Like many people, I remember staying up late on Friday nights to watch Indian movies on TV. The difference was that there was only Afghanistan National Television — the only TV station in my country until about 10 years ago. This was a fully state-run station, without programs for people to freely share their points of view or their thoughts and ideas for better governance. Everyone watched the national station, because there was no other choice. There was no chance for others to establish TV stations, because of the political and security situation.
Right now in Afghanistan, there are 35 TV stations, more than 100 radio stations and more than 150 newspapers in both official languages — Dari and Pashto — that reach 15 million Afghans. We have come a long way in the last 10 years.
Since 2002, access to independent media has expanded in part due to USAID’s partnership with the country’s premier media training and advocacy organization, Nai, to empower members of the media through training and advocacy sessions. USAID also works with the Afghan government to revise its laws on mass media and access to information so that there is a more welcoming environment for journalistic outlets.
This kind of work has also started to close the gap between the media and the Afghan people. I remember my father telling me how difficult it was for Afghan people to face TV cameras. In the past, cameras weren’t common in Afghanistan, and people were reluctant to give interviews, so their voices were missing from media coverage of issues.
The establishment of different media organizations after 2001 was a big step in bridging this gap, connecting media outlets to their viewers, listeners and readers. USAID’s work has also helped to increase trust in the media. Step by step, people have gained a better understanding about how the media works. Today, media reports are more balanced, because people have more trust in the media and are now more willing to go on-camera to discuss their views.
The media revolution in Afghanistan has had a big impact on the people of this country. The new TV stations broadcast music and TV dramas from other countries, which is a new experience for people who lived through three decade of war. People have become fans of international music and TV serials. If I ask someone about political issues in our country, he or she might give a short response, but I could also ask a nine-year-old boy about an American TV series, and he will talk for hours! That’s the choice we were missing when I was a small boy.
When I walk around Kabul, I see and hear people discussing new music shows and Turkish dramas because they are tired of political and security issues. They want a break from tribal and ethnic discussions, and want to live happily with their families. But no matter what the issue, Afghans are better informed of issues in their own country.