An Explosion of News: The State of Media in Afghanistan

The National Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance

and the Middle East and North Africa Program,

and BBC Media Action

present a panel discussion on

An Explosion of News: The State of Media in Afghanistan

Since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, when there were virtually no media in Afghanistan, the media scene has become a lively place, with more than 175 FM radio stations, 75 TV channels, and hundreds of print publications, according to a recent CIMA report. Afghans have embraced this changing landscape and have become avid, but wise, consumers of news and information. Yet the future is uncertain. Despite the rapid and widespread development of Afghan media, the industry overall gets low grades for its independence and lack of an investigative reporting ethic. Moreover, as a new BBC Media Action report notes, while a modest number of outlets are able to sustain themselves commercially, many still depend on financial support from the government and international donors. Meanwhile, the state imposes content restrictions and journalists face daily threats from police and security forces, warlords, and the Taliban insurgency. As the West begins its military disengagement, there is real concern that important media initiatives may falter and media freedoms will become more restricted. Panelists examined the evolving landscape for media in Afghanistan, taking stock of achievements and vulnerabilities. They analyzed donor engagement and considered what the transition might mean for a sector that has the potential to engage civil society, shape public opinion, and hold government to account.


Peter Cary

Author, An Explosion of News: The State of Media in Afghanistan

Ahmad Sear Zia

Voice of America

Shirazuddin Siddiqi

BBC Media Action

Dawn Stallard


Moderated by:

Richard Kraemer

National Endowment for Democracy

With remarks by:

James Deane

BBC Media Action

Thursday, May 17, 2012

12:00 – 2:00 p.m.

About the panelists:

Peter Cary is a consultant who specializes in writing, editing, and investigative projects. He is a former managing editor, investigative editor, and Pentagon reporter at U.S. News & World Report magazine. Cary worked at several newspapers, including the Bergen Record and the Miami Herald, before joining U.S. News in 1987. He began his stint there as a national reporter, then became the magazine’s Pentagon correspondent and covered the 1991 Gulf War. He co-wrote Triumph Without Victory, the magazine’s book about that war, and then moved to the U.S. News investigative team, which he later ran as its editor. In his final years at U.S. News he was the managing editor for news and administration and helped launch several new business ventures. Cary authored a 2010 report for CIMA, The Pentagon, Information Operations, and International Media Development, and, more recently, an investigative article for the Center for Public Integrity on the Pentagon’s anti-roadside bomb program entitled, “The Manhattan Project that Bombed.

James Deane is director of policy and insight teams at BBC Media Action, where he oversees the organization’s research, technical assistance, and policy activities. He has spent more than 30 years working in the field of media development. Prior to joining BBC Media Action in 2007, he was a founding member and later executive director of the Panos Institute-London and managing director of the Communication for Social Change Consortium, a New York-based organization set up by the Rockefeller Foundation. Deane has provided formal strategic advice and consultancies to DFID, SIDA, the World Bank, UNESCO, and the Rockefeller Foundation among many other organizations, mostly related to communication and media in development. He earned his master’s degree in international communication and development, and has written numerous papers and publications on media and information and communication technologies.

Ahmad Sear Zia is an editor and international broadcaster with VOA’s TV Ashna in Washington, DC, where he creates TV, radio, and online feature stories in Farsi and English and produces and hosts daily and weekly radio programming. Working in journalism since 2002, he has conducted exclusive interviews with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan General Dan McNeill, and the European Union’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, among others. From 2006 to 2010, he was a lead anchor and senior producer with Moby Media Group’s Tolo TV in Kabul. Prior to that, he was an anchor, radio broadcaster, and producer with Radio Television of Afghanistan, or RTA, the national television and radio agency. Sear Zia also directed UN-sponsored TV programs for local media outlets with the Goethe Institute. In 2004, he earned his associate’s degree in journalism from RTA’s training center, under the Ministry of Information and Culture at Kabul University. He also attended coursework for his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and architecture at Kabul University.

Shirazuddin Siddiqi is the country director for Afghanistan at BBC Media Action. Until recently, he was responsible for the BBC Afghan Education Projects, which include a soap opera in Dari and Pashto, and children and adult radio programs focusing on health, civic responsibility, and village life. He was also responsible for the partnership among the BBC World Service Trust (former name of BBC Media Action), Deutsche Welle, and Canal France International, which oversaw major changes for Radio Television Afghanistan in conjunction with the Afghan government and donor agencies. Siddiqi was born in Kabul and was a lecturer at Kabul University. In 1994, he fled to Pakistan, where he joined the BBC Afghan Education Projects.

Dawn Stallard has been working for Internews as the senior program officer for Afghanistan since 2011. She has more than two decades of overseas development and humanitarian crisis response experience across Asia, with a heavy focus on South Asia. Prior to joining Internews, Stallard worked for a number of development agencies, such as Oxfam, Concern, Save the Children, and Care on a variety of projects from participatory community development to human rights advocacy. She started her career in 1990 in the Afghan refugee camps of northern Pakistan. She first went to Afghanistan in 1996, worked in Afghanistan under the Taliban in 1999-2000, and was based in Afghanistan with her family from 2003-2005. She has also lived in Pakistan on and off for a number of years. Stallard earned her bachelor’s degree in international development and her master’s degree in gender and development.