Press Now opens first mobile radio station in Afghanistan
by Andy Sennitt.

Afghanistan has its first mobile radio station, a joint project of the Bamiyan University located northwest of the capital Kabul and the Hilversum-based Press Now Foundation. It will cater for the communities in rural areas not covered by other stations. Dean of the University of Bamiyan, dr Yusufi Ali opened the station with a welcome to all the people living in the valley. His voice was heard up to a distance of nearly 20 kilometres. The poject is funded by Cordaid, a Dutch based international development agency, specialized in emergency aid and reconstruction support.

The mobile studio is fixed in an overhauled Swiss truck with a mounted transmitter, a small built in recording set up and an editing unit. The Dean of the Bamiyan University explained that the mobile station should be parking at a certain location in the province, while the producers start collecting information, produce radio programmes and do field-recordings. The population will be given advanced notice to fully participate in the priorities for production and preparation. The programmes will be broadcast at a fixed time slot every day. The audience will listen to local produced programmes with actual news and information tailored for that particular area. Some of the health programs will be prepared in advance.

The University of Bamiyan and Press Now will use the project to train students in developing radio journalism and to let students of the Faculty of Agriculture develop messaging skills for public awareness. Editor in Chief of Press Now, Hildebrand Bijleveld, called this latest initiative a way to tackle the real issues of Afghanistan on grassroots level.

“Nearly all media initiatives in Afghanistan are Kabul-centered operations, while journalistically most of the problems originate from ethnic, religious and political disputes in the rural areas. We hardly found any professional independent local reporters there. Despite the efforts to develop independent journalism in Afghanistan, most initiatives are with strings attached to government, ISAF, US or the UN”.

For that reason, the new project is regarded by Hildebrand Bijleveld as a valuable addition to the media landscape. Mr Bijleveld admits the risks of working in such a war-ridden country, but he believes that popular support for any media outlet is key for its sustainability and success: “This project will start with the people living in the center of conflict who have not always fully decided to support one group or another. They have the right to make informed decisions, not censored by any interest group. Press Now will facilitate that process trying to safeguard the editorial independency as it does elsewhere in conflict zones”.

For Press Now the project is also a pilot for further development of this concept in other mountainous areas not covered by local media. A successful project may lead to more mobile radio unit or extended programmes in other areas. The project is aiming for the following goals:

* To give a voice to the unreached people of Bamiyan province
* To teach students practical journalism
* To teach students developing community oriented messages
* To engage the local community in policy development for their own area