Showing posts with label FATA Radios. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FATA Radios. Show all posts

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.

Pakistani Province Reaches Out Through Radio

Published in the KUT News----Austin, Texas University.

Mr. Shuaib-u-din endeavoring to reach out public through radio.

Northwest Pakistan Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Province, previously called the Northwest Frontier Province, is trying to empower local community by installing community radios in troubled regions.

This is an effort to counter the influence of illegal radio, or Mullah Radio, in Northwest Pakistan’s settled and tribal districts. Settled districts are the responsibility of the provincial government that came into power in February 2008 elections. The provincial government fought the Taliban in Swat, Bunner, Dir valleys.

At a press conference, I got chance to ask few questions of the Director of Information and Public Relations, Mr. Shuaib-u-din, about media policy in Northwest Pakistan Khyber Province. He is implementing government media policy in KPK, Pakistan.

Tayyeb Afridi: What urged the provincial government to install new radio stations in KPK province, despite having regional stations of Radio Pakistan?

Shuaib-u-din: Radio Pakistan is a national radio, and they are broadcasting in national language. And when you are broadcasting in national language Urdu and international language English, you are missing the huge population of the province.

As you know, according to government statistics, 75 percent people don’t understand Urdu and English. When this much population of your province is not getting your message, what would happen? They would fall to propaganda of Mullah Radio, as happened in Swat, Bunner, Dir, the respective districts of Northwest Pakistan.

By establishing local radio stations, the government will be able to reach their message in a local language to the [province's] population of 20 million, and this will give them a sense they are participating in local government.

Tayyeb: What made it possible to establish provincially controlled radio stations, since dealing with information falls under federal jurisdiction?

Shuaib-u-din: You know, the immediate problem of terrorism in Northwest Pakistan settled and tribal areas was widely propagated by Mullah Radio, thus it was a justified demand of the provincial government to establish local radio.

However, this decision to establish provincial radio was according to the constitution of Pakistan. It says the federal government shall not unreasonably refuse to entrust to a provincial government such functions with respect to broadcasting and telecasting.

Tayyeb: How would you handle the issue of credibility when it comes to government media?

Shuaib-u-din: Yes, I understand this concern, and therefore the provincial government has decided to give a feeling of participation to local people, and they should be engaged in dialog for their development.

We are working on semi-autonomous structure of the radio to ensure people are represented. We will go further as time passes, to increasingly empower these radio stations with rules to engage their community.

Tayyeb: What kind of content would be programmed on these radio stations?

Shuaib-u-din: These channels will be predominantly infotainment. It would carry local news, thematic and cultural programming. It will also carry public service announcements and public advertisements that appeared in newspapers in order to reach a large audience.

The provincial government understands that you can’t keep people stupid for a long time, and that is why the content would be community-driven with a slight check so that these radio [stations] shouldn’t lose the aim of development.

Tayyeb: Could this network help to improve cross-border relations with Afghanistan?

Shuaib-u-din: We have kept an element of Afghan presenters in radio stations in order to accommodate their accent, not only for other Pakhtun, but also for Afghan refugees who are living in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It is the government's effort to give voice to Afghans’ problems, and this would certainly play an important role in developing trust between the two countries.

Tayyeb: What is the budget allocated for these radio stations?

Shuaib-u-din: The provincial government has approved [a] 100 million Pakistani Rupees (about $1.2 million US) budget for 24 community radio stations in 24 districts of the province. The budget was passed by provincial assembly on June 20, 2011. Initially, we would establish three community radio stations in the fiscal year 2011-12 in District Bannu, District Lower Dir and District Abbottabad.

With establishment of this, the number of radio stations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will reach five, because two FM radio stations have already been established in District Peshawar and District Mardan in 2009, the two comparatively modern cities of the province. The rest of the 19 radio stations will be installed with passage of time and keeping resources in mind. This fund, we have reserved in Annual Development Program.

Tayyeb: Does your staff have expertise in broadcasting to run these channels?

Shuaib-u-din: You know, all the information officers working under Directorate of Information and Public Relations have expertise in print media. Since radio is new for us, we have signed letter of agreement with media development organization. They will help us in programming and management. Once we have established all these radio stations, we will connect them through networking.

Tayyeb: What was the magic that allowed Radio Mullah to hijack the community in less time than government radio channels?

Shuaib-u-din: (Laughing) this question arises, even in bureaucracy, that why can’t we achieve the fruits as quick as done by Mullah Radio. This is a question for research, but I would like to share one point that I have heard my radio stations' presenters who are talking on health, education, governance, and they wrap up each program with one conclusion and that is “our solution of problems is lying in Islam”. Being Muslim, I can’t disagree with that message, but it leaves no room for debate and dialog.