Nine years after the fall of the Taliban, argue the authors of a new report, dreams of a free and independent media sector in Afghanistan go unrealised. It is time, they say, to reassess the media landscape and reevaluate how media can best be employed as a tool for peacebuilding.
Afghanistan Media Assessment: Opportunities and Challenges for Peacebuilding, published by the US Institute for Peace and written by Eran Fraenkel, Emrys Schoemaker and Sheldon Himelfarb, says the media in Afghanistan should serve as an interlocutor between the historically antagonistic centre and the periphery of the country. It argues that although millions has been spent on media by international donors, the two main goals of counteracting insurgent communications and creating a free and independent media sector have not been met.
Donors should henceforth invest primarily in the production and dissemination of socially constructive content, rather than building media institutions that the economy cannot support and should also make multi-year funding commitments, even if institutions do not become self-sustaining.
The US and its allies should coordinate their media support strategies and the military should restructure its media activities to avoid excessive financial and editorial interference.
The authors recommend a number of specific media interventions, including a TV or radio drama based on the experiences of Afghan returnees, a reality TV show based on an all-Afghan youth cricket team, a TV documentary series showing how some communities have solved problems, a radio satire that examines the role of rumours and provides solutions through audience participation, an investigative and participatory radio talk show and a radio show that broadcasts the deliberations of shuras (community councils).
These are all interesting ideas, although it is by no means certain that they would be welcomed by an Afghan audience or pull in large numbers of viewers and listeners. Or that there are sufficient numbers of well-trained and talented technicians and writers in Afghanistan to make these interventions successful. As the Afghan media organisations mature, commercial pressures (and politics) are likely to be the most important arbiters of Afghan tastes. Although around 100 people were interviewed for this report, what is now needed is a much more in-depth survey of Afghan audience perceptions and preferences.
Ironically, this may help explain why the Taliban has been so successful in its media strategy. Despite producing entirely fictitious battle reports for years and failing all the 'truth and accuracy' tests, the overall message it delivers of Islamic justice as a solution to the country's woes continues to exert a powerful influence.