Jeanne Bourgault is President of the media development organization Internews.
A decade ago, Afghanistan was one of the most information-poor countries on the planet, where television was banned and its entire national media consisted of a single radio station used solely for propaganda purposes.
Today, one of the greatest success stories of Afghanistan is found in its media where hundreds of broadcast and print outlets operate each day, with a vibrant press corps whose numbers swell in the thousands.
Amid this burgeoning media scene, this week [April 8] saw an especially important milestone when the enormously popular radio program network, Salam Watandar (“Hello Countrymen”), became a fully independent, non-governmental Afghan organization.
First created in 2003 with funding from USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, Salam Watandar began as a small radio production service that provided content to a handful of independent provincial radio stations established by the nonprofit media development organization Internews. Since then, the network has grown to 47 radio stations broadcasting in 29 Afghan provinces with the capacity to reach over 10 million listeners. Through these partner stations, Salam Watandar broadcasts high-quality programs on current affairs, culture, social issues and sport, and has served as a strategic hub for mentoring and training its partner radio stations.
Most of these partner stations were also created by Internews with funding from USAID. Over the past decade, Internews has built and equipped 44 independent radio stations across Afghanistan. Forty of these are today part of Salam Watandar’s 47-station strong partner network.
Salam Watandar’s move to full Afghan ownership drew the support of USAID Mission Director to Afghanistan, Ken Yamashita, who attended a special ceremony to mark the transition.
Yamashita also had the opportunity to engage Afghan youths on Salam Watandar’s feature radio program Generation Hope. “The youth of Afghanistan, like the youth anywhere around the world are connected and have tremendous networks…it is our responsibility to make sure that [the youth] have better opportunities,” said Yamashita.
Salam Watandar Chief Editor Najibullah Amiri said that “with achieving independence there will be many challenges ahead, but this step allows the staff at Salam Watandar to take ownership- to feel this is now our radio.”
In the midst of the often challenging news coming from Afghanistan, one thing that Americans and Afghans can be enormously proud of is the fact that our work together helped to usher in a wave of new media outlets and the revitalization of Afghanistan’s journalism landscape.
Together, we have helped to build something that is a national asset. This week, one important part of that national asset became wholly Afghan. And that is a good news story in all senses of the phrase.