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

IWPR Afghanistan: "Our Stories Really Affect Lives"

Editor describes challenges and rewards of investigative reporting in Afghanistan.
By Mohammad Munir Mehraban
  • Mohammad Munir Mehraban, IWPR Afghanistan. (Photo: IWPR)
    Mohammad Munir Mehraban, IWPR Afghanistan. (Photo: IWPR)

Our investigative reports are important because their sole purpose is to bring improvement and change – positive change.

As editor of IWPR Afghanistan’s investigative reporting project, I am in contact with journalists in various parts of the country. To build reporting capacity, we start by contacting up to 30 reporters from each region. We run a course in investigative journalism for them, lasting four or five days.

During that time, we identify the best reporters in each group. I ask them to pitch ideas for investigative stories in their particular region, with the emphasis on exploring issues around corruption.

I select the idea that I feel most suits their skill levels, and help them design a specific plan of action, working with them and monitoring their progress every step of the way. I always try to help them as much as possible, especially when they run into difficulties with their work plan.

Generally, communication is by phone and email. If the reporters are in a very remote area, I may need to travel there, or invite them to our office in Kabul.

As they work on the story – and sometimes it takes months, depending on the issues involved – I travel to meet them to check up on their progress and make sure that their notes, recordings and photos are up to scratch.

I am always thinking of new techniques for improving our reporters’ abilities and ways in which they can track down the evidence to back up a story.

Without a doubt, we face many challenges and obstacles as we shape these investigative stories. High-ranking officials may attempt to conceal original documents that could incriminate them. Individuals suspected of involvement in wrongdoing may refuse to be interviewed.

Sometimes reporters are offered bribes or are openly intimidated to get them to stop working on stories.

Journalists who face threats are encouraged to share their concerns with the Kabul office, and we work together to decide on security precautions and generally how to proceed.

Fortunately, we receive a lot of positive reactions from people because our stories really affect their lives. The reactions are often hugely favourable. We get additional feedback when our reports are broadcast by local and international radio stations, and comments when they are posted on social networking sites.

We are working to change and improve the situation in our country. Despite all the problems that now exist, we feel we make a difference. Our story may make a major change on the ground, and for example lead to the removal of a district government chief, a provincial governor, even a government minister.

We just focus on that, and have faith that publication of our work will have a constructive outcome.

It makes me very proud when a reporter follow the guidance and rules for accurate reporting we have tried to import. Journalists like Abdul Maqsud Azizi and Abdali Mahzun have massively impressed me with the courage of their reporting.

I am passionate about investigative reporting, and it becomes hard to pick out particular favourites from the pieces we have published. Nevertheless, I am especially proud of the stories we did on schools in Paktika, and a case where humanitarian aid was stolen in Logar.

Then there was a story about opium production in Uruzgan and another about the disputed ownership of a site used by NATO forces

Those four stories really had an impact when they were published, and even though they took longer than normal to do – each one took between four and six months – they were worked on very carefully and were fully backed up by authenticated documents and detailed evidence.

Everyone from ordinary villagers to educated people really appreciated those stories. After we published the story about stolen aid, more than 100 people in Logar province, contacted us to express their gratitude that the issue had been raised.

As one individual put it, “We have many TV and radio stations, but no one covers or highlights our problems. We fully support you for your courage in reporting and presenting our problems to our society.”

Mohammad Munir Mehraban runs IWPR Afghanistan’s investigative reporting projects.