With less than two months to go until the Afghan presidential election, the country is gripped by an unprecedented level of election coverage from Afghanistan’s own media. At the heart of this will be the first election in Afghanistan, where all of the key candidates take part in live debates.
NATO Channel is given exclusive access behind the scenes of 1TV’s first live presidential debate, to see how political journalism and the country’s media landscape has developed and changed in the last thirteen years. The elections may well be fought on the issues of security, the economy and radicalism, but it is members of the young, educated local press which are driving the most hotly contested Afghan elections in modern times.
Lights, camera and action as campaigning for the Afghan presidential election is well under way, but these candidates are facing something exceptional in an Afghan election: an unprecedented level of scrutiny from the country’s own media.
NATO Channel video journalist Joe Sheffer visited the studio just before the start of the presidential debate, to give the inside picture from Afghanistan’s second televised presidential debate.
At the head of this charge are scores of young, tech-savvy journalists who are fronting modern, open, unbiased and even confrontational debates for the first time, being beamed live into millions of Afghan homes.
Abdullah Khenjanee, Election Debate Presenter, 1TV, said, “This is totally a new experience for the Afghan media, especially for the new generation who are leading all over the media in Afghanistan, yes. It is very, very important and I can claim that presidential debates are the biggest challenge and the biggest experience for the media in Afghanistan, to pave the ground, to pave the way for the voters to find and to judge in a better way.”
Concerns remain about the country’s security during the campaigning and polling periods and, while Afghanistan is still rated 128th in the world for press freedom, outlets like 1TV have made the country one of the region’s leaders both in terms of press freedom and access to independent reporting. And this will be the first election in Afghanistan, where all the key candidates take part in live debates and question and answer sessions. The coverage is set to be decisive.
Fahim Hashimi, President and Owner, 1TV, said, “We have free media, we have free journalists, people can criticise the politicians. We’ve had the most critical current affairs and news programmes in the last three or four years which have been established and it again very, very key for the future of Afghanistan.”
It’s behind the gloss and lights of the main studio that much of the media interest in the elections is being generated. Investment in Afghanistan’s mobile phone network over the last thirteen years has meant that, even in rural areas, phone ownership is above fifty per cent. And it’s this combination of 3G access and social media which online journalists like Mukhtar Saad are driving
Mukhtar Saad, Online Journalist, 1TV, said, “Based on rates, weekly I think we have five million or something around five million in traction in our social media, so based on that we can judge that it’s going to reach the same level that the TV station would have.”
The economy, security and radicalism will continue to dominate the agenda of this election, and the coverage of local media is reflecting this. But when Afghans go to the polls this April, one thing will be sure: this is the most modern, media-intensive and informed election Afghanistan has ever seen.
This is the script of a NATO Channel story. The international version (WITHOUT VOICEOVER) contains the same visuals and sound bites as the edited story, but without voiceover and/or graphics.