Tribal News Network in Pakistan will start producing local news for mobile phones

Photo courtesy by Hani Tah
The radio and online news outlet Tribal News Network (TNN) in Pakistan reports on areas and topics which the mainstream Pakistani media usually overlook. TNN news bulletins are currently broadcast on local radio stations in the local language, Pushto, and online in Pushto, Urdu and English. Soon listeners will be able to simply call a number on their mobile phones to listen to TNN news bulletins.

Tayyeb Afridi, the co-founder and director of TNN, emphasized the importance of the new mobile phone news bulletins: “Lots of people in rural areas and in some urban areas don't have access to a landline phone or to television. But they have a mobile phone, especially in the Tribal Areas, to speak to relatives and family members.”

TNN was established in 2013 to produce independent news in Pushto for the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in northwestern Pakistan, and the nearby Tribal Areas along the border with neighbouring Afghanistan. In troubled Pakistan, mainstream news outlets focus heavily on politics and security issues. TNN however makes a point of reporting also on developments in health, education, business and culture. Tayyeb Afridi, the director of TNN, talks about the impact the organization is having, the new mobile phone news bulletins, and a documentary about the news outlet broadcast internationally on Al Jazeera television.

What is TNN about and how is it developing?

“In 2013, we started producing news bulletins for local radio stations. These five-minute daily news bulletins are broadcast by a number of local radio stations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Tribal Areas. We also have radio partners in eastern Afghanistan, so our bulletins are broadcast there as well. Furthermore, we also train local radio reporters, for example in radio skills and in physical and digital security.
What makes us different from other media is our focus on local news. The mainstream media focus on security issues and ignore social issues in the rural areas. Our focus is broader, so development and good governance, for example, are important topics for us.
Now we're going to produce news bulletins which can be listened to on a simple mobile phone. We're going to produce hourly news bulletins of 2 minutes, every day between 8am and 8pm.”

Why is it an advantage to broadcast your bulletins via mobile phone?

“Mobile penetration in Pakistan is excellent, and now it is increasing in the Tribal Areas because mobile companies have extended their coverage to these far- flung areas. In the last few years, mobile penetration has dramatically risen. Moreover, our news bulletins will be available free of charge. The production of news bulletins for mobile phones will give us the opportunity to offer our news bulletins to a wider audience.”

In the 25-minute documentary that Al Jazeera television broadcast recently about your organization, one of the highlights is the fact that TNN is one of the few media outlets in your area of Pakistan that employs women. Can you elaborate on that?

“In the Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, women can't always work or go to school, or can't leave the house without covering their faces. It is very unusual to find female reporters in our conservative part of Pakistan.
We started an internship for female reporters. At the moment, our assistant-producer and six of our 35 reporters are women. I think it is important to have female journalists -- they can get access to stories that men cannot report on.”

Do your stories also help the communities you report on?

“Change in the communities is an important aspect of our project. If people have a problem, for example, water shortages or problems with the electricity, they text or call us. Our reporters talk with the responsible representatives and report about the issue.

A good example of a report that made a difference was the story of a female student who had topped the Education Board exams and, as per government policy, she became eligible to receive a scholarship from the government for further education. But she was denied that for a few months for no reason. She sent a text to us complaining that she had not been given a scholarship. Our reporter contacted the Minister of Education and he took strong notice of this news and directed the education authorities to award a scholarship as promised by the government. She received her scholarship within two weeks.”

This interviewed appeared on Free Press Unlimited Website:

The Story Behind 'Good Morning Pakistan'

At editorial meeting.

"When I entered Tayyeb Afridi’s office at the Tribal News Network in Peshawar, Pakistan, I remembered a brainstorm we once had with a group in the JSK Fellowships about the future of news. We had used Post-it notes to configure a complicated matrix of ideas that were going to solve the digital problems we faced in our newsrooms"

Here is full blog of Aela Callan published on JSK Knight fellowship website.

Time To Decide The Fate Of FATA

After the security situation somehow improved, the FATA Parliamentarians tabled the bill in the National Assembly seeking merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtukhwa (KP). The tabling of this bill actually highlighted once again the issue of FATA - whether it should be brought under the umbrella of parliament or left as it is to the prerogative of president, a ceremonial head of the state, who only controls FATA.

We have seen a lot of uproar in the past two months over social and conventional media about the fate of FATA. Social media users were rigorously using twitter hashtags of MergeFATAWithKP, FATAMerger, FATAMergerWithKP, taking to Facebook to share their views about FATA status. There was all of sudden this groundswell of opinion seen everywhere in FATA and KP as FATA Siyasi Ittehad (FSI) supported by Awami National Party (ANP), Jamat-i-Islami (JI) , Jamhori Watan Party (JWP), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Peoples party took rallies to D-chowk of parliament to press for the merger of FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Conventional media also carried many stories on this subject. But the crescendo of voices died just as suddenly as it had erupted. Why?

The FATA parliamentarians (yes, theoretically they are parliamentarian but practically they cannot even legislate for FATA) for whatever political reasons gave up on the proposed 22nd amendment tabled and pursued by them in the parliament and that happened after the government constituted a “special powered” committee with no members from FATA to decide the fate of the region.

Like always, someone else is deciding the fate of tribal areas in the presence of FATA representatives. That is why the FATA Siyasi Itehad (FSI) rejected the formation of this committee, while the FATA Grand Alliance (FGA)- an alliance of Maliks (tribal elders) welcomed it because they want an elected council or province for FATA and rejects merger of FATA with KP. Jamiat-ullema-e-Islam JUI (F) also rejects merger of FATA with KP.

The FGA and JUI (F) think that becoming part of KP will undermine importance of tribal traditions such as Jirga and other customs. What they don’t know or don’t want to know is that those living in KP are also Pakhtuns and has been happily exercising their traditions whether that is Jirga or anything else even under the umbrella of parliament. This sort of parallel system exists everywhere in Pakistan. For instance, take Punjab where you will find Panchayat. In Sindh, the Wadera system continues to exist. Aren’t they tribesmen having traditions? I guess nobody is saying we’re better than them.

And also this notion that tribal people are better – by way of tradition and values - than those living in KP is in fact racism. It hurts one to see even tribal educated folks saying that Pakhtuns in KP have compromised their traditions and they don’t want to be part of it. We don’t have to be rocket scientists to know that Pakhtuns living in KP are better educated with more schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, courts, playgrounds, and far better established infrastructure which is being used by people from tribal areas since ages.

So what is the best possible scenario?

If the government makes the tribal areas a part of KP, the tribal people will get rid of centuries old draconian law known as Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) that prohibits freedom of expression and speech and this will ultimately contribute to information economy, which is absent in this region since becoming part of the country.

If the government makes it a part of KP, the tribal people will get out of the isolation syndrome that is preventing them from change and thus they will embrace physical and emotional development.

By becoming part of KP, the almost 10 million population of tribal areas will add to KP and that will increase the province's share in the NFC Award because it goes to the provinces on the basis of population.The mainstreaming will open up FATA to business, tourism, communication, if not immediately, at least after a few years and people will experience a positive change.

KP and FATA share a common ethnicity and therefore they understand each other well because many tribesmen from Bajaur to South Waziristan have been living in KP for many years and for many reasons.Also geographically, KP and FATA are connected and dependent on each other for education, health, business, and communication.

If someone has to go to Orakzai from Bajaur, he has to go through Peshawar and Kohat as there is no direct road between these two. And there is even no direct road that connects all agencies. Making such road is next to impossible because one has to break the mountains that are separating agencies.

In case of having FATA as a separate province from KP, there will be disputes on which agency will be the capital of FATA and that could be tough decision to make. The FATA areas even don’t have their own civil servants and they borrow it from KP. And finally, now the military establishment also likes to see the fate of FATA decided because the local administration has badly failed to counter radicalism and militancy.

The best possible scenario available at this time for FATA is to merge with KP. And if the FATA Parliamentarians invoked the 22nd amendment and passed it from the parliament, they will be remembered as saviors of FATA in the days to come.

Regi Model Project in Peshawar Yet To See The Light Of Day

Photo courtesy: By Regi Bachavo Tehrik 

By Tayyeb Afridi
Started 25 years back by the Peshawar Development Authority (PDA), Regi Model Town project has yet to see the light of the day—thanks to the successive provincial governments who failed to materialize the biggest housing project of the provincial metropolis.

Land dispute with the locals besides construction of an approach road are stated to be the main obstacles in the way of this mega 27,000-house project. “Actually, this land was not properly acquired by PDA” said Ali Akbar, vice chairman of the Movement for Saving Regi Model Town. Had it been acquired properly there would have been no disputes, he added.

The claims of the residents of Regi village and its adjacent Kokikhel tribe over the land could be addressed if the government was serious to resolve the issue. This is why, Ali Akbar said, two zones of the project—Zone 2 and Zone 5—stand disputed. However, there is no controversy over 1,3,4 zones of the housing project.

Apart from land disputes, there is no direct approach road to the township. Earlier, a link road through Kacha Garhi was planned as without this road the project will be a sheer failure.Over the last 24 years, the cost of the project has also increased manifold. At the time of planning its estimated cost was Rs. 7 billion but now it has jumped to Rs. 35 billion.
Perhaps that is the reason PDA is not building any school, hospital, or playground in the undisputed zones, said Arsala Khan, a member of the Movement for Saving Regi Model Town.

Started in 1991, the project came to the limelight in 2000, when Malik Saad, then PDA director general, accelerated development work on Regi, restoring the confidence of the people to invest in this township. However, his transfer from to another department once again delayed the much-needed project.
Subsequently in 2008, the Awami National Party (ANP) government also demonstrated lack of political will to continue development work on this project and resolve land disputes. Instead, they floated the idea of establishing a new housing project—Asfandyar Township.

The residents of Peshawar pinned high hopes on Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to treat this project fairly as they came in power with a slogan of change and good governance. But so far no significant progress on this project could be witnessed. However, like previous governments, PTI has also constituted a committee to resolve land disputes.

It was expected that after successfully handling Hayatabad Township to owners, the PDA will be able to make this biggest housing project a success but the dream is yet to be materialized.

Free Press Unlimited Recognizes TNN in the Geuzenpenning award

Representation of TNN at the Stichting Geuzenpenning award

In 2015, TNN was recognised by the The Geuzenpennning Foundation (Stichting Geuzenpenning) as a tribute to individuals or institutions that have “devoted themselves to fighting for democracy or against dictatorship, discrimination and racism.

BBC Urdu Reports on Tribal News Network

Presenter at TNN recording news bulletin. Photo courtesy Hani Taha

BBC Story on Tribal News Network 
’دا دے ٹی این این خبرونہ دی۔ زہ یم ناہید جہانگیر (یہ ٹی این این کی خبریں ہیں، میں ہوں ناہید جہانگیر۔۔۔‘
پاکستان کے قبائلی علاقوں میں بیٹھ کر پاکستان کے غیرسرکاری اور نجی نشریاتی ادارے کی جانب سے تیار کی گئی ایسی خبریں یقیناً اس خطے کے لوگوں کے لیے اچھی تبدیلی ہے۔ پاکستان کے قبائلی علاقوں اور خیبر پختونخوا میں ایک دہائی سے زائد عرصے سے جنگ صرف بندوق کے زور پر نہیں لڑی جا رہی بلکہ معلومات کی فراہمی یا عدم فراہمی کے ذریعے بھی مدد لی جا رہی ہے۔
قبائلی علاقوں میں آزاد میڈیا آج بھی ایک خواب ہے جس کی تعبیر حاصل کرنے کی کوشش پشاور کی ایک نجی تنظیم نے کی ہے۔
اب تک اس علاقے کے لاکھوں کی آبادی کو معلومات کے حصول کے لیے یا تو سرکاری ریڈیو یا پھر غیرملکی نشریاتی اداروں پر انحصار کرنا پڑتا تھا۔ جن علاقوں میں شدت پسندی کا مسئلہ ہے، وہیں معلومات سے متعلق خلا بھی موجود ہے۔
بلوچستان اور قبائلی علاقوں میں معلومات کو پاکستان کے مرکزی دھارے کے میڈیا نے آج تک نظر انداز کیا ہے۔ ان کی ضروریات کیا ہیں اور کیسے پوری کی جا سکتی ہیں اس پر کم ہی دھیان دیا گیا ہے۔
مقامی میڈیا سرے سے موجود ہی نہیں۔ شدت پسندی سے متاثرہ علاقوں میں مقامی میڈیا کا پنپنا ابھی بھی مشکل ہے۔ ٹرائیبل نیوز نیٹ ورک نامی ایک غیرسرکاری نجی تنظیم نے قبائلی علاقوں اور خیبر پختونخوا میں ریڈیو کے لیے یہ انوکھی سروس شروع کی ہے۔
پشاور میں قائم ٹرائبل نیوز نیٹ ورک ان علاقوں میں نجی ایف ایم ریڈیو سٹیشنوں کو پشتو زبان میں دن میں دو مرتبہ مفت خبریں مہیا کرتا ہے۔ ٹی این این کے روح رواں اور بانی طیب آفریدی کہتے ہیں قبائلی لوگوں میں بھی حالات و واقعات سے اپنے آپ کو باخبر رکھنے کا اتنا ہی شوق ہے جتنا کسی اور خطے کے انسان کا ہوگا۔
’انھیں کسی آزاد مقامی نیوز ریڈیو چینل کی کمی کا سامنا ہے جو ان کو متوازن اور تنقیدی پہلو کو سامنے رکھتے ہوئے خبریں مہیا کر سکے۔ سرکاری ریڈیو کے علاوہ اب فوج کے تعلقات عامہ کے ادارے آئی ایس پی آر اور فرنٹیئر کور کے ریڈیو آئے ہیں لیکن وہ تفریح پر زیادہ توجہ دیتے ہیں۔ ٹی این این بنانے کا بنیادی مقصد یہی تھا کہ اس کمی کو انھی کے علاقے سے پورا کیا جا سکے۔‘
یہ ادارہ فی الوقت پانچ ایف ایم چینلوں کو یہ بلٹین مہیا کر رہا ہے۔ نجی ایف ایم سٹیشنوں کو خبریں چلانے پر ابتدا میں آمادہ کرنا طیب آفریدی کے لیے مشکل مرحلہ تھا۔ وہ خود بھی بیرونی امداد سے یہ منصوبہ چلا رہے ہیں۔
’ہمارے پاس اتنے پیسے نہیں تھے کہ ان کو دیتے یا ان کا ایئر ٹائم خرید سکتے۔ تو ہم نے بتایا کہ آپ اگر خبریں خود تیار کریں گے تو وسائل چاہیے ہوں گے، ہم آپ کو ان خبروں کے بدلے ریڈیو کی تربیت دیں گے جس پر وہ تیار ہو گئے۔‘
اس خبر رساں ادارے کے قیام کا بنیادی مقصد قبائلی عوام کو تنقیدی خبریں فراہم کرنا ہے تاکہ وہ اپنے سماجی اور سیاسی موضوعات پر بہتر انداز میں بات کر سکیں۔
خیبر ایجنسی میں تہذیب نامی ریڈیو سٹیشن بھی خبریں نشر کرتا ہے۔
اس چینل کے ایاز رضا آفریدی سے یہ خبریں نشر کرنے کی وجہ جاننا چاہی: ’اس سے ہمارے سامعین کی تعداد بڑھی ہے اور ہمیں تیار خبریں مل جاتی ہیں۔ قبائلی علاقوں میں نہ تو کیبل ہے اور نہ ٹی وی، اخبار بھی دیر سے پہنچتا ہے۔ تو ہمارے لیے مارکٹنگ کی تربیت بھی بہت ضروری ہے۔‘
شدت پسندی سے متاثرہ علاقوں میں پاکستانی سکیورٹی ادارے غیر ملکی سٹیشنوں کو موقع نہیں دینا چاہتے۔ ان کا کہنا ہے کہ عسکری جنگ کے ساتھ ساتھ وہ نفسیاتی جنگ بھی لڑ رہے ہیں جس میں غیر ملکی اداروں کا کوئی کام نہیں۔
تاہم اس مقامی لوگوں کے لیے مقامی سٹیشن کے ذریعے مقامی خبروں کا امتزاج کیا رنگ دکھا رہا ہے۔ میں نے خیبر ایجنسی کے ہی چند باسیوں سے دریافت کیا تو ان میں سے اکثر نے موسم کا حال، شوبز نیوز اور زیادہ مقامی خبروں کا تقاضا کیا۔
اس منصوبے کے لیے غیرملکی امداد ہمیشہ کے لیے نہیں۔ لہٰذا طیب مستقبل کے بارے میں بھی سوچ رہے ہیں: ’ہم تین چار منصوبوں پر کام کر رہے ہیں۔ ان میں سے ایک اشتہاری کمپنیوں سے سپانسر حاصل کرنا، دوسرا اپنے پروڈکشن ہاؤس میں دیگر اداروں کے لیے خصوصی پرگرام تیار کرنا اور موبائل صارفین کو انتہائی کم رقم کے عوض یہی خبریں فراہم کرنا بھی شامل ہے۔‘
ایم ایم پارٹنرز کا ہمیشہ یہ موقف رہا ہے کہ وہ کسی کی خبریں کیوں چلائیں۔ تہذیب ریڈیو کے ایاز آفریدی کہتے ہیں اگر پیسے دینے پڑے خبروں کے لیے تو پھر اس وقت دیکھیں گے۔
وانا سے لے کر دیر تک سنے جانے والے اس انوکھے تجربے کے لیے مستقبل میں چیلنج بہت ہیں۔ دیکھنا یہ ہے کہ معاشی اور سرکاری دشواریوں کے بیچ میں یہ کیسے قبائلیوں کی ضرویات پوری کر پائے گا۔

Tayyeb Afridi talks about mobile news project providing free news to people in FATA and KP

During his fellowship at Stanford, Tayyeb Afridi explored, discovered and embraced new approaches to creating and operating independent news organisation and launched the Tribal News Network to serve the Tribal Areas of rural northwest Pakistan. “I realised that journalism is not only a public service, but also a business and should be treated like a business,” Afridi explained.

“This entrepreneurial aspect of journalism was a transformative experience for me.” Through his experiences and coursework at Stanford, Afridi also came to see that developing an information economy is vital to creating an informed society in his home region, because it would bring both jobs and information that people need. 

Fellow from Pakistan discovers Silicon Valley is a state of mind

Fellow From Pakistan Discovers Silicon Valley Is A State-Of Min

D.School has innovative approach towards solution of problems. 

When I arrived as a Knight Fellow, I asked the staff, “Where is Silicon Valley?” I was expecting that it would be a building like the Stanford Shopping Center, with every tech company inside.

“Silicon Valley is more like a concept, driven by the spirit and curiosity to build new things,” I was told. From that moment, I really wanted to understand what that meant. Now, I was looking for two different things - to explore and experience these ideas.

But the picture was still incomplete until I had the good fortune to attend the Boot Camp at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, commonly known as the 

The works on the design of ideas.  Normally, we think of a problem as a challenge to tackle, but here they think of a problem as an opportunity to creatively explore and come up with a solution - and that solution might be something that has never existed before. 

As a group, our challenge was to help a new female student at Stanford. Her parents wanted her to be as religious as she had been at home. They also wanted her to talk to them every day. Being a student, these two would be difficult for her. At first, we thought about the many existing social media websites that she could use - but that wouldn’t suit the parents who also wanted to have a complete record of her activity at the end of the year. 

We brainstormed by empathizing, defining the problem, ideating, prototyping, and finally testing a solution. We came up with the concept of a new app that would help her share every activity of the day with her parents through taking photographs. The parents would also send their picture stories back to her. 

The pictures that she took would be automatically added to a calendar, and at the end of the year, the app would create a single story of her year, like a family picture book, telling every moment of her time as a student. 

The values that we demonstrated as a group (spirit, curiosity, collaboration and finding solutions for real-world problems) told me that finally I had found Silicon Valley. These are the ideas and culture that have turned many students at Stanford into entrepreneurs, inventors and collaborators.  

Unfortunately these values don't exist in many universities in the developing world. My country, Pakistan, is no exception. I graduated in Journalism from the University of Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan, and I didn’t see any student follow these values. Some obvious reasons could be that the universities don’t encourage their students to be innovative, and that the students do not have the passion for such ideas.

Also, there is no space for immature ideas to breathe because many students have them, but they soon kill their ideas when they think of the resources they will need to make them real; they are scared by the amount of innovation that already exists elsewhere so they think there is nothing left for them to create, and in Pakistan, everyone is competing against each other, which makes it difficult for them to collaborate and increase productivity. 
But here at Stanford, students pursue their ideas regardless of the resources and the competitive marketplace by choosing to innovate and collaborate, and that is the beauty of Silicon Valley. 

Journalists: Are we driven by facts or egos?

 ICFJ Alumni  Group Photo at Media Summit  held  in Islamabad on Feb 1,2,2013. Photo taken by Alumni fell

My inner critic is always haunting me with this burning question: am I objective and unbiased as a journalist?

I found the answer in the first week of February, at a media summit organized by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in Islamabad. More than 80 journalists from all over Pakistan, who are alumni of ICFJ attended this summit. Speakers shared their views on important subjects, like the state of media in Pakistan, and how the USA and Pakistan see each other through media. It also gave us a chance to get to know each other.For me, the most interesting part was a session where journalists quizzed the speakers. That’s where my burning question was answered.

From (L-R)Muhammad Ziauddin, executive editor express tribune, Muhammad Malik, senior anchor Dunya TV, Rana Jawad Islamabad bureau chief Geo TV. Photo taken by ICFJ Alumni fellow
A journalist issued a challenge to Rana Jawed, bureau chief of Islamabad Private Television. Why had the station “fanned” the controversy over a provocative YouTube film about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by repeating the clip dozens of times, and calling upon government to ban YouTube? And why did the station later boast – via breaking news – that it was responsible for the YouTube ban? Rana Jawad replied, but the journalist wasn’t satisfied. Neither was I.

Zia-u-ddin, executive editor of Express Tribune, joined the discussion. He explained that television is part of mass media, so its priority is set by people’s emotions and expectations. If you ignore this reality they will switch to another channel. This made sense, but the journalist was still not satisfied.

Enter Muhammad Malick, editor of The News. His view was that no one is perfect in the media business, so we should learn from each other and develop professionalism throughout the industry.

But the journalist was still unwilling to let the issue drop. Later, I learned that he works for a rival television station. The episode made me realize how difficult it is for journalists to move from fixed angles. We stick to our position at any cost.

When another journalist – this time from Quetta – raised his hand to ask a question I gave him all my attention. I was keen to learn about the situation in Quetta, and the ongoing violence which is related to ethnicity and Baloch separatists.
But it was not to be.

“I am impressed by you, Mr Zia-u-ddin,” the journalist began. “You challenged the dictators. You did an excellent job during the Zia regime (and so on), and my question is: should I continue in print or switch over to television?”
I wasn’t expecting such a personal question. Neither was Zia-u-uddin. As soon as he sensed that the issue was superficial he leaned back in his chair and smilingly accepted the admiration. I am a hundred percent sure he wasn’t interested to hear flattery in such a public place. It’s well-known that he is a serious journalist.
This made me realize how important it is for us to ask questions on behalf of the people we serve, instead of just following our own needs. And, as the session also showed, journalists need to understand the difference between making comments and asking well-designed questions. Good questions generate news. The ability to ask good questions is the essence of journalism.

A journalist from FATA fell into the trap of confusing comment with question. “We are thankful to Pakistan for military operations, we are thankful to USA for drone attacks and we are thankful to the Taliban for destroying schools because you all taught us the importance of education,” he began. Personally, I didn’t like this attitude. 

But then the journalist redeemed himself with a strong question to Hamid Mir. Why, he asked, couldn’t he come to cover tribal issues? Hamid Mir explained that he is not allowed to enter tribal areas. He described how his DVR was snatched and smashed by Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) while he was covering a drone attack.
At this, another journalist from Khyber PakhtunKhwa (KPK) pointed out that Hamid Mir had interviewed Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora, Afghanistan. Why, then, couldn’t he cover issues in tribal areas?
I liked the question but not the challenging tone. Later, the KPK journalist told me that he had been “infuriated” by the “disrespectful” way in which Hamid Mir had responded to his colleague from FATA. Emotion had spurred him to join the debate. See? Egos are driving our journalism.
An ICFJ Alumni, Gharieda Farooq is asking a question. Photo taken by Alumni Fellow

I thought seminars were for listening and analyzing. But this one turned into a television talk show. It seemed some people were desperate to pull others down, just so they could enhance their own reputations.

Another interesting observation: those who were keen to ask many questions were not equally keen to report the answers. Yes, they were free to ask but they didn’t feel the need to write. Surely then, they had lost sight of journalism’s aim: to pass on information to the people, through traditional and social media.
So what did I learn from this summit?
Most importantly, that journalists should be clear about what they want to ask, and should have the skill to design their questions coherently and simply. Our questions must be challenging, but we should ask them in a polite way that shows we’re interested in information – not defamation.

Why Is Critical Media Important For Pakistan's Tribal Region?

The 18th amendment has abolished the “concurrent list,” and gives much more provincial autonomy than is now available to the provinces. If the provinces still have technical problems in having powers to establish local radio, they should demand this from federal government to inform marginalized communities across the country.
Picture source: BLIP.TV

In Peshawar, I met a radio talk show listener Haji Noor Zaman, who is 60 years old and is displaced from Khyber Agency due to operation against militants. I asked: Do you still listen to radio? He said yes, he is listening but only to news bulletins from Radio Deewa.

Radio Deewa is U.S. government-sponsored radio. I asked what’s new. He said America has diverted its cannon facing Baluchistan and has built up its human rights case against Pakistan.

I was surprised to hear this sort of comment from a person, who is illiterate and once had a hashish shop at Khyber Agency. I asked in the same breath, that if they are making human rights case against our country, then why do you listen to it? His answer was that no local radio is providing this sort of critical news and he can’t change the dial as long as they are providing critical local information.

I got his thinking. He wanted to listen to critical media, in the form of radio broadcasting. Readers of newspapers and viewers of the television are luckier than radio listeners in Pakistan because they can read and watch critical media. But the people of FATA don’t have access to critical mainstream media, and using the Internet for information is out of the question as most of the region has no electricity and telephone connections.

One couldn’t do private news business in tribal areas of Pakistan because of laws that prohibit independent local broadcasting. That is the reason the people don’t know much about their surroundings and even they don’t know about most of their rights: rights to good education, rights to good health, rights to freedom of expression, rights to freedom of assembly, rights to legal counseling and so on.

In the absence of local broadcasting, people rely on U.S-run radio services, which offer local and regional information in the Pashtu language. The entire FATA could tell you what happens to Muslims in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan because they have access to global information through radio networks but they couldn’t tell you what is happening to them because a critical local media doesn’t exist.

A local reporter working for an English newspaper got a phone call from a person who was a native of Khyber Agency, telling him that his daughter’s polio case has been confirmed. After taking details, the reporter asked why you want to tell this story to people. The caller’s response was quite interesting. He wanted to tell the public to accept polio drops – otherwise they too would lose their daughters.

But to me, his choice of medium looks inappropriate, because he was about to convey his message to English readers, who already understand its importance. Ideally, this story should be told to people through radio, which is popular in the border region – and would be broadcast in their own language. Unfortunately, that father doesn’t call the local government radio station because it seemed he has no faith in that radio station.

Local government executives, who benefit profitably from border region, have no interest in encouraging the masses to speak in a community voice against injustice. The executives were allowed by the government to control, instead of serve, the people. The principle was left to them by British Raj and they continued with it to serve themselves instead of people. In fact, the Mullah Radio had grabbed people’s attention as they were critical of system injustices and offered solution to these injustices in the form of Islamic Sharia. We have seen how the Mullah has used radio for his political advantage in Swat and FATA.

The local government in FATA and Swat didn’t see radio as important in reaching the public as the Mullah did. Even today, local government officials still don’t prefer radio to newspapers, because it’s easier to show a newspaper to bosses sitting in Islamabad or Peshawar. Such officials often prefer to read newspapers rather than listen to the radio, which is regarded as a cheap medium for the masses. The irony is that local government has yet to establish radio in Swat, which was devastated by Mullah Radio.

The local media can lure back audiences from foreign radio if they were allowed to play that critical role. They would need to realize that they have competition from abroad, and they have to win local people’s hearts and minds through critical media. They would need to incorporate more important topics such as militancy, security, politics and good governance into the agenda. Today our thin Government and Commercial agency-run local radio lacks all these, even in Pakistan.

Good local radio journalism can’t be established in the region until and unless government ensures freedom and protection, with easy procedure and less expensive licenses. The federal government needs to understand that people have right to expression – to criticize policies – if they are not benefiting the citizens.

The 18th amendment has abolished the “concurrent list,” and gives much more provincial autonomy than is now available to the provinces. If the provinces still have technical problems in having powers to establish local radio, they should demand this from federal government to inform marginalized communities across the country.

Theoretically, everyone agrees that radio can play a very important role in governance and in alleviating systematic injustices. But in practice, they don’t want to give voice to impoverished communities. If we couldn’t establish and empower local radios, then listeners like Haji Noor Zaman can’t change the dial to listen local radio.

Short Bio of Radio Mullahs in North Western Pakistan

The Individuals, who rode airwaves in the North Western Pakistan used radio as an effective tool to get people support for their imposition of ''Sharia'' (Islamic Law) in Swat and Khyber Agency.  Here is the short bio of those:

Maulana Fazlullah started an illegal local FM channel in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's Swat Valley in 2006. He preaches forcing vice and virtue and has an anti-Western Jihadi stance. He is considered pro-Taliban and a very powerful figure in the area. Though he considers most communication based electronics as "major sources of sin" he transmits broadcasts of his sermons on an illegal local FM radio channel, hence the nickname "Radio Mullah" or "Maulana Radio".
FM signals are relayed from mobile transmitters mounted on motorcycles and trucks. During nightly broadcasts, prohibited activities are routinely declared and violators' names announced for assassination, which often includes beheading.                                                                                                                        Maulana Fazlullah (born 1974) nicknamed the "Radio Mullah" or "Mullah Radio", is the leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a banned Pakistani Islamic fundamentalist militant group allied to the Pakistani Taliban, that aims to enforce Sharia in the country. He is sometimes referred to as "chief" of the Swat Taliban and is the son-in-law of the TNSM's founder, Sufi Muhammad. (Source

Mufti Munir Shakir (birthdate unknown) is a religious figure operating in northwestern Pakistan, and the founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam. Shakir worked in Kurram Agency until 2004, when he was ejected by tribal elders following a mosque bombing.
Shakir's fame increased after he moved to Bara tehsil, Khyber Agency, where he established an FM pirate radio station. Using this vehicle, he began to promote his religious beliefs, based in Deobandi theology. Among his more controversial pronouncements was his alleged statement that opium is halal, provided it is produced and used for medical purposes.

Mengal Bagh is said to be a successor of Mufti Munir Shakir, When Shakir was ejected from Khyber Agency, he turned over his radio station to Bagh, a local driver, and Bagh then formed the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam.[3] Nowadays he is somewhere in the Vally of Tera. But members of LeI are still in Bara and areas of Khyber Agency. (Source

                                                                                                       In 2005, Pir Saifur Rahman, a supporter of the more moderate Barelvi school of Islam, established his own FM pirate radio station to compete with Shakir's station. Rivalry between the two clerics increased, causing tribal elders to denounce the two in December 2005 for fomenting sectarian tension. Both clerics then went into hiding, with Shakir handing control of his radio station and Lashkar-e-Islam organization to Mangal Bagh. The hostilities peaked around March 29, 2006, when "hundreds" of Shakir's followers gathered in the Badshahkili neighborhood of Bara tehsil to attack Rahman's followers. (Source

Ansar ul Islam (AI) was founded in June 2006 in the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency by Qazi Mehboob-ul Haq who also belongs to Deobandi theology but had difference with Lashkar-e-Islam.  It was founded to counter the expansion of Lashkar-e-Islam who believes in strict implementation of Sharia.  Qazi Mehboob-ul-Haq used his pirate radio to counter the ideology of Lashkar-e- Islam and his radio is very famous in the Tirah Valley bordering Afghanistan. (Local Source)