Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

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 Afghanistan—on 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 expansion—with 19 FM relays now in operation and four more on the way—has occurred as other international broadcasters have also moved to secure their position in the evolving media environment.

    —  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 areas.

    —  Online penetration and usage in Afghanistan is low.

    —  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 Kabul—it 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 Afghanistan—BBCM's stakeholders and customers have described the Afghan service as an "essential" tool.

    —  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.


  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 Afghanistan—in 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 ownerships—from 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 Afghanistan.

  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)


  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 Afghanistan—including the staff in Kabul and reporters around the provinces—is 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/GCPP—as 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 making.

  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

  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 world.

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 has included:

    —  Assignment programmes—Alastair 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 intelligence agency.

    —  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 connections.

    —  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 militants—the 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 1979-80—Hard 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 ISAF force.

  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 in Islamabad.

    —  George Alagiah reported as an embed from Helmand, Lashkar Gar—which 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 would be.

    —  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 Qaeda—A 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 no exception".

    —  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".


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.

Radio audiences

    —  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 nationally—52% of BBC listeners, medium wave delivers 47% and FM 38% (with some overlap). However, this varies geographically—in Kabul, for instance, over 80% of the BBC audience listen via FM.

    —  The BBC has a very strong brand in Afghanistan—85% 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 January—therefore 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 low—the 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 2009.

  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

  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 (ICs—freelancers) 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 day—from Dari and Pashto—from 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 cities—including Afghanistan's decision-makers—while 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 Survey report:

    "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 rural Herat)

23 January 2009

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