Dominic Medley: I will return to Afghanistan
Dominic Medley, journalist and media consultant, lived in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1996 to 2001, working as Trainer/Educator for the BBC School of Journalism at Mediacentar Sarajevo and member of a team charged with setting up the Public Broadcasting Service within the Office of the High Representative (OHR). He recently returned from Afghanistan, where he spent three years working on various media projects.
1. Why were you in Afghanistan?
I went to Afghanistan in December 2001 and in February 2002 I started working on an Internews project as Project Director. In 2003 I worked as Trainer/Educator with Free Europe’s Afghan journalists. In 2004 I worked as Consultant Manager for the commercial pop radio station “Radio Arman,” www.arman.fm. For the last five months before leaving Afghanistan I worked as Special Advisor to the Commander of NATO forces.
2. Can you make a comparison between the media situation in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime and now, after it?
At the time of the Taliban regime, from 1996 to 2001, there wasn’t a single media station. Today, six years later, there are 300 print media outlets and 20 private TV stations in Afghanistan. However, when talking about the media situation in Afghanistan I must mention the strong traditional and religious influence on media. What is fascinating about Afghanistan is that journalists yearn for knowledge, free flow of information, media freedom. Taking that into account, I can freely say that Afghanistan has made progress in the last years. However, the Government still has a lot of control over most media. Journalists working in the media are generally young and insufficiently educated, which the Government uses to put pressure on them to report as it wants. This kind of control is more difficult in the case of private media, so private media have some kind of autonomy in their work and operation. However, if you want to get a license to launch a media outlet, that’s no problem.
3. Was there pressure or censorship in creating the programming schedule during work on the launching of the radio station “Arman”?
“Radio Arman,” which means hope, www.arman.fm, started operating in 2004. It was one of a few independent commercial radio stations. Now it’s both a television and radio. Currently, it employs close to 300 male and female journalists. Today, radio Arman is a radio which airs news, educational and music contents and commercials. At the beginning we had problems with the Government and censorship and sometimes politicians would ask journalists to come in for questioning, which in itself was unpleasant and stressful enough. For example, journalists of the television station TOLO (www.tolo.tv) were doing a series of stories on pedophilia, war crimes, etc., and they were under a lot of pressure for investigating these issues. There are still war criminals there who move around freely and who have never been called by anyone to answer for war crimes committed 25 years ago.
4. What do the Taliban think about media freedom?
The Taliban don’t support freedom of media. The Taliban would throw threatening leaflets into schools during the night, especially schools that support education of women, and afterwards they would plant an explosive device and destroy the school or a media outlet trying to operate according to the principles of free media.In the south of the country, the Taliban are still greatly feared. It’s very hard to be a journalist or teacher. I know about radio stations that have been burned down by the Taliban because they didn’t like the way they reported about them. But what is fascinating is that people continue to produce in small communities even in unbelievable conditions, which are almost impossible to work in.
5. How has working in Afghanistan influenced your future professional work?
I was lucky to educate the local population. I even attended a few Afghan weddings, which allowed me to get to better know the local population and this is a valuable experience for me. Most of the population is young and very tired of the war. In Afghanistan I worked on developing various media projects and I also worked as a trainer and educator. I taught Afghan journalists basic journalism and I even taught them to use computers, which was a great challenge for me. It’s an indescribable feeling seeing how happy people are to learn something new. My work there was very exhausting, but it was a great challenge for me to be there and help the people. In order to do your job, you must love working with people and you must love the work to which you will give your maximum.
6. You also launched the first monthly magazine for foreigners living in Kabul? What kind of magazine is it?
The magazine is called “Scene” and it’s a kind of guide to restaurants in the city, suggesting places that foreigners should visit, recommending cafés to go to.
7. What are your business plans for the future?
I’m on vacation at the moment. I’ve always worked on developing media projects and launching new media stations, so now I’m looking for media work in the Balkans or in Africa, but I’m also sure I will go work in Afghanistan again.
Note: Photographs are carried from Dominic Medley.