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

Afghanistan: Sept ‘07

IWPR reporters helping to shape PRT policy in Helmand

What IWPR has done in Helmand is unforgettable. The effects of this will last forever,” said Mirwais Patsoon, head of the independent Sabawoon radio in Helmand.

He was referring to the newly invigorated media scene in Lashkar Gah. With over 30 journalists trained and working, the press is finally coming into its own.

IWPR-trained journalists are now working in all the major media in Helmand, as well as providing material and information to the international press.

The media centre established by IWPR has been instrumental in bringing the world to the doorsteps of Helmand’s journalists.

Television reporters can now send their stories to Kabul through the centre; formerly, reporters would have to travel to Kandahar to do so, a dangerous and time-consuming trip.

“We really appreciate all that IWPR has done,” said Jan Gul Khan, the head of the department of Information and Culture in Helmand. “Everyone in Afghanistan now knows about the media centre, and about the work of our journalists.”

The Helmand PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) has issued press cards to IWPR’s journalists, granting them easier access to the base. This helps to improve the flow of information between the PRT and the community at large.

But much remains to be done. Local journalists have been incensed by what they see as the PRT’s lack of responsiveness, and are even discussing a boycott of the facility to express their displeasure.

“The Taleban get better press than we do,” grumbled one ISAF officer on the base.

To help improve the flow of information, IWPR is helping to launch a Press Association, which in September took several steps closer to becoming a reality. The organisation is now close to completing its registration, and is outfitting its offices for an official October launch.

Once up and running, the Press Association will be able to act on the behalf of local journalists in dealings with the government and the PRT, to help avoid conflict situations such as the one that is currently brewing.

Another area in which IWPR is making a difference is with its reports on the current situation, which are unparalleled in Helmand. PRT officials have frequently asked for briefings with IWPR reporters, to gauge their reactions to the issues of the day.

Political officer Tom Jackson met a group of IWPR trainees in early September, to ask their opinion about the work of the PRT. He got a bit more than he bargained for. Reporters asked why the PRT was not able to help ensure security, and why the soldiers acted with so little regard for the customs and culture of the region.

Justice Advisor Frank Ledwige met Aziz Ahmad Tassal to discuss the Taleban court system. This was prompted by Tassal’s piece, “Rough Justice in Helmand”, about the Sharia courts.

Ledwige said he found Tassal “very informative and helpful” in helping him to gain insight into the workings of the court system, as well as the opinions of common people regarding it.

In this way IWPR-trained journalists are assisting the PRT in formulating policy, by bringing the voices of the people of Helmand to the ears of those with the power to help change things.

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