One of the disadvantages of the sort of media tour that I just did in Afghanistan is that you’re a bit of a football — you get moved around from briefing to briefing, and because of security concerns in both Kandahar and Kabul there isn’t much occasion to stop and chat with the locals. As a result, your chief interlocutors tend to be Western military folks, civilian comms personnel, or bureaucrats. The Afghans you meet are usually either interpreters or partners to these Westerners.
That’s why one of the most enjoyable aspects of this tour was a trip we took in Kabul to the offices of Tolo TV, one of the only independent and commercial television stations in Afghanistan. We showed up around three in the afternoon, just as they were getting ready to produce the evening newscast; if you did that at a newspaper or TV station in Canada they’d toss you out, but our Afghan hosts were exceedingly generous is showing us around. They let us ask questions, take photos, and generally troop around sticking our noses into things. They even showed us some awesome citizen journalism: cellphone-shot election-fraud footage they had of some Afghan elders sitting around laughing and filling in a stack of ballots to stuff the box with.
The news director introduced us to his various journalists and hosts, each one of whom was introduced as “the most famous person in Afghanistan”. While it was kinda funny, there’s also an element of truth to it: Because of the high rates of illiteracy over there, television and radio play a much bigger role in the national conversation than it does here, and Tolo TV has excellent ratings.
What was surprising was how young, hip, and normal it all was. I felt a bit stupid, since we’d shown up in armoured vehicles and flack vests. Here are some pics from the newsroom. I feel a bit dumb, I have their names all written down in a notebook that I’ve misplaced. If I find it I’ll add proper captions.
The news director showing us around:
The man with the moustache is Afghanistan’s “man of the people”:
A senior reporter, the most famous woman in Afghanistan:
An anchor and his producer:
A reporter and his editor:
Seconds to air: