Submission by the BBC World Service and
Global News in Afghanistan
BBC World Service views Afghanistan
as a key market due to its geopolitical significance and the large
audience BBC WS has built up over a number of years. It has a
strong brand presence throughout the country. The BBC
has been broadcasting a dedicated schedule of programming for
Afghanistan, featuring all the key languages of the country, since
2003. BBC World Service is available 24 hours a day in Afghanistanon
short wave, medium wave and FM. Performance data show
the BBC remains in a very strong position, with awareness almost
universal, trust ratings exceptionally high and the weekly radio
reach standing at 59%, despite both local media and international
competition growing considerably.
A central plank of the BBC's recent
strategy has been to increase its FM presence in the country.
This expansionwith 19 FM relays now in operation and four
more on the wayhas occurred as other international broadcasters
have also moved to secure their position in the evolving media
Since August 2008 the BBC Afghanistan
service has been broadcasting a daily 30 minute regionally-focussed
programme directly targeted at the predominantly Pashtun population
in Southern Afghanistan, funded by the Stabilisation Aid Fund.
Short wave and medium wave are still
important means of distribution, particularly in reaching rural
Online penetration and usage in Afghanistan
BBC World Service launched a Persian
television service in January 2009, which is accessible in Afghanistan.
The media market in Afghanistan was
severely restricted under the Taleban, but since 2001, there has
been considerable growth, with many radio and tv stations now
operating under a wide range of ownerships.
However, media laws prohibit material
that is deemed to run counter to Islamic law.
BBC newsgathering has recently doubled
the size of its bureau in Kabulit is the only UK broadcaster
with a permanent presence in Afghanistan.
The security situation continues
to pose problems for correspondents and reporters.
BBC World Service and BBC World News
have covered developments in Afghanistan extensively through a
range of programming.
The BBC World Service Trust's Afghan
Education Project (AEP) is the largest media-for-development
organisation in Afghanistan. More than 14 million people listen
to its flagship radio programme New Home New Life and almost
half the potential audience have listened to its programme Afghan
Woman's Hour since its launch in 2005.
BBC Monitoring has recently strengthened
its monitoring coverage of AfghanistanBBCM's stakeholders
and customers have described the Afghan service as an "essential"
The BBC's Global News Division, comprising
BBC World Service, BBC World News, the BBC World Service Trust
and BBC Monitoring, will continue to monitor and develop its Afghanistan
services, aiming to reach audiences throughout the country.
BBC WORLD SERVICE
Afghanistan is important to BBC World Service
for two principal reasons. The country has major geopolitical
significance, particularly since the growing re-emergence of the
Taleban; and its people have for many years turned to the BBC
for reliable news as war, poverty and political turmoil ensured
that domestic media did not meet their needs.
BBC Afghanistan is the service most people turn to
for news and it is the most trusted source of news on TV or radio.
People respect the BBC for being relevant, unbiased and educational.
In recent months the BBC has doubled the size
of its main newsgathering bureau in Kabul, adding a reporter,
a producer and a camera crew to be based there alongside the correspondent.
This, together with its network of freelance reporters, will enable
the BBC to track the wider Afghan story ahead of the Presidential
elections in 2009.
Recent research into BBC World Service's offer
to Afghanistan commissioned by the BBC Trust, the BBC's governing
body, found that there was "a clear need for news and
current affairs content that reflects the realities and complexities
of all areas of Afghan life and (our research) demonstrated that
BBC Afghanistan is performing very well at delivering it".
Since the fall of the Taleban administration
in 2001, there has been considerable growth in the number of media
outlets in Afghanistanin particular amongst private TV
stations. There are scores of radio stations, dozens of TV stations
and some 100 active press titles, operating under a wide range
of ownershipsfrom the government, provincial political-military
powers and private owners to foreign and NGO sponsors. An Australian-Afghan
media group, Moby Capital Partners, operates some of the leading
stations, including Tolo TV and Arman FM.
Much of the output on private TV stations consists
of imported Indian music shows and serials, and programmes modelled
on Western formats. The main private TV and radio networks command
large audiences. The channels are very popular in urban centres,
especially among the under 30s.
However, media laws prohibit material that is
deemed to run counter to Islamic law and some private stations
have drawn the ire of conservative religious elements. Press freedom
group Reporters Without Borders says media regulatory bodies
are "under the government's thumb".
Relays of foreign radio stations or stations
funded from overseas are on the air in Kabul, including the BBC,
Radio France Internationale, Deutsche Welle and US-funded broadcasts
from Radio Free Afghanistan, which uses the name Azadi Radio,
and the Voice of America, which brands its Dari and Pashto broadcasts
as Radio Ashna ("Friend"). BBC World Service
is also available on FM and medium wave (AM) in other parts of
Newspaper readership has seen a significant
leap, from almost nil under Taleban rule. Internet access is scarce
and computer literacy and ownership rates are minuscule.
Afghanistan's media were seriously restricted
under Taleban rule. Radio Afghanistan, the state broadcaster,
was renamed Radio Voice of Shariah and reflected the Islamic
fundamentalist values of the Taleban. TV was seen as a source
of moral corruption and was banned.
(supplied by BBC Monitoring)
BBC PRESENCE IN
The BBC is the only UK broadcaster to have a
permanent presence in Afghanistan and it has the biggest presence
of any international broadcaster.
In addition to the main bureau in Kabul, BBC World
Service has an office in Mazer-E Sharif.
The BBC's increased presence in Afghanistanincluding
the staff in Kabul and reporters around the provincesis
regularly being used, extensively and effectively, to bring the
service closer to the local audience. However, the security situation
continues to pose problems for travellers.
BBC output is available across a number of media
platforms, as follows:
The BBC broadcasts programming on
SW, MW and FM specially tailored for Afghanistan, in Dari (Afghan
Persian), Pashto and Uzbek. The FM schedule runs 24
hours a day in Afghanistan, featuring three-hour blocks of programming
in the key languages of Afghanistan, plus some English, at breakfast,
lunchtime and evening every day.
The backbone of the schedule is domestic
and international news with a strong emphasis on discussion and
interactive debate on civil society and democratic politics. During
the programme cycle, the blocks are repeated and supplemented
by local and international music programming.
From March 2009 the Afghanistan Service
will begin broadcasting five minute bulletins in Dari and Pashto
hourly for 18 hours a day.
The schedule also includes education,
arts and science programmes, the popular drama serial New Home
New Life as well as special programmes for women and children
provided by the World Service Trust (see WS Trust section). English
programming is played out overnight.
There are currently 19 BBC FM relays
broadcasting a 24 hour mix of Dari, Pashto, Uzbek, Farsi and English
programming: Kabul (x2), Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, Bamian, Konduz,
Faizabad, Pol-e Khomri, Herat, Gardez, Jabal us-Seraj, Sheberghan,
Maimana, Taloqan, Khost, Ghazni, Kandahar, Kunar and Helmand.
A further FM is currently under construction in Farah as well
as Tarin Kowt, Qalat and Sharan (the last three directly funded
by the Stabilisation Aid Fund/GCPPas described below).
In Kabul a 24-hour English relay
is maintained, BBC 101.6FM.
In addition to the direct BBC broadcasts,
rebroadcasting partnerships have been established with two stations
serving the Samangan and Sari Pul areas.
On average, three short wave frequencies
serve the key broadcast times to Afghanistan. Medium wave comes
via transmitters in Oman (1413 kHz) and Tajikistan (1251 kHz)
The Stabilisation Aid Fund (formerly Global
Conflict Prevention Pool), channelled through the FCO, is directly
funding a World Service project to broaden existing reach and
increase impact of BBC programming in southern Afghanistan and
tribal border areas of Pakistan. The project will run until the
end of March 2011 and consists of two distinct work streams:
Bespoke programming: A
daily 30 minute regionally-focussed programme Stasu Narray, or
Your World, directly targeted at the predominantly Pashtun population
in Southern Afghanistan and the Federally Administered Tribal
Areas of Pakistan (FATA) launched in August 2008. The programme
is available on SW and 11 BBC FM frequencies in Afghanistan.
FM expansion: provision of 3 BBC 24 hour
FMs in the urban areas of Tarin Kowt, Qalat and Sharan, currently
under construction. Increasing FM coverage in these three provinces
will give an important distribution outlet for the new programme
in its target area.
Sites are maintained in Pashto and Dari, in
addition to BBC news websites in English, but internet availability
and connectivity remain low.
BBC World Service launched a Persian television
service to Iran on 14 January 2009 which also reaches Afghanistan.
The operating cost of £15 million a year is funded by the
UK government, via the FCO, and is now part of World Service's
Grant-in-Aid. The launch of the channel will have no adverse effect
on the budgets of other language services.
As well as news and analysis, BBC Persian TV broadcasts
a wide range of original factual programmes including a weekly
youth programme, as well as strands on music, arts and culture,
science and technology and sport. A documentary showcase will
highlight the very best of Iranian, Afghan and Tajik documentary
The channel will be freely available to anyone
with a satellite dish in the region, via Hotbird and Telstar satellites.
It will also be streamed live online on bbcpersian.com.
Commercially-funded BBC World News in English
is also freely available, although it is likely to remain a niche
service as English is not widespread.
The core of the BBC's service to Afghanistan
remains accurate, impartial news that combines a sharp focus on
domestic developments with strong coverage of the region and the
Recent highlights have included:
Sustained coverage of the security
situation in southern Afghanistan and the resurgence of the Taleban
has been distinguished by the quality of analysis and the BBC's
access to important local sources.
There has been a steady flow of news-making
interviews with major figures including President Karzai, who
spoke for half an hour about the main challenges in the final
year of his term of office.
Programmes based on political discussion
and interactivity, such as Question Time and Talking
Point, have been ground-breaking for Afghanistan and are now
an established feature of the service. Their impact is frequently
strengthened by the appearance of high-profile guests.
The service is making an increasingly
valuable contribution when the wider BBC mounts special programming
focused on Afghanistan.
Recent BBC World Service English output on Afghanistan
Leithead followed US and British troops in south-east Afghanistan
and Helmand province to find out why the Americans believe they
can win hearts and minds among the local tribes who control much
of the country; George Arney in Kabul investigated whether the
billions of dollars of aid money is reaching the people who need
it; Jill McGivering travelled to Helmand to find out whether the
battle against the insurgency undermines development efforts funded
by the international community; Kate Clark investigated the level
of corruption in Afghanistan, who is arming the Taleban and Afghanistan's
war crimes for three separate Assignment programmes.
The Interview guests have
included Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, formerly President George
Bush's special envoy in Afghanistan, now the US Ambassador to
the United Nations, and Amrullah Saleh, the Head of Afghanistan's
BBC World Service news ran
an Afghan Focus week in June 2008 looking at the situation in
Afghanistan through specially commissioned features, audio diaries
and interviews. BBC correspondents reported from around the country
on a variety of themes including the war, military and security;
people, development and infrastructure; the future, leaders and
In 9/11 The New Frontier WS
News took a close look, seven years on from the 9/11 attacks,
at the new frontier in the battle between government forces and
armed Islamic militantsthe remote mountain region straddling
the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, with correspondents
in Islamabad, Kabul and border town, Jalalabad.
There were also documentaries on
Policing The Poppyfields, which looked at government attempts
to take on the drug barons behind the world's largest source of
heroin, and the history of the West's relationship with Afghanistan
over the 30 years from the Russian invasion in 1979-80Hard
Lessons from Afghanistan presented by Alan Johnston.
Coming up in 2009 The Insiders
Debates with Lyse Doucet (24-25 January) will look at the
role of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in
Afghanistan and why the Taleban has been growing in strength since
it was toppled in 2001 with input from former commanders of the
Recent BBC World News programmes and coverage
of Afghanistan has included:
A day of live broadcasting around
Sept 11th with Lyse Doucet reporting from Kabul and Owen Bennett-Jones
George Alagiah reported as an embed
from Helmand, Lashkar Garwhich ran extensively on the channel.
A special report from Kate Clark
undercover in Khandahar which ran on the news and as a half hour
programme as well.
A Panorama programme in November
in which Alastair Leithead looked at the successes and failures
in the war against the Taleban, and questioned what the end game
HARDtalk interviewed the UN
Envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide in December 2008.
In November 2008 World Uncovered:
Three Bloody Summers Alastair Leithead assessed the situation
in Afghanistan as his three-year posting following British troops
in the country came to an end.
Inside Al QaedaA Spy's
Story in February 2008 included a segment on the spy's time
in a training camp in Afghanistan.
The documentary strand Our World
featured Frontline Afghanistan in April 2008 and attracted
many complimentary comments from the Viewer Panel including "The
BBC does this sort of programme better than anyone and this is
Cooking in The Danger Zone: Afghanistan
broadcast in May 2008 also attracted much interest from the
Viewer Panel including comments such as: "A highly original
angle on conditions in Afghanistan. Refreshing and entertaining"
and "It helped me see another side of Afghanistan,
not just bombs and terrorists".
BBC IMPACT IN
The competitive landscape
The Afghanistan media scene has been
developing quickly in recent years and competition has been growing
across television and radio since the collapse of the Taleban
in 2001. Although BBC remains the largest radio station, local
competitors are catching up. Among international competitors,
the USA (which currently has a co-ordinated offer from VOA/Radio
Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Radio Azadi) is targeting Afghanistan
as a critical priority for major new investment and expansion.
Seeking to influence Persian-speaking and Pashto-speaking audiences
in the context of the Iraq conflict and the "war on terror",
it is committing significant resources to the region. Afghanistan
remains predominantly a radio market, with television still fairly
niche across rural areas. The cost of sets and the unreliable
electricity supply mean that in rural areas just 23% of adults
live in a household with a television. Less than a fifth of people
have access to cable/satellite in urban areas, and less than a
tenth in rural areas. However, research shows a clear interest
and desire to receive both news and entertainment from television,
and the BBC will increasingly face competition from domestic and
international television providers in the future.
The BBC has a large audience in Afghanistan,
reaching about 10 million listeners (59% of the adult population)
weekly in any language. 42% of the population listen to the BBC
in Persian/Dari and 29% in Pashto. About a quarter
of BBC listeners (26%) first started listening to the BBC between
one and two years ago.
Short wave delivers the most listeners
nationally52% of BBC listeners, medium wave delivers 47%
and FM 38% (with some overlap). However, this varies geographicallyin
Kabul, for instance, over 80% of the BBC audience listen via FM.
The BBC has a very strong brand in
Afghanistan85% of adults are aware of BBC radio and 73%
have listened to it.
Of the stations measured, including
domestic stations, the BBC is the most listened to.
BBC Persian television launched on Wednesday
14 Januarytherefore Afghanistan audience figures were not
available at the time of writing.
BBC World News in English is available in a growing
number of urban homes and other outlets, although use of English
is not widespread. Official figures are not currently available.
Internet usage in Afghanistan is lowthe
International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimated that there
were 580,000 internet users by the end of 2007 which would be
a penetration of just over 2%.
Figures for December 2008 indicate that there were
about 38,000 unique users to the BBC site as a whole in Afghanistan.
BBC World Service Trust
The BBC World Service Trust forms part of the
BBC's Global News Division, and is a charity established by the
World Service to use communications to reduce poverty in developing
countries. Projects aim to develop the capacity of local and national
media in the developing world, help build civil societies, develop
health education campaigns reaching millions of people and produce
programmes to raise awareness of human rights.
The Trust's Afghan Education Project (AEP)
is the largest media-for-development organisation in Afghanistan.
Its programmes are broadcast in Dari and Pashto on the BBC, and
re-broadcast on local FMs and the state-run Radio Television
Afghanistan (RTA). Donors include the UK government's Afghan
Drugs Inter-Departmental Unit (ADIDU) and the Stabilisation Aid
Fund (SAF). Storylines have included, among other things, consequences
of poppy cultivation and drug trafficking, alternative crops and
alternative livelihood, and conflict resolution.
Recent research indicates that more than 14
million people listen to AEP's flagship radio programme,
New Home New Life, nearly 15 years after its launch. AEP
has also developed a new urban radio drama for Afghan youth
with funding from SAF. The drama was piloted and tested and audiences
feedback has been incorporated in it. The piloted episodes will
be reviewed jointly by the BBC World Service Trust and the Persian/Pashto
Services of the World Service later in January 2009.
Afghan Woman's Hour provides topical
programming for women in rural Afghanistan. Almost half the potential
audience have listened to the programme since its launch in 2005.
FCO/GOF funding for the programme has been extended until March
The BBC World Service Trust, with funding from
the European Commission, is planning to launch another 15-minutes
educational feature on gender issues. While Afghan Women's
Hour will continue to create a platform for discussion and
cover topical current affair issues, the new programme is aiming
to tackle gender issues from an educational perspective.
Since January 2007, the Trust has been involved
in a programme to help change RTA from "state broadcaster"
to "public service broadcaster". The initial EU funding
for the project ended on 31 March 2008, and the Commission has
allocated further financial support for the reform of the organisation.
However, the release of the funding has been delayed because of
the uncertainty surrounding the country's new media law.
BBC Monitoring, also part of the Global News
Division, monitors the world's media and supplies political and
economic news, information and comment to its customers.
BBC Monitoring's Afghan coverage has evolved in the
past two years, from a large but loosely connected coverage area,
into a cohesive and robust operation with a network of 41 independent
contractors (ICsfreelancers) working in 10 cities in Afghanistan
and Pakistan. This strong presence in the country has been the
corner stone of the success of the BBCM's Afghan coverage. The
Afghan operation is one of BBCM's top priority areas, alongside
Iran and Russia. It is the main source of information on Afghan
open source for BBCM's stakeholders and customers, who have described
the service as an "essential" tool.
The Afghan operation is customer-driven and
dynamic. It has expanded in the past year to include coverage
from Khost, Fariab and Helmand. Output has been strengthened by
setting up a team of editors in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. This has
added four hours to BBCM's daily coverage, which now runs from
0200 to 1900 GMT.
Most, if not all, of the sources are monitored
in Afghanistan. With a team of 21 ICs (seven media monitors and
14 support staff), BBC Monitoring's Kabul office is the operational
hub, with offices in Herat and Mazar and ICs in Kandahar, Helmand,
Fariab, Khost, Peshawar and Quetta.
Afghan ICs process on average 40 reports a dayfrom
Dari and Pashtofrom Afghan broadcast, press and agency
sources. The key themes they look out for are reports on security,
terrorism, drugs, NATO, domestic politics and the UK-US military.
Two strong teams of editors in Caversham and Tashkent publish
the material to stakeholders and customers.
The UK-based editors also produce five roundups
a day on topics such as security, drugs and the media.
While translated text remains the core product, BBCM
has been increasingly moving towards thematic, topical and analytic
pieces in line with customers' changing priorities.
As described earlier, Afghanistan has a lively
media scene with dozens of TV and radio stations and hundreds
of publications offering a wide range of opinions. BBCM routinely
monitor and review new broadcast and print sources to determine
if they merit inclusion in its coverage. Great care and effort
goes into surveying the sources before including them in regular
coverage, as one of the key tasks is to ensure a balanced representation
of the whole range of thoughts and views expressed in the Afghan
media. True to BBCM's mission of following closely the political
and media developments in the country, in the last year it added
the monitoring of the main Taleban website (Voice of Jihad),
as well as anti-coalition and Islamist publications, to its coverage.
The deterioration of security in some parts
of the country in recent months has brought new pressure to bear
on the international reconstruction efforts that have been going
on since the Taleban government was overthrown in 2001. In these
circumstances, the need of Afghans for unbiased, trustworthy sources
of information is as acute as ever.
The BBC reaches large audiences across the whole
of Afghanistan, and its aim is to maintain and build on its success
there. At the moment, BBC impact in Afghanistan is primarily through
radio, but it is hoped that the launch of BBC Persian television
will attract new audiences to the BBC. With no real infrastructures
in place for internet at present, BBC online is making slow progress.
BBC World News impact is likely to be focused on the large cities
like Kabul until satellite TV grows nationally, but low English
comprehension (less than 10% understand any) will limit its reach.
The central challenge for the BBC is to maintain
its relevance in the face of the growing choice and changing audience
expectations. No longer solely a surrogate national broadcaster
providing a "lifeline" service, it must maintain and
build on its high ratings for trust, combining the best journalistic
coverage of the region and the world with the most effective and
attractive means of delivery and presentation. It must ensure
that it reaches the aspirant audiences in the citiesincluding
Afghanistan's decision-makerswhile continuing to serve
the deprived rural areas that the new stations seem likely to
bypass. This is particularly important in the run-up to the Presidential
elections, and the BBC has responded to this by expanding its
newsgathering resources in Kabul.
Afghanistan will remain a key market for BBC
World Service. It will expand its FM network and maintain its
short wave and medium wave offer for the immediate future, within
its funding limitations.
Afghanistan is also a key country for the development
work carried out by the World Service Trust and it will be working
to expand its already hugely successful educational programming
activities and will be actively engaging with the Afghan government
and the donor community on the development of radio and television
Afghanistan into a model public service broadcaster.
BBC Monitoring's Afghan operation will remain
one of its top priority areas in line with customer demand.
Quote taken from BBC Trust Afghanistan Media
"BBC radio broadcasts impartial news
and programmes, even from the past years when war existed in Afghanistan
and has never lost its trustworthiness".
(Hammeda, a 40 year old illiterate housewife from
23 January 2009