Britta Petersen 42, is the Director of Initiative Free Press (IFP), a non government organization which trains journalists and support freedom of speech. IFP is a partner organization of Mediothek. Mediothek works with journalists, writers, human rights activists, students and teachers to help strengthen civil society structures. I had a little chat with her about Mediotec, IFP and media in Afghanistan.
What does IFP do?
IFP has been doing Media trainings in Afghanistan since 2003 in cooperation with Mediothek. We have been working in Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat, Kunduz, Mazar-e-Sharif and Wardak.
Recently, you have launched a project for journalists on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Tell us about the training of journalists from both sides of Durand line?
We had a workshop on Investigative Journalism in Jalalabad, Nangarhar. 17 journalists from different Pashto speaking provinces of Afghanistan participated and learned about investigative journalism. The workshop ran from 13th to 23th October 2008. Investigative journalism is as necessary as it is a challenge in Afghanistan. Journalists must be able to work professionally if they want to fulfill their duty as watchdogs in a democracy. I believe that we have taken a first step in this direction in Jalalabad.
The workshop was the kick-off event to a program for Pashton journalists from Afghanistan and Pakistan organized jointly by Mediothek Afghanistan and IFP. The aim is to create a network of Pashtu speaking journalists from both sides of the Durand line in order to promote peace and non-violent conflict resolution between the two neighboring countries.
For this purpose, two media centers – one in Jalalabad and one in Peshawar – have been set up. They will host a series of capacity building workshops for journalists throughout 2008 and 2009 as well as regular discussions, round-tables and functions in order to create a bond between the journalists. They also provide facilities such as computers, internet access and a library.
The participants of the first workshop in Jalalabad, who came from the provinces. Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman, Khost and Kandarhar, will be traveling in December to Peshawar to attend a joint seminar with journalist from the tribal areas in Pakistan on “Peace journalism”. The program will be followed by a “Networking” workshop for the two groups as well as additional 17 journalists from Peshawar.
We hope that our project will lead to the establishment of a Pashtu news agency by 2010. We are optimist that we will find the necessary funding and start working on it.
Are these journalists going to have jobs in Mediothek? What next for them?
We hope that the planned news agency for the Pashtun provinces will be self sufficient financially and thus not dependent on donor money. For that is the only way to create long lasting job opportunities.
Many critics accuse Mediothek for lack of local leadership. I mean many believe that the heads of Mediothek’s local offices do not have healthy relations with local journalists, writers and universities. However, the main objective of Mediothek is to develop communication among intellectuals. What do you say about that?
As a foreigner who does not live in Jalalabad, I hardly have insights into the journalism scene in Nangarhar. I also do not consider it my business to get involved in the problems that Afghans have amongst each other. However, if this is the case, it is very unfortunate and I would really ask all the local journalists to make use of the facilities that are provided by the Mediothek Media Centre. If Afghans cannot settle their conflicts among each other, they will always be exploited by the vested interests of foreign powers.
Some believe there are not many professional trainers in Mediothek offices. For example, a student of Nangarhar University told me that the local instructor of Mediothek’s journalism workshop is not Journalism, media or communication graduate, and did not have enough experience or knowledge to teach journalism workshop. Do you have any specific plans to avoid such complains?
I do not know the trainers of the local workshops. The organization of these workshops has the responsibility of the local Mediothek alone and I do not have any information about the trainers or the content.
We have seen in Afghanistan that many NGOs have not been last for too long in Afghanistan due to lack of funds and other problems. For how long Mediothek is going to be there to serve?
The founder of Mediothek, Mr. A. Sultan Karimi has dedicated his entire life to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. He founded Mediothek already in 1992 when he was in exile in Germany and I do not think that he will ever give up his efforts.
As a media person, what is your opinion about the current Media atmosphere in Afghanistan? Problems, concerns, progress, etc.
To start with the positive: Since I first came to Afghanistan in January 2002, Afghan media have made tremendous progress! From almost no media at all, the country now has hundereds of newspapers, TV and radio stations. The young journalists have eagerly participated in all kinds of capacity buildiung offered by international organisations and it really shows in their work. Many jobs have been created in the media sector and journalism today is an attractive career opportunity for young graduates in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately in the last few years, the political conditions for journalists have not improved. On the contrary, as you know, many journalists have been killed, both by Taliban or local commanders who did not like their work. I have enormous respect for these women and men who sacrifized their lives for the free media in Afghanistan and they are the true martyrs. Unfortunately the situation also from the side of the government has worsened as the case of Pervez Khambash shows. The freedom of speech that is granted in the Afghan constitution is not respected and it will take a very long time and much effort in the future to make sure that journalists can keep on reporting the truth about what is going on in this country.
What do you think where Afghanistan is leading? Many believe we do not have a clear direction in future?
The situation is really difficult, for both lack of leadership inside the country and foreign intervention. It needs a totally new generation of politicians to lead Afghanistan into a better future. My hope is on the Youth!
Afghans must develop a national vision for their country based on rationality. The international community must support Afghanistan selflessly and stop playing their own different games.