Editor's note: This is part three of a four-part series. In the March 8 edition of the Waterline Lt. Cmdr. Josh Frey, an NDW AFPAK Hand public affairs officer, wrote on the newfound resurgence of the Afghan media, the variety of media outlets and the ethnic groups they serve, and journalistic credibility in the new forums.
Other media outlets, Tolo and Ariana, are largely western funded. Ariana broadcasts about 100 minutes daily of Indian serials, which reach very high viewer levels. Tolo TV has 68% of the ratings, with Arianna in second with 47%. Much of the population that makes up the viewership are the growing youth populations. Both stations receive a majority of their funding from the United States. Both stations are liberal in their programming and promote western values, which is a reflection of their funding sources.
One can also add Shamshad television to this category, which is believed to receive funding from Pakistan. Nonetheless, Shamshad is an important means to reach Pashtun audiences throughout Afghanistan, many of whom are part of a tribal network that straddles both sides of the Pakistan border. Thus, Shamshad’s programming with a Pakistan flavor resonates with those audiences. Of note, the President of Shamshad, Fazil Karim, is also a member of the High Peace Council, so the station also provides important messages to its audiences about the reintegration programs of former or reintegrating Taliban and insurgent fighters.
The vast permeation of new media outlets within Afghanistan can be a force to counter radicalism or inspire it. As Seib suggests,
“The media are no longer just the media. They have a larger popular base than ever before and, as a result, have unprecedented impact on international politics. The media can be tools of conflict and instruments of peace; they can make traditional borders irrelevant and unify peoples scattered across the globe. This phenomenon -the Al Jazeera effect- is reshaping the world.”
Right now Afghanistan serves as a prime example of this phenomenon. According a USAID report on Afghanistan’s media landscape, the media sector has averaged 20% growth each of the past five years, which corresponds to about 50 new TV stations and over 100 new radio stations since January 2006. Most of these media outlets are Afghan, with minimal international assistance.
“Freedom of the media is one of the best defenses against the Taliban,” said Dominic Medley. “The media is a defense against extremism and has opened people’s minds in areas of Afghanistan that had little to no access to information 10 years ago.”
One way to help ensure that media in Afghanistan is utilized to support a healthy democracy is through the development of independent voices free from coercion and able to conduct investigative reporting into issues such as corruption and extremism to prevent and counter its spread. The Afghan media, according to Medley, understand the alternative very clearly.
“The media know exactly what the Taliban is about,” said Medley. “Afghan media know because they wouldn’t exist if the Taliban was in power again.”
A free press was also one of Thomas Jefferson’s foundations of a healthy democracy, where the media functions as a watchdog to hold its government and society accountable.
"The only security of all is in a free press,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in a letter to General Marquis de Lafayette. “The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure."