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<nettime> Jo & Bruce: Community Radio in Afghanistan
geert lovink on Wed, 8 Jan 2003 20:22:09 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Jo & Bruce: Community Radio in Afghanistan

From: "jo" <jo {AT} xs4all.nl>

Best wishes for the new year from the Netherlands.

Since our report on the potential for community radio in Afghanistan was
released in November, a number of people have written with questions,
comments, information about developments in Afghanistan, updates about
their own activities, and suggestions for follow-up.

We are planning to summarize the comments received and to send that
summary in an update that we will circulate shortly. If you have any
news about developments related to community radio in Afghanistan,
please send it to us so we can include it in the update.

We have also set up a mailing list for anyone interested in following
developments on an ongoing basis. The list is moderated and we do not
expect there will be more than a few messages per week. You can
subscribe to the list from the web at:


Bruce Girard <bgirard {AT} comunica.org> &
Jo van der Spek <jo {AT} radioreedflute.net>

Jo van der Spek,
radio journalist & tactical media consultant
current project: Radio Reed Flute


Community Radio in Afghanistan

Is community radio a viable option for Afghanistan? What would it sound
like? How would it fit into a national public-service radio system? What
type of governance structures will ensure stations are both responsive to
their communities and independent? Is it necessary to wait until the legal
and regulatory framework is in place?
This study, sponsored by the Communication Assistance Foundation (CAF/SCO),
examines the potential for community-based radio in Afghanistan and
identifies examples of how community radio can support initiatives for
community development. The report and its recommendations are primarily
intended as a resource for agencies and organizations considering supporting
radio, media or communication activities in the country, whether with funds
or expertise.

Afghanistan has a 70 per cent illiteracy rate (85 percent among women),
devastated infrastructures and a largely rural population - according to
some estimates, 85 percent of the population lives in 37,000 villages.
Barely four percent of households have electricity and even in major cities
the telecommunications infrastructure is virtually non-existent. Only Herat
has a modern functioning landline telephone network, complete with public
call booths. Kabul's GSM network offers irregular service and its capacity
is insufficient for its 12,000 customers. The Internet, banned by the
Taliban, is still unavailable, except to UN agencies, NGOs and a few
ministries. The demand for education far exceeds the capacity to supply it.

However, most Afghans do have access to radio receivers and are accustomed
to using radio as a source of news, information, education and
entertainment. Community radio, understood as radio which is
community-based, independent and participatory, offers a low-cost and
effective way of contributing to medium and long-term efforts for
reconstruction, development, democracy and nation-building.

The present media landscape is diverse, unregulated and rapidly changing,
with a recent boom of media activity. More than one hundred periodicals have
been registered, many with international funding. Radio Afghanistan's
network is being rebuilt. Television is back in Kabul and in some other
towns, although without satisfying a widespread demand for entertainment.
There is no complete and accurate inventory of Afghan media (this report
provides a partial one). According to Radio Afghanistan, seventeen
provincial stations are active, but there is a less clear picture of what is
being broadcast on them. Conventional means of network programme
distribution are unavailable and programming is primarily local.

The politics of media support and development in Afghanistan are a microcosm
of the larger politics of reconstruction and development in the country. The
developing media landscape, including the legislative and regulatory
context, is critical to the development of community broadcasting and has
been marked by both positive developments and setbacks over the past year.
There are a variety of centres of influence in the current reconstruction
and development context, including: the Afghan government, UN agencies and
development organisations, the International Security Assistance Force
(ISAF), regional political-military powers (often referred to as
"warlords"), the US-led Coalition Forces, and emerging Afghan civil society
organizations, including independent media. The picture that emerges
illustrates the sensitive nature of media in Afghanistan and hints at the
complexities of the policy-making process in the current environment. There
are many positive initiatives at the national level and in major cities, but
little attention is paid to community-based media and rural areas.

Afghanistan's new press law, while not without its critics, is generally
seen as a positive step, paving the way for private and community
broadcasting and an independent press. A subsequent policy statement,
proposed, among other things, an Independent Broadcasting Authority to be
responsible for granting broadcast licences and the transformation of
Radio-Television Afghanistan into an independent public service broadcaster.
In September 2002 an International Seminar on Promoting Independent and
Pluralistic Media in Afghanistan confirmed and refined the policy statement
and established schedules for completion of some of the activities. Full
implementation of the policy proposals could take as long as two years, with
the interim period marked by an ad hoc phase during which actors with strong
military, political or financial backing can have an inordinate amount of
influence. The importance of developing and implementing a new policy
framework for the central government, including transparent policies for
licensing and regulation of broadcasting that specifically recognize and
stimulate community-based broadcasting, cannot be understated.

Many Afghan and international NGOs and development agencies have expressed
interest in supporting radio initiatives in Afghanistan. To date most
efforts have been directed toward supporting the professionalization of the
medium, with activities such as training journalists, producing quality
independent current affairs programmes for broadcast on existing stations,
and supporting efforts to transform Radio-Television Afghanistan into a
national public service broadcaster.

A second grassroots approach focuses on stations based in grassroots civil
society formations in smaller communities. In this approach stations would
not be staffed with professional journalists or presenters, but with
"communicators" from the community. They would adopt programming formats and
contents that respond to development objectives and community service
requirements as established by community members themselves. The emphasis is
on communication as a two-way social process, on democratic ownership and
control of local development efforts, and on enabling people to debate and
define their own destinies. There is much interest in this approach among
development organizations working on the ground. However, in contrast to the
level of interest, many organizations have only a vague idea of what
community radio is or how it might support them in their work. They are
intuitively aware of the potential, but do not really know how to make use
of it.

For the population in general, radio has traditionally been the voice of
authority. There is no tradition of radio as a democratic, participatory
medium that can be used to satisfy the needs of local communities. While
community-based radio has a tremendous potential to contribute to
Afghanistan's development, there is a need to create awareness and provide
orientation on ways to use community-based media to support development,
democracy and social participation among development agencies and Afghan
people. A seminar series would help start this process.

The report's main conclusion is that community radio is not only a viable
option for Afghanistan, it is also a low-cost and effective way of
contributing to medium and long-term efforts for reconstruction,
development, democracy and nation-building. Community radio can be the
missing link in a three-tiered public-service radio system made up of
national, regional and local radio stations. Recommendations deal with
awareness of community radio, legal issues, governance, technology, and
coordination of activities.

The complete report is 39 pages, including appendices t is available in PDF
format on http://comunica.org/afghanistan/

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