Media Commission watching the elections

20 Jun 2009

Media Commission watching the elections

20 June 2009 - It’s not an easy job being Sidiqullah Tauhidi these days - as head of Afghanistan’s Media Commission he’s been clocking up the miles, flying from one city to another.


Along with his four fellow committee members, he’s keeping a watchful eye on local televisions, radios and, newspapers, everywhere, as they cover Election 2009.

“Besides Kabul, my team will be visiting Mazar, Kunduz, Bamyan, Kandahar, and Jalalabad to observe the media reportage of the presidential and provincial elections,” Mr Tauhidi told UNAMA from Herat.

Ever since campaigning began on 16 June, the Media Commission, which was established by the Independent Election Commission (IEC), has been fulfilling its primary role of watching the quality and the quantity of coverage being offered to all the 41 presidential candidates by, both, private and state-owned media.

The Commission has also been tasked to listen to complaints and to ensure that broadcasters allot equal air-time to all candidates, so that some prominent and high-profile candidates are not advantaged over the rest, in the lead-up to the 20 August elections.

“We have a contract with a media monitoring company called INSIGHT, who will be looking at the coverage during the campaign period,” said Mr Tauhidi. In addition, a separate committee called the Media Monitoring Commission, within the IEC, has been set up to observe the media in the provinces.

"The Media Commission has a short-term mandate for the duration of this election campaign. We need to rely on the media experience, independence and professionalism of the Media Commission in dealing with any complaints from candidates or the public during the elections process, " said Jan Forester, from media development NGO Internews, which is helping train journalists across Afghanistan to report "fairly and accurately."

But with 41 presidential aspirants in the fray, ensuring equal coverage to all candidates – or, realistically, to at least most of them – is certainly not going to be easy, according to Mujahid Kakar, Director of News and Current Affairs at Tolo TV, an independent television channel based out of Kabul.

Mr Kakar, who also takes editorial responsibility for two other stations, Lemar TV and Arman FM, says his media group has devised a plan so they can offer their audiences “fair and balanced reporting…and give equal air-time to all candidates.”

To make their reportage more transparent, Mr Kakar’s network has set up an ‘Election Desk’ that invites candidates on their channel, and keeps a record of those that have appeared on their shows, including those who have “turned us down.”

“We, also, log and archive every election story that plays out, so at the end of a period we can monitor the airtime given to each candidate, in case the Media Commission forwards a complaint to us,” said Mr Kakar.

Although the Media Commission has not received any complaints so far, fingers are already being pointed at the state-run media, in particular, Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA), for favouring certain candidates.

An editorial, for instance, in Wednesday’s Arman-e-Milli, a pro-Jamiat daily, accuses President Hamid Karzai of using government resources, including the media, for his campaign.

The Media Commission, too, echoes apprehensions on how the state and private media will cover the elections in the days to come. “We are concerned that the government-run media will campaign for the President,” said Mr Tauhidi candidly.

RTA, however, deny these accusations. In an email response to UNAMA, the channel said it "didn't broadcast in favour of any candidate. If there is a fact, please do let us know. Also there is a commission established in RTA, to supervise the election process and to keep balanced broadcasting regarding candidates."

With the rhetoric heating up and the campaigning intensifying, it's not going to be an easy run for the media and their 'monitors'. It's already been a first long day filled with meeting with senior editors, followed by some keen media watching for Sidiqullah Tauhidi. Is he tired of seeing TV already? "Not yet," he says. "We have a team of three who do that." Yet, it will be a long few months until Election Day.

By Aditya Mehta, UNAMA

Website: Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan