It’s an exciting time for budding journalists in Afghanistan, but you probably haven’t heard much about this in mainstream media. The election in Afghanistan was seen by CNN’s Peter Bergen as a revolutionary development that he says was underplayed in the press. Similarly, the emergence of new and vibrant and free media in the country has been underplayed but deserves widespread coverage.
As a nation, thanks to our troops, Afghanistan is free today, and free and independent media are emerging. The same thing can happen in Iraq. And that’s what scares Osama bin Laden.
Radio has played a key role in Afghanistan’s political and social awakening, especially since 85 percent of Afghanis are illiterate and many live in remote areas. Dozens of new radio stations have started up, some supported by grants and training provided by USAID, the European Union, non-governmental organizations or NGOs, and even the U.N. is doing something right in this case. Here’s a case where government funding of the media makes some sense.
AINA, an NGO led by the accomplished photojournalist Reza Deghati, has achieved impressive progress. Deghati’s photos have appeared in Newsweek, Time, Vanity Fair, New York Times Magazine, and National Geographic, among other publications. In collaboration with UNESCO and the “Women Publishing Group” AINA started the first community radio programming for Afghan women in March 2003. After only a few months, broadcasting time increased to four hours per day. The Voice of Afghan Women radio station covers a range of topics from beauty to sports, cooking, health, family and poetry. The director is Jamila Mujahed, editor in chief of the monthly magazine for women, Malalai. Mujahed is a well-known anchorwoman on Afghan TV. Six female journalists, ages 25 to 50, now work on radio programming.
AINA also distributes a weekly bilingual (Dari and Pashto) 30-minute talk show called Myane Mah (“Between us”), focusing on political issues and a bi-monthly 40-minute program Dar Velayat Chi Megsarat (“What’s Happening in the Provinces?”), which addresses issues outside Kabul.
Favorite Afghani publications which had been squashed by the Taliban were resurrected. AINA has also built eight media and culture centers in eight provinces that provide support for the leading news publications of the country as well as video production and training; the first educational mobile cinema; and the first Afghan advertising and communications agency.
Also created was The Women’s Film Group. Here Fourteen Afghan women were trained for a year as camerawomen and video journalists. As part of the course, in December 2002, they traveled throughout Afghanistan, shooting a 52-minute documentary, the first to be filmed by Afghan women, about Afghan women. “Afghanistan: Unveiled,” has already been shown at international film festivals. Their second film about women’s rights in Afghanistan, “Shadows,” was recently finished.
AINA also started the first photojournalism school in Afghanistan and the first independent photo agency. They decided to find 20 individuals with no previous experience, but significant potential to become photojournalists. AINA was astonished at the interest. Throngs of individuals surged in to be interviewed. AINA looked for persistence, desire and talent. In many cases, they were dealing with people who had never seen a photograph, but promised to be available 24 hours a day if that’s what it took to be accepted.
More media coverage of these often-moving scenes would generate more donations to worthy organizations like AINA, which currently is in need of donated photographic equipment. Fewer individuals yearning for such training would be turned away. You can find out more information on this truly exciting work at www.ainaworld.org.