Wednesday 21 October 2009

US radio most popular in Afghanistan, ctte told

Some interesting information emerged in the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations about the impact of radio and TV broadcasting by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Speaking to a hearing of the subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues last week, Jeffrey Hirschberg from the RFE/RL Broadcasting Board of Governors, told the Senators that the two organisation produce a round-the-clock stream of programming in both Dari and Pashto via AM from Kabul and five local FM stations across the country. There is also a shortwave broadcast and VOA also broadcasts a daily hour-long TV programme in Dari and Pashto over Afghanistan state TV.
The combined audience of VOA and RFE/RL is the biggest in the country in terms of audience reach. They now reach 56 per cent of all Afghan adults every week – a regular audience of nearly 10 million people.
Hirschberg says RFE/RL’s combined Dari and Pashto service is, by itself, the most popular media outlet in the country. He says it is also the service Afghans say they turn to first for news and information. The stations claim to reach around a quarter of those who say they strongly oppose the Afghan government.
The reach of the stations is undeniable. During the recent Presidential elections, for example, RFE/RL inverviewed all 41 candidates on phone-in programmes, as well as co-hosting Afghanistan State Television's only presidential election debate.
The stations cover a wide range of issues, including Islam and human rights. When the Afghan Parliament passed a law restricting the rights of Shia women, VOA TV broadcast a special show featuring both opponents and supporters of the law. Participants included Senator Barbara Boxer and Melanne Verveer, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.
Speaking in more detail about the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Joaquin Blaya from the BBG said that in 2006 Voice of America initiated a new dedicated service in the unique regional Pashto dialect, called Deewa Radio.
This station focuses on local issues and produces nine hours of daily programming, including live news, current affairs, call-in shows, and music. It transmits via AM, FM, and shortwave, with text and audio available on the Internet.
Data on Deewa’s audience from the BBG’s first audience survey in the region are still being collated, but an earlier study by the USAID suggested Deewa had a wide following. Every day, on average around 400 people call in to take part in on-air discussion programmes.
Earlier this year, to complement Deewa, the US Congress endorsed new RFE/RL Pashto broadcasts for the border region. Working in cooperation with Deewa Radio, the new Radio Azadi will broadcast for six hours a day. With reporters on both sides of the border and throughout Pakistan, and with a bureau in Peshawar or another city, the new station aims to combat radical Islamist broadcasting in Pakistan.
Blaya added in written testimony: "Once fully operational, Azadi will have the capacity to send headlines and breaking news to listeners via mobile phones and SMS text messages. Cell phone ownership is widespread in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and while less so in the border region, the new text messaging capacity will nonetheless let the BBG engage people well beyond the reach of insurgent broadcasters."

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