Radio Dari began broadcasting in September 1980 as a comprehensive and unbiased news source for the Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Two years later, the Pashto Service was established. These two services operated as distinct entities until 2006, when the release of Ashna TV brought the two services together to become what is today the Afghan Service.
The Afghan Service now has about 50 employees, with everyone fluent in at least one of the two primary Afghan languages: Dari and Pashto. Almost all the members at the Afghan Service are from Afghanistan and experts in their respective fields and familiar with the culture. Many broadcasters are considered to be local celebrities in Afghanistan, especially the female broadcasters Lina Rozbih, and Shaista Sadaat, who present a new culture where women are equal to men and can discuss politics as well.
A Service with Two Languages
With both Dari and Pashto programming, the air time is divided evenly between to two languages, while a few programs are hosted bilingually. Ashna TV broadcasts one hour a day starting at 6 p.m. in Kabul, through VOA’s affiliate station RTA (Radio and TV Afghanistan), the national television of Afghanistan that broadcasts across all 34 provinces. Radio broadcasting is offered live from 7 p.m.-12 a.m., with a gap for music and English learning programs, and broadcasting resuming at 5 a.m. until 7 a.m. VOA shares the radio frequency with VOA sister station Radio Free Europe’s Radio Azadi, which broadcasts during the hours VOA does not, providing Afghan listeners programming around the clock.
Strong Presence in Afghanistan
As the U.S. military starts to disengage from Afghanistan, VOA continues to provide reliable, comprehensive, and unbiased news. Nowadays, as the local media sector becomes more vibrant and diverse, VOA has been able maintain its strong presence with 35 percent viewer penetration rate because of the strong reliability it has built throughout the years. For many in the country, VOA is an integral part of the Afghan media identity since local media was previously almost non-existent. That tradition remains strong, and the Afghan Service is highly committed to maintaining that legacy.
On the Internet, the Afghan Service has two web sites—VOA Dari and VOA Pashto; both websites together attract more than 677 thousand views a month from within Afghanistan and beyond, as Afghans living elsewhere wish to remain informed about their country. The two websites share headlines that are of the most importance to Afghanistan, while other news stories differ slightly. The Afghan Service also maintains popular social media platforms, with Facebook being the most prominent. The Facebook pages of VOA Dari and VOA Pashto combined have more than one million fans; that means a lot for a country of 28 million people and an Internet penetration rate of only about 5 percent.
Radio Program Talk and Listen
Though the service is expanding its TV reach, radio broadcasts remain important for audiences in areas where television access is scarce. In 2013 the show Gofto Shanod (Talk and Listen) was launched. This show is co-hosted by Dari hosts Najib Ahmadyar and Hafiz Assefi and Pashto hosts Noshaba Ashna and Ashiqullah Rahomzoy. Guests are invited to comment via telephone on the day’s hot issues. Listeners are encouraged to call in to ask questions and express their views.
During the 2014 election season, every Tuesday has been dedicated to election debate. These feature programs are co-hosted by a D.C.-based VOA reporter and a reporter based full-time in VOA’s Kabul bureau. This show has attracted a lot of interest, as the ability and freedom to debate and discuss continues to blossom in the country. This show format is an important element in public discussion for democracy building.
Other election coverage has included a live blog with up-to-the-minute updates on latest developments, and 30-minute TV interviews with all except one of the presidential candidates. Other high-profile guests have included the Interior Minister of Afghanistan Mohammad Omar Daudzai, and a rare and exclusive interview with the director of the Afghan intelligence agency, Rahmatullah Nabil, who spoke about security arrangements for the election.
VOA’s Ashna TV Engages Afghans
Building on its successful television lineup, Ashna TV started a joint production with Channel One TV (1TV), Afghanistan’s second-largest commercial network. Khate Mehwar, or Pivot Line, is an hour-long monthly program that brings together policymakers and experts in Washington and Kabul to discuss topics of critical importance to Afghanistan and the United States, including security transition, corruption, development aid, and human rights issues. Past guests have included U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Catherine M. Russell and former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador James F. Dobbins. Through videoconferencing, panelists in both countries take questions from a live studio audience in 1TV’s Kabul studio, as well as questions posted on Pivot Line’s Facebook page.