In advance of national elections, Afghans across the country are turning to the media to determine which candidates best articulate their priorities. In a country with an estimated 70% illiteracy rate and minimal Internet access, radio and television are the primary vehicles for information.
People and Elections, a weekly radio program on national broadcaster Salam Watandar, an Internews partner, promoted civic education by increasing awareness of important election stakeholders and institutions, while the Gozinesh program has provided a forum for lively election news features, including interviews with the heads of the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) and the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan.
Provincial radio and television stations alike have encouraged audience feedback via Facebook, SMS, and call-in questions.
“In most of the provinces, people do not know who the presidential candidates are,” said Nasir Omar in Kapisa province, through audience feedback. “I didn’t either. But then I watched Arg93 and now I know about the candidates and their plans. Moreover, now I give value to the election and believe it will make the future better.”
Salam Watandar also hosted four roundtable discussions with panels featuring civil society representatives, academics, and politicians. These roundtables, which were held in Kabul, Nangarhar, and Herat provinces, invited participants to debate important qualities for presidential and provincial council candidates, and candidates’ roles in encouraging voter turn-out and active participation in the electoral process.
Meanwhile, to equip a cadre of journalists with the knowledge and tools necessary to report responsibly on elections issues in the weeks leading up to and on Election Day, trainers from Internews partner Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan have conducted a series of basic and advanced trainings at all five Nai hubs across the country.
In addition, Nai has brought together journalists and editors representing local, national, and international outlets with high-ranking officials from Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) to discuss the challenges journalists face in covering the elections. These meetings also served as an opportunity to introduce the Nai reporters who will be serving as elections observers, and to distribute elections “dos and don’ts” cards to the journalists in attendance.
Internews’ elections work is supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) through the National Democratic Institute, and by AusAid.