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Special Coverage

In Tribal Pakistan, Radio is a Lifeline

Locals listen to Radio Miransh in the North Waziristan Agency.
Photo by Tayyeb Afridi
Locals listen to Radio Miransh in the North Waziristan Agency.

Tayyeb Afridi is a journalist from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, a region that borders Afghanistan. He visited KUT in May 2011 on a US Pakistan Journalism Exchange through the International Center for Journalists. You can read more of KUT News’ Pakistan coverage.

An international media development organization in Pakistan trained broadcasters from the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on public service announcements during a training program held in Islamabad, Pakistan. Broadcasters from local radio stations attended the five-day, hands-on training exercise.

While PSAs are widely used elsewhere in the world, they have never been used by these stations in Pakistan.

“I have done my masters in journalism but I have not learned how to produce PSAs,” said Asadullah, who attended the training along with 10 other colleagues in February. The use of PSAs and other public-oriented media training is crucial in helping FATA governments establish relationships with their people located near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Asadullah and his colleagues wasted no time putting their new training to use. They immediately returned to their stations and began developing PSAs. The first one covered the ongoing voter registration process in Pakistan.

After broadcasting the voter registration PSA on Radio Miranshah, the station received a number of calls and letters from listeners. The listeners congratulated the station for providing guidance on voter registration and other social issues.

A media development organization has engaged five partner radio stations from the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to train them on professional broadcasting. The partner radio stations have been provided with professional equipment in order to improve their working capacity and training, and to strengthen their production skills for the benefit of the local population. These stations are the only voice in the tribal areas to inform listeners about government development activities.

Fazal Rahman, station manager of Radio Miranshah, also attended the training. He has since produced PSAs about the local government, and solicited applications from students to attend a free skill development program. Rahman, who remained my colleague during our four years broadcasting in the FATA, told me that as soon as he broadcast that announcement, he received many calls from listeners inquiring about this opportunity. He was surprised to see how productive this activity was. Before, he had never experienced this kind of broadcasting, which is very short and concise, and was happy to see he had engaged destitute local people in constructive activity.

Impoverished tribal regions have no other options for learning about government and regional opportunities except from these stations.  

Cadet Colleges are special colleges established by the government with subsidized fees and high standards. They admit students who pass their tests. Every year they announce admissions with limited seats for general students who can make their way into college.   

Twice, I missed Cadet College tests during my school period because the only source for news was newspapers, and the admissions news failed to reach me in real time. Even today, students and people of the FATA don’t get news in real time.

The broadcasts of these five radio stations in Northwestern Pakistan tribal areas have attracted large audiences, especially students and women who are interested in education and health programs. This practice has converted many government and non-government opportunities into public announcements to reach to larger audiences of the FATA. These stations have also requested that the local government give them permission to start commercial broadcasting in tribal regions. 

Although the government started a number of projects to provide basic facilities to the public, such as health and education initiatives, they were going unnoticed because there were no mechanisms to disseminate information to large audiences.

The FATA governments mostly issued information to newspapers and televisions, but these media lack access to large audiences, mainly because of illiteracy and power shortages. Information often failed to reach concerned people living far away in the mountains.

For instance, I have heard commercials given to Peshawar FM radio channels by the local government, despite knowledge that it would not be fully heard in the FATA. Today, most of the scholarships meant for FATA students are advertised in the newspapers, although newspaper circulation is only a few hundred in the entire FATA.

Since their inception, FATA stations are totally dependent on donors’ money, and the local government has not yet designed commercial plans to make these stations financially sustainable. But Asadullah is confident that sooner or later his station will get permission from commercial broadcasting – and then he would be able to utilize his skills for making commercial spots.

He said he would be happy to become part of that broadcasting world too. 

This blog originally appeared on Tayyeb Afridi’s website

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