A quiet but significantly important step has been taken to promote better engagement, understanding and collaboration between the media in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a means to improving perceptions, approaches and engagement between the peoples and governments of both countries.
The Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) has launched an initiative aimed at enhancing bilateral media contacts and co-operation between Afghan and Pakistani journalists and media organisation by holding an Afghanistan-Pakistan Media Dialogue at Kabul a few weeks ago. PIPS has partnered with The Killid Group (TKG) of Afghanistan to improve co-operation between the electronic and print media of Pakistan and Afghanistan and arrange training for journalists to improve the media’s capacity to cover complex issues with a view to enhance the qualitative/quantitative reporting on regional issues.
Senior Pakistani journalists from all parts of the country from the print and electronic media attended including editors, news editors, chief reporters and others for the Kabul dialogue. A chartered plane took them to Kabul. Around two dozen Afghan journalists from the print and electronic media also attended the media dialogue. The event presented a rare occasion for candid exchange of views. In deliberations over two days, journalists from the two countries discussed challenges, possibilities and potential for collaboration.
A message from Afghan President Hamid Karzai hailed the initiative and pledged every support. He called the initiative “a great opportunity not just for the two countries but for everyone.” Shahir Ahmed Zahine, chairman of TKG said the initiative aimed at fostering collaboration between journalists in the two countries with a view to raise voices for moderation and peace and to stand up against extremism. He spoke about the need for better understanding between the people of the two countries and the role that the media could play in that regard.
Amir Rana, the director of PIPS said that the media collaboration initiative was an attempt to use influence of the print and the electronic media in the region to shape narratives of peace and develop discourses. He said the attempt to promote and facilitate collaboration was aimed at improving coverage and understanding of Afghanistan and issues of common interest in Pakistan through bringing on board the mainstream media. Contacts and collaboration between journalists were bound to make coverage of complex regional issues more balanced and increase coverage of non-conflict issues.
Finn Rasmussen of International Media Support said that dialogue really was the operative word for the initiative. This dialogue would determine the strategy of how journalists from the two countries work together on interesting and relevant stories, he said.
The first session of the media conference in Kabul focused on the need for cooperation and media’s role in that. Discussing the need for bilateral cooperation between journalists and media houses, journalists from the two countries agreed that the media had a role to play in the circumstances but journalists from the two countries had to have a joint strategy. Anything done unilaterally will not work bilaterally, they emphasised.
The participants said that as a first step media houses of the two countries could post their correspondents in the other country to improve coverage. The participants highlighted that media was not one entire unity in neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan. It was agreed that journalists from one country could not expect their colleagues from the other to see events and developments through the prism of Afghan or Pakistani national interest. It was discussed that media coverage in either country about incidents and developments in the other lacked a regional perspective and often followed stereotypes and negative images.
Session two of the conference discussed the specific difficulties that could create hurdles in achieving collaboration between journalists and media houses of the two countries. The need for associations of journalists in the two countries formally establishing contacts was suggested. The participants said that the conference would have made a major contribution if it could determine how the two countries’ journalists could make a common platform to make contact.
In session three in-depth discussions were held on challenges of security for the journalists, specifically in covering conflict stories and those with cross-border dimensions. It was considered whether the journalists were skilled to avoid or overcome threats to their safety. The session also considered ways to minimise risks. The Afghan journalists talked about the difficulties they faced in cross-border reporting. They said that in Afghanistan there is a good law on freedom of expression but implementation had been problematic.
Session four focused on identifying measures aiming to minimise the obstacles identified in session two regarding the different levels of professional skills among journalists/media houses that agree to carry together the research/coverage of a story. The Afghan participants said the market was small and dependence on donors was there.
At the conclusion of the conference, a joint Advisory Board was selected with seven journalists from Pakistan and an equal number from Afghanistan. Two co-chairpersons, one each from Pakistan and Afghanistan, of the Board were elected unanimously – Adnan Rehmat from Pakistan and Abdur Rahimi from Afghanistan. The 14-member Advisory Board would manage the process of implementing the initiative and will select applicants from the two countries for trainings.
Adnan Rehmat is a media analyst based in Islamabad. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org