Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the BBC World Service Trust



  In many of the World's poorest communities, radio is the main source of news and information. The BBC World Service Trust ( is an independent charity set up in 1999 to reduce poverty in developing countries, through the innovative use and reach of the media. The Trust's development work takes place in 23 countries worldwide providing these communities with vital information in local languages, tackling issues of health, literacy and learning, and helping rebuild societies and media infrastructure in countries emerging from conflict.

  The Trust works in partnership with local and international charities and governments. All its projects are cost-effective, measurable and self sustaining.

  In February 2002 the BBC World Service Trust received a grant of £1 million (US$1.45 million) from the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) to help rebuild the media in Afghanistan. The Trust's immediate actions focused on five areas:

    —  Providing equipment to Radio/TV Afghanistan to equip two radio studios and to stabilise radio production.

    —  Training more than 350 journalists and technical staff in Kabul and the regions.

    —  Working in partnership with the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) to assess future needs and the foundations for a regulatory framework for the media and defining future strategic directions.

    —  Production of radio programmes on the BBC World Service in Pashto and Persian on the traditional council, the "Loya Jirga".

    —  Providing resources for the co-ordination of media projects

  With the experience of implementing and managing these development projects and using the BBC's Persian and Pashto service meant that the Trust has developed a series of proposals for a more extensive project addressing technical rehabilitation, regulatory frameworks, training of journalists and educational and other programming in Afghanistan which will provide long term humanitarian relief, development and reconstruction.


  The BBC World Service has broadcast in Persian (Dari) since 1940 and in Pashto for more than 20 years. Before and during the crisis in Afghanistan the Service has had huge audiences throughout the country and maintained a profile as an accurate and independent broadcaster. In addition, the BBC has enhanced its traditional broadcasting role through the establishment of the Afghan Education Projects in 1993 and the launch of Afghanistan's first soap opera, "New Home, New Life" modelled on the British radio soap, The Archers. Radio became the only media outlet which combined entertainment, education and information, and Afghans became dependent on information for their daily survival. They needed to know what was happening in their neighbourhood and in their country.

  In October 2001, DFID supported the production of the daily lifeline programmes building on the Trust's previous work in the region. The Trust and the BBC's Afghan Education Projects broadcasting from Peshawar, Pakistan, commenced a series of 15 minute lifeline programmes in November 2001, targeting refugees and internally displaced persons in Afghanistan. These programmes are currently broadcast twice daily on the BBC's Pashto and Persian services.

  There can be little doubt that radio programmes like the BBC's radio soap opera in "New Home, New Life", brought much to the people of Afghanistan during war and conflict. The radio soap offered life-saving information, hope and entertainment, and helped to unite Afghans across the region.

  But two decades of war have caused endless destruction in Afghanistan, including damage to self-esteem and self-reliance of its people. The provision of humanitarian relief to Afghans inside the country and to Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries, especially in Pakistan, has, on the one hand, helped to save lives, but on the other, eroded people's self confidence. Recently, the Trust's Afghan staff visited a refugee camp with the team of writers of "New Home, New Life" and talked to a group of returning refugees about their hopes and fears. It was clear that some of these refugees were going back home with new skills, some of which are probably easily marketable but others less so. Particularly striking was the culture of dependency in the form of expectation from aid agencies and non-government organisations. One of the refugees' biggest fears was "what if we go back and the aid agencies stop supporting us".

  However, despite all her losses Afghanistan has learned new lessons, and has tried and experimented with new approaches and new channels, especially in the areas of education and media. Many positive, community-based, educational initiatives emerged in response to the Taliban's restrictions on girls' education and women's employment. Similar experience was gained in the field of media. But amongst all radio had a unique role.

  Radio was the only medium through which relatively impartial information was available in local languages. Radio was also cheaper than other medium and culturally acceptable to people. The only difficulty was finding a language that was understood by intellectuals as well as tribesmen, and this was overcome with the launch of "New Home, New Life", which chose to use the spoken language that is common in the countryside. The use of an accessible language combined with the use of direct input from listeners turned the show into lifeline and provided something that all Afghans would share. The most recent evidence of this was when the UN Special Envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, appeared in an episode of "New Home, New Life" shortly before the "Loya Jirga" took place early this year. Despite a lot of pressure from warlords, the involvement of the ordinary people of Afghanistan in the election process of the "Loya Jirga" was unexpected and unprecedented. Some Afghans were prepared to make huge sacrifices in order to have representation. This illustrates that, provided appropriate long-term investment is made, radio can continue to play a very significant role in building democracy in the country.


  The following activities have been carried in Afghanistan so far with the support of the DFID and other agencies:

1.  Needs assessment

  After the Interim Administration took charge in December 2001 in Kabul, a BBC team took part in a needs assessment mission in Afghanistan under the auspices of the UN's Department of Public Information. The Trust's team included a range of experts from BBC Technology, BBC Public Policy (for regulatory frameworks), the World Service Pashto and Persian services and Afghan Education Projects.

  The needs assessment mission met with Hamid Karzai and leading Ministers in the Interim Government, Afghan broadcasters, journalists and UN agencies. The mission's findings were incorporated into the "Preliminary Needs Assessment for Recovery and Reconstruction in Afghanistan" which was presented by the World Bank, UNDP and the Asian Development Bank at the donor's conference in Tokyo earlier this year.

  The areas identified as a result of the needs assessment where input, expertise and assistance were required included a legal framework for media in Afghanistan, capacity building and training across the Afghan media (including broadcasting and print), and equipment and infrastructure.

2.  Legal framework and strategy development

  The needs assessment team recognised that there was a very low level of understanding of the regulatory frameworks required to govern the media sector. It recommended that early attention was paid to increase understanding amongst broadcasters and government officials. The Minister of Information and Culture then requested a strategic advisor from the BBC to assist in drawing up a comprehensive plan for the media. The BBC provided a senior BBC Manager as a consultant who is Persian speaking and who has been based in Kabul since February 2002, to help develop a forward plan. As a result the AIA issued a Policy Declaration in June 2002 and in September held an International Media Seminar in Kabul.

  In addition, a number of experts from the BBC and other organisations including the University of Adelaide, School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) and Article 19 worked closely with the AIA and others to identify priorities and tackle foreseeable problems for the reconstruction of the media. They addressed topics such as the ability of the media to reach the poorest in Afghanistan, regulatory issues and freedom of speech, broadcast policy, gender and educational needs. A full report (attachment 1)[1] with recommendations for future action has been produced and is available from the World Service Trust, from Nusrat Ul-Ghani on 0207 557 [email protected]

3.  Training

  A five person training team, led by William Reeve (previously a BBC Correspondent in Kabul), started work in Afghanistan on 2 February 2002. To date the Trust has provided training to more than 350 Afghan journalists, of whom a third were women.

  The team included senior producers and trainers from the Persian and Pashto Services, a former BBC News editor and a senior trainer. Afghan journalists came from Kabul and other towns and cities, from Radio/TV Afghanistan, from the state news agency, Bakhtar, and from government and independent press. Sessions included ethics, accuracy, research, media law, interviewing skills and conflict reporting. Further courses and seminars were provided to editors at Radio/TV Afghanistan and the Bakhtar News Agency, and the training continued through the summer with further courses in Mazar-e-Sharif.

  The latest training activities in Afghanistan included both technical and journalism training. The main emphasis of the programme was a series of three one-week workshops to establish a foundation in the ethics and principles of professional journalism and to strengthen editorial judgement. The journalists participating in the training programme were working journalists and came from all sectors of the media: television, radio and newspapers as well as from the national news agency. Of the 96 participants, 56 were from the provinces, 22 were women journalists. The women journalists on the courses had not been able to work at all for the six years of Taleban rule.

4.  Studio/recording equipment

  Equipment which includes two fully equipped, self-operating studios, digital editing equipment, computers and mini discs were supplied and installed at Radio Afghanistan in Kabul by a technical team from BBC Technology in March 2002. Technical training for studio managers and producers has been provided by BBC trainers.

  A fully equipped Media Resource Centre was opened in early April 2002 in Kabul, and is currently managed by the BBC. It includes training facilities, a projection and meeting space, and computers and audio-visual equipment. The centre is currently providing basic computer and digital recording training to nearly 300 members, most of them journalists. It is also being used by other organisations for training workshops.

5.  Programming

  A series of feature programmes have been broadcast on aspects of the "Loya Jirga" on the BBC World Service in Pashto, Persian and Uzbek. These features, discussions and debates seek to provide information about the forthcoming democratic process in an easily accessible form on a nationwide scale. It is hoped that future support can be provided so that Radio Afghanistan can produce its own programmes tackling processes, farming, teacher training and distance learning.


  As mentioned above, with the help of a BBC consultant via the Trust, the Afghan Interim Authority issued a Policy Declaration in June 2002 and the Transitional Authority held an International Seminar on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media in Afghanistan in September 2002 (attachment 2).[2] The government has promised to turn the radio, television, and the Bakhtar news agency into public service entities. It has also pledged to remove the licensing provision for print media. Both of these are important steps for a free media.

  The seminar, held in Kabul in early September, included, in addition to international experts, print journalists and broadcasters, not only from the capital, but also from key provinces like Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Paktia and Jalalabad. Many of the Afghan delegates called for a comprehensive approach which included the provinces. They too wanted to be part of what happens in Kabul, which will be key to the restoration of unity, to the restoration of trust and credibility in the media, to the democratisation of the system, and consequently to raising nation-wide debates on issues of national concern.

  These are indeed very welcome developments but remain subject to pressure from conservative elements in the central government and from warlords and provincial commanders unless proper protection and safeguards are provided through the international community. The government's pledge and the determination of the country's journalists must be supported by consistent investment, input and commitment. There needs to be a coherent plan in which all elements go hand in hand. The construction of infrastructure is dependent upon the creation of a desirable legal environment and adequate capacity building to ensure an effective legal framework is developed and put in place. Consistent training and capacity building at all levels across all media sectors will sure that freedom of speech and independent media is properly understood and put in practice by media professionals. This is only possible with long term commitment from donors.

  The Afghan government pledged to turn the media into "an essential instrument in making the government transparent and accountable, and in generating national debate on the crucial decisions", which the government "will have to make in the rebuilding" of the country in the years ahead. Afghanistan's government has also recognised that there is a need for a "comprehensive programme of training throughout all levels and functions in all media sectors, in strategic planning, management, financial, editorial, technical, and production skills"[3].

  The existing momentum for the reconstruction of free and independent media must be seized and supported by the international community during this early period. The expertise and professional know-how available from media organisations currently active in Afghanistan should be harnessed in partnership with Afghans, if we wish to see a real and sustainable change. The Trust has no further funding to continue with its recommended projects to ensure that a free and independent media is established in Afghanistan, and ensuring that all of its projects are sustainable. This is a point donors need to be aware of long-term, sustainable development.

  Now that the "Loya Jirga" has taken place and Afghanistan has hopefully set out on a new path, both the international community and Afghans themselves should capitalise on these lessons and experience. We should continue to use radio to build confidence, share experiences, develop skills, strengthen civil society, restore a sense of unity and to complement mainstream reconstruction and development programmes in the country.

The BBC World Service Trust

October 2002

1   Not printed. Back

2   Not printed. Copy placed in the Library. Back

3   Reconstruction and Development of Media in Afghanistan report-The Ministry of Information and Culture Policy Directions, Government of Afghanistan, June 2002. Also see: Back

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