Free and professional media are essential in strengthening democracy and supporting civil society processes. As a media companion for 40 years, Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) increasingly provides help for self help in the course of reconstruction in Afghanistan, even though the security situation has become increasingly difficult.
With regard to the democratisation and reconstruction process, the media have an important role to play in Afghanistan. Only independent media can perform a control function of political institutions. Furthermore, this type of media is an important source of information for the population on the structure and function of the civil society, as well as the democratisation process. The prevailing medium in Afghanistan is the radio, not least due to the illiteracy rate, which is particularly high among women and girls.
Germany can look back on nearly a century of partnership with the multi-ethnic country in the Hindu Kush. Germany, which did not have any colonial interests, quickly gained a reputation as an honest broker in a country whose history is marked by attacks by foreign powers. Since the first broadcast of its programmes in the local languages Dari and Pashto in 1970, Deutsche Welle has not lost sight of Afghanistan. Its programming is considered to be independent and neutral. Deutsche Welle has a good name in the Hindu Kush, and the programmes in Pashto and Dari have earned an excellent reputation. Many people trust the broadcaster, which has accompanied the destiny of the country with its programmes for decades. And the programmes have time and again been adapted to the requirements of the political development.
Since the beginning of the Petersberg process of democratisation and the overthrow of the Taliban, DW has seen itself primarily as a platform of values in an open society: freedom of opinion and press, equality and human rights are central issues that guide the programming.
For example, episodes on the topic “Political Education/Civil Society and Democracy” demonstrate the interaction between political institutions on the local and national level. It demonstrates how civil society involvement can exercise influence and explains the principles of democratic structures from the local to the national level. The series “Promotion of Girls and Women” deals with prevailing deficits and prejudices. Traditionally for societal, but also for current political reasons, girls have had less access to education. This series presents different education opportunities for girls through examples and shows how to access these options. Most of the authors are from Afghanistan and this is where all the series are produced. Listeners can participate, for example by using the comment function on the web page to express ideas, or submit suggestions and topics. Of course, more traditional feedback channels such as the free SMS and telephone hotline, letters and e-mails are also available for contacting the editorial office.
Another series of topics which have become an integral part of the agenda of DW is the civil reconstruction and development cooperation. DW has developed a “Reconstruction Magazine”, which is broadcast on weekdays in the morning prime time via the partner radio station Ariana FM to all the provinces of the country. Reports on the process of reconstruction and development do not only aim at giving the population hope, but they are indispensible in maintaining confidence in the democratic process of change. This appears evermore important also in light of media which are trying to achieve the opposite. The Taliban operate “Radio Sharia”, which can be received almost everywhere in Afghanistan. Furthermore, they address the young, Internet-savvy generation on a multi-lingual website, conveying the following message: the only reason why Western countries are in Afghanistan is to make war at the expense of the civilian population. They constantly claim that no reconstruction is taking place in Afghanistan, but that the foreign troops are gradually destroying the country.
However, Afghanistan is not only a “topic” of news coverage to DW. For many years, the German foreign channel has provided help for self help – also with the aid of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Federal Foreign Office. This is how DW consequently supports the establishment of Afghan media. After the overthrow of the Taliban regime, programming offered in the local languages Pashto and Dari was extended: since 2002, DW-TV in Berlin has broadcasted, in addition to the radio programme, twelve minutes of television world news especially for Afghan viewers.
For DW-AKADEMIE, the year 2009 was fully dedicated to training on election coverage. In autumn, the Afghans were called upon to elect a new president. The project included on-site training and an information gathering trip to Germany, where the participants observed the election coverage of the MDR broadcast network for central Germany during the local elections in Saxony-Anhalt. In addition, DW-AKADEMIE took part in “Learning by Ear” and contributed to the “Reconstruction Magazine”. Employees of the German foreign broadcast network gave speaker and technology training as well as training sessions in Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif and Faizabad.
For this reason, new emphasis will be put on training to report in areas of conflict for the Afghan partner radio stations in the next year. The focus will be on topics such as verifying news, handling propaganda and information in kidnapping situations. Despite the still instable security situation, DW employees continue to do valuable work according to DW’s mission statement: “We convey the values of liberal democracy and are committed to human rights.” And: “We support civil society and peacemaking processes.” In Afghanistan, this would not be possible without the aid of liberal and professional media.
The author was born in Lindenthal (Leipzig district) in 1944 and studied philosophy, education, and social education. Erik Bettermann was deputy secretary of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) from 1989 until 1991 and in the years 1995 to 2001, he was commissioner for federal affairs, Europe and development assistance of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. Since 2001, he has been Director General of Deutsche Welle.