Pens get ready for the polls
9 June 2009 - It’s not just Afghanistan’s police and elections officials who are being trained for the forthcoming presidential and provincial elections.
The country’s budding journalists, too, are sharpening their pens – and, possibly, their rhetoric – in anticipation of the historic 20 August polls.
Halime Hosaini, a young female reporter with a Kabul-based newspaper, Mandegar, is one of 11 journalists, who took time off from her daily reporting duties and assembled at a non-descript office building in West Kabul, to “better prepare” for election season.
Seven days after being trained – in active learning practices, the understanding of regulatory information on all aspects of the elections, and the importance of fair reportage – Halime has finally graduated.
Her training was carried out by Internews, an international development NGO, and a local partner, Nai for Open Media in Afghanistan.
“The aim of this programme is to train journalists and editors across Afghanistan in the principles of fair, accurate, and impartial election reporting. The journalists also have to get a good grip on the enormous number of regulations, such as the electoral law, Independent Election Commission guidelines, and also the Media Commission,” said Jan Forrester, a media trainer with Internews.
Internews expects to train more that 170 journalists and editors from eight regions in the next few months.
Hosaini, along with her trainees, has now assumed the role of trainer, and will teach other journalists what they’ve just learnt.
This task to spread best media practices and to educate journalists in election reporting will, however, not be simple.
Afghanistan has a growing, but fledgling, media industry that includes more than 400 publications and at least 15 television stations, many of which are just beginning to find their feet.
“Although there are many media outlets here, modern practices in journalism are new,” said Forrester. “And, in a way, we are trying to consolidate journalism here at a fairly basic level.”
Among the eclectic mix of journalists-turned-trainers is Mohammad Naieem, Radio Paktin Voice’s studio-director, from Paktika province.
Naieem, who will train journalists from three other regions, thought the seven-hour drive from home was well worth it.
“This training was exciting. I got an opportunity to meet reporters from across the country. We discussed common, everyday problems that we encounter as journalists. We’ve also decided to keep in touch with each other during the elections which will be helpful,” he said.
But, it’s not just journalists such as Naieem and Hosaini who have benefited from the seven-day programme.
Ms Forester, who trained the “first batch” of journalists, said she felt humbled by the wide array of life experiences these reporters, however young, can draw on.
“They are bright and enthusiastic. They’ve had experiences that many of us have never had: they’ve been refugees, gone through civil war, and even war,” she said.
Many of these reporters will soon be able to add an 'election' to their repertoire of life experiences.
“As a journalist, I’m very excited to cover my first election,” exclaims Hosaini, her happiness palpable as she throws her arms in the air.
But she also realises the weight of the pen: “It will be important to report correctly, during the elections, to reveal its impact on the future of our country.”
By Aditya Mehta, UNAMA