Afghanistan: July/Aug ‘09

Election-related workshops contribute to impressive output of reports on presidential and provincial council ballot.

Afghanistan: July/Aug ‘09

Election-related workshops contribute to impressive output of reports on presidential and provincial council ballot.

Monday, 21 September, 2009

The summer saw IWPR’s training and mentoring efforts come to fruition as journalist-trainees delivered a remarkable series of reports on Afghanistan’s presidential and provincial council elections.

This is without question the biggest political event of the past several years, and IWPR was well-positioned to meet the challenge.

Throughout July, the IWPR training team conducted a series of election-related workshops for journalist-trainees in Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Shiberghan, Sar-e-Pul, Ghazni, Kapisa, Wardak, Parwan, Logar, and Kabul. These reporters have been in training with IWPR for the past year, and the months of workshops and mentoring yielded handsome dividends.

International journalist and trainer Deedee Derksen worked with trainees in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, while local editor Hafizullah Gardesh held workshops in Kabul for reporters from the central provinces. Nothern Regional Chief Qayum Babak organised training in Shiberghan, attended by journalists from Jowzjan and Sar-e-Pul.

As a result, the journalists produced over 30 election-related stories in July and August, covering the issues of concern to the Afghan people, the problematical conduct of the elections themselves, and the chaotic aftermath, which is still playing out. It is arguably the most complete record of the campaign and election by any media outlet working in Afghanistan.

IWPR journalists were able to penetrate into corners where the international media just could not go, producing a compilation story on election day that highlighted the violence and fraud that only later became obvious to the world at large.

The story Taleban Tactics Take Their Toll followed the vote from Wardak to Ghazni to Mazar-e-Sharif to Helmand, interviewing voters and officials as they struggled to get through a day that challenged every Afghan, whether an ordinary resident, an election worker or a security officer. Our report Helmand Vote Marred by Rockets and Fraud zeroed in on one province, exploring more deeply the issues that would dominate the post-election debate.

When the international community, including US president Barack Obama and United Nations Special Representative Kai Eide, rushed to declare the elections a success within hours of poll closing, the IWPR reports stood as powerful testimony to a deeply flawed process.

It turned out to be prophetic. In the first few days after the poll, most media outlets were more than cautious about describing the rather sour mood of the Afghan voters, face to face with an election that many saw as a sham.

The story Afghans Speak of Electoral Fraud and Fear which was prominently featured on Afghanistan’s foremost listserv, Moby Capital Updates, gave voters from Herat, Balkh, and Wardak a chance to tell of their experiences during the election process, and of their fears for the future. This was also one of the very few articles produced by any media outlet that spoke of fraud by both major candidates.

Most reports highlighted ballot-box stuffing by the campaign of President Hamed Karzai, but few were privy to the direct voter intimidation practiced by supporters to Karzai’s chief rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah.

In general, the election coverage produced by the IWPR team is a powerful testimony to the courage and determination of Afghan journalists, as well as to their increasing levels of professionalism.

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