A panel moderated by VOA Director David Ensor brought together media experts and Afghan and Western journalists for a timely discussion on the future of the vibrant but fragile Afghan media sector.
The panel, part of a half-day conference “Getting Beyond 2014 in Afghanistan
” at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, explored the remarkable success and growth of the country’s media in the last decade. Since 2001, Afghanistan has gone from having one state-run radio station and two TV stations, primarily used as propaganda tools for the government, to having 75 television stations and nearly 200 radio stations, with all but two privately owned.
“The advances in media are some of the most important advances of the last 12 years,” said Ensor, who served for 17 months as Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. “A democracy, which Afghanistan seeks to be, really has to have a sense that people may say what they think.”
The panelists also discussed the danger Afghan media face after 2014, when the foreign aid that helps sustain many of the country’s independent media outlets may dry up.
“We have managed to create a remarkable space for freedom of media,” said Najib Sharifi, Director of Afghan Journalists Safety Committee. “Afghanistan is a bastion of freedom in a repressive region. We cannot afford to lose this.”
Another panelist, Danish Karokhel, Director of Pajhwok Agency News, one of the country’s independent media outlets, said he and his staff have worked hard to be a sustainable network, but that it is difficult to know what the future will bring.
James Deane of the BBC Media Action also expressed concern about the future of Afghan media and said “VOA and BBC are going to have an increasingly important role to play in terms of providing the external, independent coverage.”
Panelist Peter Bergen, a former CNN Middle East correspondent and currently a director at the New American Foundation, said that U.S. media outlets focus too much on negative news coming out of Afghanistan.
“I’m not saying we need to promote all the good news,” he added. “But there’s little [coverage] about the telecom sector in Afghanistan, or the entrepreneurs who are making it. It’d be good to see more of those stories.”
Though the panel discussion took place before an audience in Washington, it was broadcast by Voice of America and could be seen by audiences in Afghanistan as well as Afghans living in other countries.
In his closing remarks Ensor spoke directly to this audience: “I hope that one message comes from this conference, and it’s simply this: You have friends here. Thousands of us, who have put time into helping out in the past 12 years or so, and we have a special place in our hearts for your country.”
Along with the media discussion, the event featured a panel on the future of U.S.-Afghan relations from political, security, and economic perspectives. Ambassador James Dobbins, Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, delivered the keynote address.
Voice of America broadcasts to Afghanistan in Dari and Pashto languages, reaching approximately 1/3 of the adult population on radio and television each week.
Watch the archived media panel here
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