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

Afghanistan: July/Aug ‘07

New press association and weekly newspaper planned a second phase of Helmand programme gets underway.
By IWPR

Phase Two of the Helmand Journalism Training and Reporting Project was launched on July 1.

Phase One was dedicated primarily to getting Helmand’s fledgling journalists on their feet, and it was a rousing success, judging by the reaction from the donor (the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Lashkar Gah).

IWPR is being funded under the PRT’s Quick Impact Projects, which are usually much smaller grants. But all have been impressed by the energy and skill exhibited by the 30 or so IWPR-trained reporters who are now reinvigorating the media scene in Helmand, so DfID approved Phase Two, which is the largest single QuIP they have in Helmand.

This phase will emphasise infrastructure, including programming assistance for radio stations, the launch of a Press Association, and the ramp-up of an independent newspaper, which should go from monthly to weekly by the end of this phase.

We are also conducting a series of intensive radio workshops, which are helping our trainees to develop a whole new style of reporting for Helmand. During September, IWPR will again visit Lashkar Gah, with a view towards placing some of our two dozen radio features on local radio stations.

But time is short. The PRT could only approve funding for six months, which means the project will end on December 31.

Over July and August, IWPR continued the radio training begun in June. A second group was trained, and the first group, which had gone through the initial workshop, returned to produce actual pieces.

Topics covered included a new centre for midwives, recently opened with funding from the PRT; the anniversary of a suicide bombing, in which 30 people were killed. The reporter looked at the aftermath of the killings, and the continued effect on life in Lashkar Gah; the destruction of historical monuments in Helmand by police who want to put up a new training facility. In all, 22 journalists were trained, and they produced 20 radio features.

The choice of Kabul for the training venue was dictated by circumstances: the worsening security situation in Helmand made it difficult for the reporters to spend much time publicly with IWPR in Lashkar Gah. In addition, the trainees are distracted by jobs, school, and family while in their home province. Working for a week in Kabul made it easier for them to concentrate on their training, and yielded better results.

The radio pieces are being readied for the IWPR website, and will be distributed to local radio stations in Helmand.

Fewer print pieces from Helmand were published in July and August due to the ramp-up of the radio project, but what they lacked in quantity they more than made up in quality. Some of the best pieces that IWPR has produced came out during this period.

One, Helmand: A Kinder, Gentler Taleban? was universally praised at the Helmand PRT, even by the military, who took some criticism in the piece. One officer told the PRT justice advisor that it was “one of the most balanced pieces of journalism he had ever read”.

Another, Deep in Taleban Country is a rare look behind the scenes in a Taleban-controlled area, in the aftermath of a bombing. Helmand: Precision Strike or Reckless Bombing? was one of the very few pieces in the international press to give a real account of the events in Baghlan, in which over 200 civilians were killed.

The accompanying photos challenged ISAF claims that only fighting-age males were killed or injured.

Non-Helmand pieces included coverage and analysis of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Jirga, an in-depth review of the Afghan media, and a report on the Taleban’s gains in Wardak province. In all, 17 pieces were published in July and August, of which eight were Helmand-related.

IWPR is helping the journalists of Lashkar Gah to launch a Press Association, which will unite all of the media representatives of the province.

The association will provide services to the province’s journalists, including Internet, access to equipment, as well as providing accreditation for government and military events. It will also provide a collective voice for dealing with the government, the military, and the Taleban, something the journalists need desperately.

In July, IWPR helped the association hold its first meeting, during which a director and deputy were elected. In August, IWPR developed a budget, and is now assisting the director in obtaining registration. In September, the association will launch, with new premises and new equipment.

Programme Director Jean MacKenzie and Project Officer Abaceen Nasimi made two trips to Helmand in this period, to monitor the progress of the reporters, to assess the overall situation, and to liaise with government and donors. Jean attended several meetings with FCO, DfID, and MoD during that time, and the IWPR project is commonly acknowledged to be one of the most successful activities of the Lashkar Gah PRT.