Afghanistan faces significant changes given the upcoming elections and ISAF troop withdrawals. How is this affecting the media? DW Akademie and the broadcaster ARD invited experts to discuss the issues.
From left: Florian Weigand, head of DW's Dari/Pashtu service; Kefa Hamidi, media researcher; Sabine Rau, discussion host; Shikiba Babori, founder of the jouranlists' network, Kalima
"Observers and experts agree that media development in Afghanistan is a success story," said media researcher Kefa Hamidi. He was one of the panelists at the Berlin "Media International" discussion round, organized by DW Akademie and the German public broadcaster, ARD. "Afghanistan's media laws are among the most liberal in the region."
Florian Weigand, head of DW's Dari/Pashtu service, agreed but pointed out that Afghanistan's freedom of the press is also limited. "Media outlets are often steered by people with their own agendas," he said. "Political and religious interests also have an influence," but he added that some stations have in fact achieved considerable independence.
The challenges of independent reporting
"You need courage if you aim to be critical", said freelance journalist Martin Gerner. He sends reports from Afghanistan and also gives on-site training to journalists there. "Afghan journalists who try to report independently often face threats or become targets." Self-censorship, he said, is inevitable.
However, women are becoming more involved in the media, said Shikiba Babori, founder of the German-Afghan journalists' network, Kalima. "There used to be few women journalists but these days even the state broadcasters are hiring anchorwomen." Women now make up about 30 percent of the media's workforce. "The determining factor here, though, is whether the women's families or neighbors accept their career goals," she said.
Sustainable media development
All panelists acknowledged the important role played by the ISAF. "The international community's interests have ensured greater freedom of the press," commented Florian Weigand. However, Shikiba Babori is concerned about the troop withdrawals. "Afghan journalists are worried that the West will start focusing elsewhere," she said. "If radical groups become more powerful they'll threaten existing press freedoms."
Martin Gerner believes ongoing media development cooperation is essential. "Many of the independent media outlets still need support. Workshops for journalists used to be the priority but the most important thing now for media organizations is management training and secure funding."
The upcoming election results will also determine the media's future. "More than anything, the press sector needs a stable government and a safe environment," concluded Shikiba Babori.