in Afghanistan, Says New Report, Internews - April 6 2005.