By Delawar Jan (Pakistan), Rafiullah (Afghanistan)
Islamabad: Pakistan and Afghanistan are working on a Memorandum of Understanding to begin an era of cooperation in the field of media with hopes that it would help bring the two neighbourly nations closer to each other.
Currently, journalists from both the countries, especially from Pakistan, have no or marginal presence in each other’s country, allowing the Western media to feed information of its choice and interest. Also, none of the Afghan television channels could be watched in Pakistan. Afghan officials and citizens, however, say a couple of Pakistani television channels have been airing transmissions in their country.
“Pakistani journalists should be stationed in Afghanistan and vice versa,” said Mohammed Umar Daudzai, Afghanistan Ambassador to Pakistan. “But more than that we would like to have an arrangement where some Afghan television channels are watched through cable (in Pakistan).” The diplomat said two Pakistani television channels, AVT Khyber and Geo, had access to airwaves in Afghanistan but complained that Afghan channels were denied viewership in Pakistan. “So I think we should work on that (free access to each other’s TV channels).
The Islamabad embassy of Afghanistan is working on that to get some kind of MoU between the two concerned ministries that would allow presence of correspondents and would enable viewers to watch each other’s television channels,” Daudzai said.
An official of the information ministry in Islamabad said blocking of Afghan television channels was not Pakistan’s policy but media organisation of any country required to fulfil legal criteria. “We give landing rights to those foreign media outlets which submit fee and partner with a local stakeholder. I think none of the Afghan channels has applied for landing rights under the criteria,” she explained.
The media in Pakistan, particularly the electronic one, boomed during the last decade. However, experts say that it has failed to allocate resources to cover one of the most important conflicts that not only involves Islamabad’s interests but also has repercussions for its people.
What stops Pakistani media organisations to station their reporters in Afghanistan? Saleem Safi, a popular anchorperson, says: “Reporting Afghanistan is not the priority of media owners in Pakistan because it has less to do with the rating system prevalent in the country.” His view was supported by another senior anchorperson, Fahd Hussain. “I think there is a feeling here in the media that, perhaps, the general public in Pakistan is not very interested in watching the news from Afghanistan.” Hussain said media owners were reluctant to put money in an unstable country while logistics had also been a problem.
“Media groups are unwilling to spend even one rupee on reporting from Afghanistan. They aren’t ready to take the lead in starting direct coverage from there,” said Shamim Shahid, a senior journalist from Peshawar.
The government data suggests that 80 television channels, 150 FM radio stations and over 1,600 publications are currently operating in Pakistan. However, a Pashtu language television channel might be the only one that has stationed its correspondent in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Afghanistan’s Tolo and Shamshad television channels, along with Azadi Radio, have correspondents in Pakistan.
Fahd Hussain also believes that media in both the countries can play pivotal role in regional development: “I think if Pakistani media had some presence there, we would get better coverage. It would certainly help minimise misunderstandings, if not removing them altogether,” he opined.
The experts felt the media could better help improve the strained relations than any diplomat.
People in the two countries mostly get information about each other through Western media, which, many believe, creates acrimony and mistrust. “Wittingly or unwittingly,” Safi says, “the Western media reporting about both the countries is in some way responsible for increasing misperceptions between the two nations.” He said the Western media might not be interested in reporting on positive aspects of Pak-Afghan relations. For example, he said, a story in media in Pakistan about good business or happy living by Pakistanis across the border could create goodwill among fellow countrymen for Afghanistan. “At the moment, that’s not happening,” Saif said.
Raza Rumi, Director Jinnah Institute in Islamabad, said it was urgent that Pakistani and Afghan media groups pressure their states to operate in each other’s country. “This arrangement will ensure the people have better access to information and there is a better policy climate for some agreement on the Afghan endgame,” he added.