In FATA, radio is the only voice

Published: April 19, 2012

A media development organization has engaged five partner radio stations from Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to train them on professional broadcasting. PHOTO: REUTERS

Twice, I missed the cadet college test because the only source of news was newspapers, and the admissions news failed to reach me in time. Even today, students and the people of Fata don’t get news in real time.

An international media development organization in Pakistan has trained the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) broadcasters on public service announcements (PSAs) in training sessions held in Islamabad Pakistan. Broadcasters from local radio stations have attended this five day, hands on training on PSAs.

While PSAs are used widely elsewhere in the world, they have never been used by these stations in Pakistan before. Asadullah who attended these training sessions along with 10 other colleagues at February 2012 said,

“I have done my Masters in Journalism but I have not learned how to produce PSAs”

The use of PSAs and other public-oriented media training is crucial to help the local government in Fata establish a relationship with its militancy affected people located at the Pak-Afghan border.

Asadullah and his colleagues wasted no time putting their new training to good use.

They immediately returned to their stations and began developing PSAs, the first of which was about the ongoing registration process for voters in Pakistan. After broadcasting the voter registration PSA on Radio Miranshah, the station started receiving a number of calls and letters from listeners congratulating them. According to listeners they provide them with guidance on voter registration and other important social issues.

Asadullah, a young reporter who has risen quickly through the ranks, never thought that he would be bridging the gap between the government and local people.

A media development organization has engaged five partner radio stations from Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to provide training on professional broadcasting.

These partner radio stations have been provided with professional equipment in order to improve working capacity and training to strengthen their production skills for the benefit of the local population. These radios are the only voice in the tribal areas that inform listeners about government development activities. That is why Asadullah and his other colleagues from the same partner radio stations have also been trained in PSA production.

Mr Fazal Rahman, the station manager of Radio Miranshah, who also attended the training sessions, regarded it to be very fruitful. He too has produced PSAs about the local government, and has solicited applications from students to attend a free skill development program. Fazal, who remained my colleague during our four years broadcasting in Fata, told me that as soon as he broadcasted that announcement, he received many calls from listeners inquiring about this opportunity. He was surprised to see how successful this activity was.

He never experienced this kind of broadcasting, short and concise, and he was happy to see that he was able to engage destitute local people in a constructive activity.

The impoverished tribal regions have no other means to learn about opportunities provided by the government or non-governmental organizations except for these radios.

As I mentioned earlier in my post, I missed out on two different occasions to apply for cadet college admission tests as newspapers were the only source of news available to us. Cadet colleges are special colleges established by the government with subsidized fees and high standards of teaching; they admit only those students who manage to clear their tests. Every year, they announce the availability of limited seats for general students who can make their way into college. But even today, students and people of the Fata region don’t get the news in time to avail these opportunities.

Hence, the announcements broadcasted by these five radio stations working in the North-western Pakistan Tribal areas has attracted large audiences, especially students and women who are interested in education and health programs.

This practice has conveyed a lot of opportunities from government and non-government organisions to the public sector, and these are now able to reach larger audiences of Fata. These radios have also requested the local government to give them permission to start commercial broadcasting in the tribal region as well as governmental announcements.

Though, the government has started a number of projects to provide basic facilities to the public, such as health and education, these were going unnoticed because there was no mechanism in place to disseminate information to larger audiences.

The local government of Fata usually issued information to newspapers and televisions, but both these mediums denied access to larger audiences, mainly because of illiteracy, poverty and power shortages.

Therefore, most of the time, vital information failed to reach concerned people, who had been living in remote areas. For instance, I have heard local government announcements aired on Peshawar FM channels, knowing that they are not being fully broadcasted in Fata.

Today, most of the scholarships advertised in newspapers, meant for Fata students, don’t reach the desired target market because there are only a few hundred newspapers circulated in the entire region.

The Fata radio station, since its inception, is totally dependent on donor money and local government aid because the government has not yet designed commercial plans to make these radios financially sustainable. But Asadullah is confident that sooner or later his radio station will get permission to air commercial broadcasts, which will enable him to utilise his skills in furthering the commercial message.

This post originally appeared here.

Tayyeb Afridi

Tayyeb Afridi

A radio journalist since 2005, Tayyeb is currently working as a radio development manager at a media development organization in Peshawar.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

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