Afghan Broadcasters Pull Out the Stops for Election Day Coverage
Polling day (18 September) has been an opportunity for Afghanistan's burgeoning broadcast media to provide wide coverage of voting in the country's parliamentary and provincial council elections.
In contrast to just four years ago, when the country had no TV services at all, a single Taleban-controlled radio station and a very limited number of Taleban-sanctioned newspapers, viewers and listeners have been able to chose from a variety of local sources for information on how the elections went.
On the major radio and TV stations, this coverage was not confined to fixed news bulletins. Instead, from the start of the day's broadcasts, a number of radio and TV channels cleared their usual schedules to provide rolling reports of voting and other election-related news.
From early morning, state-owned TV Afghanistan and the leading private network, Tolo TV, were among the outlets that provided a mixture of live election coverage interspersed with entertainment.
State TV mixed its reports from polling stations around the country with patriotic songs in various Afghan languages. Most people interviewed by the station in Kabul expressed satisfaction with the electoral process.
State TV also carried live a news conference given by a number of Afghan and foreign officials of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB - the official body responsible for the conduct of the polls). A JEMB official listed various security incidents and attacks against electoral officials and polling stations but said they were not serious and would not have a negative affect on the electoral process. He stressed that, in general, voting was passing off peacefully.
Tolo TV mixed its reports from correspondents in the field with studio discussions with various figures, including JEMB officials, the spokesmen of the Defence and Interior Ministries, police commanders and the governor of Kandahar Province.
Aina TV, based in Sheberghan (northern Jowzjan Province) but relayed elsewhere in the country, abandoned its usual morning practice of simply repeating the whole of the previous evening's programming. Instead, it mixed entertainment shows with news bulletins devoted to the day's election news, both local and national.
Local stations also mounted special coverage. In Herat (western Afghanistan) a student-run radio, Sada-ye Jawan (Voice of Youth), was on the air from 6 a.m. local time (0130 gmt), which was also when polling stations were due to open across the country. The radio provided coverage of events in both Herat and elsewhere. From early on, the radio linked up with reporters at polling stations in Herat, the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, Kandahar in the south, Khost and Nangarhar Provinces in the east, and many other places. The rad io's presenters urged people not to miss this chance to exercise their right to vote.
Also in Herat, the provincial government's TV station was on the air from 8.30 a.m. (0400 gmt) with local election coverage.
A Kabul local station, Radio Kelid, had regular news updates from the capital and the provinces.
The tone of the reporting across the various outlets was often positive. Although various problems were reported - security incidents, delays in the opening of some polling stations and of the arrival of ballot boxes in some places, concerns that the ink used to mark voters' fingers was not indelible, difficulties with some voters being unsure of voting procedures, alleged interference and unauthorized canvassing by candidates' agents at polling stations, alleged voting by underage persons - much was also made of the enthusiasm of voters to take part in the elections.
President Karzai's positive statement when he cast his vote, that he was happy with how voting was going, was well reported.
Polling stations were due to close at 4 p.m. local time (1130 gmt) but the media reported that a dispensation allowed those still queuing at that time to be allowed to complete the casting of their ballots.
With voting ending during the late afternoon, stations were then able to broadcast their main early evening news bulletins as normal.
In addition to the variety of local radio and TV stations providing election day news, Afghans were also able to tune into coverage from foreign radio stations relayed on transmitters within the country. These include the BBC World Service, Radio France Internationale, Deutsche Welle and US-funded broadcasts from Radio Liberty (Azadi Radio) and the Voice of America, which brands its Dari and Pashto broadcasts as Radio Ashna ("Radio Friend").
TV viewers in eastern Afghanistan could watch Khyber TV, which broadcasts from Pakistan to Pashto-speaking audiences on both sides of the border.