Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghanistan: Jul ‘08

Preparations underway for expansion of IWPR training activities to under-reported areas of the country.

IWPR Afghanistan began two new projects in July, signing contracts with the Swedish and Norwegian governments to conduct journalism training and reporting in areas of the country that have been only sketchily covered up until now.

Building on the success of the Helmand Project, which was completed in April, the IWPR team will bring its unique combination of training and mentoring to a whole new population.

Under the contract with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA, IWPR will work in four northern provinces: Balkh, Jowzjan, Samangan and Sar-e-Pul. The Norwegian Foreign office will fund similar work in the central provinces and in the western part of the country.

In mid-July, IWPR programme director Jean MacKenzie and project manager Abaceen Nasimi, traveled to the north to meet with potential trainees and to better assess the needs of the journalist community.

Accompanied by IWPR journalist Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, they toured the four provinces, presenting the project to government officials and media heads, as well as discussing issues of press freedom and security with journalists.

The issues in the north are quite different from those that IWPR encountered in Helmand. While there is a growing Taleban presence, security is much less of an issue than it is in the south, where violent conflict is a daily occurrence.

But journalists face other challenges, among them economic hardship, intimidation by political groups, and government pressure. Issues of corruption, drug trafficking, rape, and extortion go unreported because victims are afraid to speak out, and journalists are afraid to anger powerful figures.

Most journalists have had only rudimentary training, and expressed excitement at the prospect of becoming involved in a professional training programme.

During the month, the office in Kabul was very busy interviewing translators, office assistants, and other project staff, as well as looking for an office with sufficient space for the training activities that we will soon launch.

In addition, we covered several stories that had gone underreported in the press; one in particular, the account of a wedding party bombed by US forces, attracted attention. IWPR sent a local journalist, Ezatullah Zawab, to the site of the bombing, where he spoke to members of the families involved. The bride and many of her relatives were killed, leaving the young groom bereft. With the military still not accepting responsibility and the local population up in arms, IWPR thought it important to report directly from the scene.

The journalists in Helmand continue to produce stories, and the media centre created by IWPR is still operating, connecting the journalists of this remote province to the rest of the country and to the world.

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