Afghanistan: Mar ‘09

Project training programme gets off ground ahead of August's presidential poll.

Afghanistan: Mar ‘09

Project training programme gets off ground ahead of August's presidential poll.

Tuesday, 28 April, 2009

Afghanistan’s election fever began in March, and with it, IWPR’s intensive training season.

As journalists struggle to meet the challenges of covering their country’s hotly contested presidential race, they will need support and encouragement, along with an understanding of the nuts and bolts of election reporting.

In early March, the IWPR training team traveled to the northern provinces of Shiberghan and Faryab, to conduct the second round of training sessions in a year-long, capacity-building project. Topics covered included working with sources, writing features, and interview techniques.

The training programme was in progress when Afghan president Hamed Karzai, reacting to pressure from critics, issued a decree changing the election date from August 20 to April 21.

However, the country's Election Commission rejected the president's call for an April presidential vote, saying it will take place on August 20.

The president's decree and the reasons for it were quite mystifying to the trainees, and programme director Jean MacKenzie took the opportunity to highlight some major issues surrounding the election.

Once back from the north, the training team organised back-to-back workshops for journalists from the central region. Trainees from Parwan, Kapisa and Kabul came for their second round of training sessions, followed by journalists from Ghazni, Logar, and Maidan Wardak.

These classes were aimed at encouraging the trainees to propose and write stories that expose key issues in their own provinces.

Each region faces its own specific problems, and journalists were quite vocal about the challenges they face.

In Maidan Wardak, for example, the first trials of a new plan involving the Afghan National Police, ANP, had begun.

Called the Afghan Police Protection Programme, or AP3 for short, the project seeks to identify and train civilians to assist the ANP in fighting the insurgency.

Once they pass through a three-week course, the new recruits are issued uniforms and weapons, and tasked with keeping their home villages and districts Taleban-free.

The problem, say reporters from Wardak, is that giving weapons and power to poorly trained locals is a sure way of unsettling a district. This is an angle that has not been covered in international reporting of the AP3, and IWPR has commissioned a story on it.

Many stories like this one are going unreported because of the lack of a professional media in areas far from the centre.

With the workshops, the trainees became more active, and in all, IWPR produced six in-depth reports in March, including a piece on mass weddings (Sunni Take Dim View of Shia Mass Weddings, ARR 317, March 26).

The case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, which IWPR has been following quite closely, entered a new phase in March, as the Supreme Court issued its much-awaited ruling. The young journalism student had been sentenced to death, then to 20 years in prison, for downloading an article from the internet that criticised Islam’s position on women.

The Supreme Court upheld the sentence (Afghan Supreme Court Rejects Blasphemy Appeal, ARR 315, March 10), dashing hopes for an early release.

Kambakhsh’s brother, IWPR reporter Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, has been working tirelessly to raise public awareness of the case. In March, he traveled to Italy, Spain, France and Denmark to speak on his brother’s behalf.

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