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Special Coverage

Pakistani Province Reaches Out Through Radio

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Photo by Tayyeb Afridi for KUT News
Mr. Shuaib-u-din, Director of Information and Public Relations for Northwest Pakistan Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Province discusses how provincially-controlled radio will compete with so-called "Mullah Radio" stations in the region near the Pakistan-Afghani

Tayyeb Afridi is a Pakistani journalist from the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan. He visited KUT on a US Pakistan Journalism Exchange through the International Center for Journalists.

Northwest Pakistan Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Province, previously called the Northwest Frontier Province, is trying to empower local community by installing community radios in troubled regions. 

This is an effort to counter the influence of illegal radio, or Mullah Radio, in Northwest Pakistan’s settled and tribal districts. Settled districts are the responsibility of the provincial government that came into power in February 2008 elections. The provincial government fought the Taliban in Swat, Bunner, Dir valleys.

At a press conference, I got chance to ask few questions of the Director of Information and Public Relations, Mr. Shuaib-u-din, about media policy in Northwest Pakistan Khyber Province. He is implementing government media policy in KPK, Pakistan.

Tayyeb Afridi: What urged the provincial government to install new radio stations in KPK province, despite having regional stations of Radio Pakistan?

Shuaib-u-din: Radio Pakistan is a national radio, and they are broadcasting in national language. And when you are broadcasting in national language Urdu and international language English, you are missing the huge population of the province.

As you know, according to government statistics, 75 percent people don’t understand Urdu and English. When this much population of your province is not getting your message, what would happen? They would fall to propaganda of Mullah Radio, as happened in Swat, Bunner, Dir, the respective districts of Northwest Pakistan. 

By establishing local radio stations, the government will be able to reach their message in a local language to the [province's] population of 20 million, and this will give them a sense they are participating in local government.

Tayyeb: What made it possible to establish provincially controlled radio stations, since dealing with information falls under federal jurisdiction?

Shuaib-u-din: You know, the immediate problem of terrorism in Northwest Pakistan settled and tribal areas was widely propagated by Mullah Radio, thus it was a justified demand of the provincial government to establish local radio.

However, this decision to establish provincial radio was according to the constitution of Pakistan. It says the federal government shall not unreasonably refuse to entrust to a provincial government such functions with respect to broadcasting and telecasting.

Tayyeb: How would you handle the issue of credibility when it comes to government media?

Shuaib-u-din: Yes, I understand this concern, and therefore the provincial government has decided to give a feeling of participation to local people, and they should be engaged in dialog for their development.

We are working on semi-autonomous structure of the radio to ensure people are represented. We will go further as time passes, to increasingly empower these radio stations with rules to engage their community.

Tayyeb: What kind of content would be programmed on these radio stations?

Shuaib-u-din: These channels will be predominantly infotainment. It would carry local news, thematic and cultural programming. It will also carry public service announcements and public advertisements that appeared in newspapers in order to reach a large audience.

The provincial government understands that you can’t keep people stupid for a long time, and that is why the content would be community-driven with a slight check so that these radio [stations] shouldn’t lose the aim of development.

Tayyeb: Could this network help to improve cross-border relations with Afghanistan?

Shuaib-u-din: We have kept an element of Afghan presenters in radio stations in order to accommodate their accent, not only for other Pakhtun, but also for Afghan refugees who are living in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It is the government's effort to give voice to Afghans’ problems, and this would certainly play an important role in developing trust between the two countries.

Tayyeb: What is the budget allocated for these radio stations?

Shuaib-u-din: The provincial government has approved [a] 100 million Pakistani Rupees (about $1.2 million US) budget for 24 community radio stations in 24 districts of the province. The budget was passed by provincial assembly on June 20, 2011.  Initially, we would establish three community radio stations in the fiscal year 2011-12 in District Bannu, District Lower Dir and District Abbottabad.

With establishment of this, the number of radio stations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will reach five, because two FM radio stations have already been established in District Peshawar and District Mardan in 2009, the two comparatively modern cities of the province. The rest of the 19 radio stations will be installed with passage of time and keeping resources in mind. This fund, we have reserved in Annual Development Program.

Tayyeb: Does your staff have expertise in broadcasting to run these channels?

Shuaib-u-din: You know, all the information officers working under Directorate of Information and Public Relations have expertise in print media. Since radio is new for us, we have signed letter of agreement with media development organization.  They will help us in programming and management.  Once we have established all these radio stations, we will connect them through networking.

Tayyeb: What was the magic that allowed Radio Mullah to hijack the community in less time than government radio channels.

Shuaib-u-din: (Laughing) This question arises, even in bureaucracy, that why can’t we achieve the fruits as quick as done by Mullah Radio. This is a question for research, but I would like to share one point that I have heard my radio stations' presenters who are talking on health, education, governance, and they wrap up each program with one conclusion and that is “our solution of problems is lying in Islam”. Being Muslim, I can’t disagree with that message, but it leaves no room for debate and dialog.

Tayyeb Afridi worked for four years as the Station Manager for Radio Khyber, a government-licensed station located in the Khyber Agency in Northwest Pakistan. He previously worked as a reporter for the English daily newspaper, “The Statesman” for one year.

While he was in Austin, he wrote about the changes that social media could bring to his region. Now back in Pakistan, Tayyeb looks how creation of a regional radio network would affect the region of a country where broadcasting is dominated by the national government while Islamic militants fight back with pirate radio.