Media Commission gears up for run-off election
27 October 2009 - With a second election just around the corner, the Media Commission is back in business.
John Matisonn, one of the four commissioners, however, insists the media watchdog never closed its eyes.
"We never stopped watching the media. We have been monitoring the news throughout, even after Election Day," he said.
In fact, the Commission has just released an interim report for the period 21 August to 20 October, which shows the media's performance after the elections and leading up to the announcement of the election results.
According to the report, Radio Television Afghanistan, the state-run TV channel, has once again shown bias toward one particular candidate.
"Our report shows that (during the reporting period) 100 per cent of the coverage of direct speech on the state media (RTA) went to President Karzai. He continues to get a large amount of airtime compared to the other candidate," observed Mr Matisonn.
The 48-page report also reveals that President Karzai dominated RTA coverage nationally (except news bulletins) with 81 per cent of coverage, while Dr Abdullah, his nearest challenger, who he will face in the 7 November run-off, managed to get only around 12 per cent of airtime on the channel.
RTA, however, wasn't the only culprit.
The reports evidences that television channels such as Aina, Noorin, and Tamadon, among others, at some point showed bias in the amount of media coverage for a candidate in certain areas of programming.
Keeping in mind the recent and current performance by the media, the Media Commission has also released a set of new guidelines for TV and radio channels to follow.
"These guidelines encourage the media to cover and investigate fraud, as long they stick to evidence and not rumours, and avoid the use of inflammatory language. The media play an important role in searching out stories related to elections, and fraud is an important element in that," added Mr Matisonn.
The media's role, however, should not be restricted to just rummaging out instances of fraud during the election.
Mujahid Kakar, Tolo TV Director, says the media will and should also encourage people to go out and vote during the run-off.
He says this will be helpful, especially when there are fears of an even lower turnout on 7 November, since, historically, less people show up at polling stations during a second round.
"From my perspective, the media will play a major role in urging the people to go and vote because of the security issues, the threats from Taliban, and other problems that they face. We can provide information to the people that can help them to choose their next president," said Mr Kakar, whose channel will have special election programming in the lead-up to the run-off.
With election news and candidate profiles expected to dominate news agendas across the media, Mr Matisonn believes the next few days will pose different challenges this time.
But with only two candidates, will monitoring not be easier?
"Yes," he said, "however, because the period is short, it will also be tense. So we want to be in a position to react quickly."
The Media Commission will release a report every week until Election Day.
By Aditya Mehta, UNAMA