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JAMCO Online International Symposium

24th JAMCO Online International Symposium

January 2016 - August 2016

The Current State and Challenges of Television Broadcasters in Asia.

The Current State and Challenges of Broadcasting Stations in Afghanistan

Abdul Rahman Panjshiri
Director International Relations, Radio Television of Afghanistan (RTA)

Country profile:

Afghanistan is a landlocked country located within South Asia and Central Asia occupying a total land area of 647500 Sq Km. In the north it borders with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and China in the far northeast. In the south and the east with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in the west with Islamic Republic of Iran. In term of length of border, the border with Pakistan is the longest stretching to 2430 Km while the shortest border is with China reaching to 76 Km. The other borders are 1206 Km with Tajikistan, 936 Km with Iran, 744 Km with Turkmenistan and 137 Km with Uzbekistan.

The total population of Afghanistan in 2015 estimated around ~ 32 million of which 51% are male and 49% are female. Distribution of population between urban and rural areas shows that out of the settled population 19.7 million are living in rural areas and 6.3 million in urban areas in addition and 1.5 million are living as nomads.

Afghanistan has 34 provinces, the local unit of administration and based on geographical patterns the country is divided into the three areas of the central highlands, the northern plain and the southern region. The central highlands consist of high mountains and strategic passes which are important to connect Central Asia with the Indian sub-Continent. The northern plain links Afghanistan with Iran in the west and with the Pamir Mountains in the east. This area is known for its agriculture fertility and mineral deposits, and oil and natural gas. By contrast, the southwestern region consists of desert and semi-desert wasteland.

Economically Afghanistan is a poor country dependent mainly on agriculture, livestock and international aid. Over three decades of war and civilian turmoil has crippled its economy and public infrastructure.


Television broadcasting in Afghanistan:

Television is the most commonly broadcasting platform in Afghanistan. Almost, 64% Afghans watch TV on weekly basis. Urban areas have a higher prevalence of household TV ownership in contrast to the rural, 90% in urban vs. 55% in the rural areas. Nearly nine in 10 Afghans (87.0%) with post-secondary education reported watching TV. Most TV owners, 68%, use terrestrial antenna to receive TV signal, but a significant number also uses satellite dish, of either individual (35%) or share (2.0%) ownership. Use of terrestrial antennas are more common in urban houses (91%) comparing to the rural houses (55%), whereas, satellite dishes are more common in rural households. In early 2015, rural TV owners are nearly four times more likely to receive their signal from an individually owned satellite than their urban counterparts (50% vs. 12%). The total penetration of TV sets in all over Afghanistan is estimated to be 1.5 million analogue sets by the end of 2015.


By early 2015 there were 77 private TV stations, operating alongside the state owned TV station with its 35 owned provincial channels. In addition, in 2013 the government has signed a deal with Paris-Based Eutelsat to deploy a satellite for Afghanistan using. The Optic Fiber rollout in Afghanistan has not been completed yet.

Afghanistan’s National Fiber Optic Backbone


In early 2013, Afghan government signed another deal with a private company to implement a broader transition project from analogue to digital. Spectrum licensei has been awarded to ABSii to set up nationwide networks for 5 MUXESiii.

The government described the main reasons for the project as follow:

  • Public demand particularly for international channels.
  • Technology service upgrade sought by broadcasters.
  • Improved signal and content reception for the public.
  • Setting up digital industry.
  • Following industry in the rest of the world.

However, there are still many answered questions particularly on:

  • Policy implications and impact
  • Market research is not done and the impact of transition on technology and programming is not studied.
  • Transmission model, simulcast period and ASOiv phasing is not decided.
  • Licensing framework is still unknown.
  • Digital dividend is not defined.

Transmission standard DVB-T2 has been chosen and compression system MPEG-4 has been finalized. Also, HEVC (H. 265) for future consideration is under study.


National Radio and television of Afghanistan (RTA)

Radio Broadcasting in Afghanistan:

Kabul:

  • Radio Afghanistan Studio center consists 14 sound proof studios including a big hall equipped with 450 seats.
  • RTA studio center connects to 400 KW MW transmitter, which is located 15 Km away from the studio centre.
  • 100 KW SW transmitter located 5 Km away from studio center.
  • 1 KW FM transmitter, which is located at the center of the city on the top of Asmaei Mount.

RTA has 19 Hr. Radio Broadcasting through 400 KW MW (Radio Afghanistan), 18 Hr. Radio broadcasting through 1 KW FM (Radio Kabul). SW transmitter is not operational due to technical issues. In 30 provinces RTA has small studio centers and FM transmitters, which are installed at the capital of each province. Each broadcast local news and local programs, with allocated time to Radio Afghanistan News that receives via satellite.
Radio Afghanistan broadcasts in two national languages Pashtu and Dari in Kabul. In provinces each broadcasts programs in their local languages, alongside both national languages.

Television Broadcasting:

The first TV center has been constructed under technical and financial assistance of JICA between 1976 and 1978. At the beginning the total grant, which Afghanistan received from the government of Japan through JICA, was 3.6 million USD. JICA constructed the first studio center consists of one 100 sq m equipped with three cameras and 50 sq m with two cameras and a few editing systems. In addition, JICA provided an OB Van equipped with three cameras and 10 ENG units. At the outset RTA had two hour TV broadcasting per day, which gradually increased up to 6 hr/day till September 1996 when the Taliban captured Kabul, banned watching TV for the public and shutdown the station. TV personals including engineers, producers, directors, presenters have been ordered to find another employment. In 2001 after the withdrawal of the Taliban from Kabul, RTA restarts broadcasting after 5 years.

Again JICA support Afghanistan and RTA. Her Excellency Sadako Ogata San, the former director of JICA immediately visited Kabul and after the visit from Kabul Studios and Kabul transmitter site offered a huge grant (25 million USD) to reconstruct and renovate TV studios and TV transmitter site In Kabul.

Between 2003 and 2005 RTA TV infrastructures and studios have completely been reconstructed and equipped with digital equipment. A 2 KW transmitter has replaced RTA one KW TV transmitter. RTA TV old formats (U-maticv, BCNvi -1 and AVRvii -2) were changed to a single Digital Betacam format and several Digital Betacam ENG units and a Sony OB-Van also delivered to RTA TV center. In 2010 and subsequently in 2014 two follow up projects were implemented by JICA to repair faulty equipment and provide necessary trainings to RTA staff in different sections.

After Japan India has been the largest donor and RTA TV implementing an augmentation project of TV coverage by providing small TV transmitters and downlink stations in 24 provinces implemented by the support of the people of India in Afghanistan. Additionally, two uplink stations and space segments provided by the Indian authorities to RTA in 2005.

Current RTA coverage:

  • In the region: RTA TV signal provide coverage through INSAT 3A. The space link provided free by the Government of India.
  • In Europe: RTA TV signal covers Europe through HotBird and US through Galaxy.
  • RTA has 33 provincial TV stations and a central station in Kabul.


National Radio Television of Afghanistan Broadcasting Archives:

A: Radio Broadcasting Archive:

In 1963 Radio Afghanistan Broadcasting Archive (RABA) was established with the aim to archive and maintain sound records and radio broadcasting materials. Currently, RABA stores 50000 Hr. analogue sound reel records, a collection of CDs and other radio broadcasting materials, which includes:
  • Historic Speeches Section: In this section all speeches, statements, announcements and interviews of government’s high-ranking officials are maintained. Further, this section maintains official statement of foreign presidents.
  • Afghan Music Section: This section contains 6000 Hr (reels) and a collection of CDs, which contains a rare collection of Afghan traditional music.
  • International Music Section: This section contains 4200 Hr (reels) that contains international music and songs. These materials are used for program production mainly introducing international music to Afghan nationals.
  • Research Section: In this section script of many radio programs, research papers and concept papers are collected. These materials are used for educational and program production purposes.

In order to digitalize the content of RABA from analogue cassettes to CDs, two projects were started in the past. The first project was implemented with the help of American Institute of Afghanistan Studies between 2006 and 2007. The second project was funded by the French organization Institute national de l’audiovisuel (INA) As a result of both project almost 9300 hours of music and radio dramas have been transferred to CDs. However, there work continues very slowly due to funding problems.

B: Television Broadcasting Archive:

Afghanistan National Television Archive was established in 1978. This is so far the largest visual archive in Afghanistan commonly referred as visual history of Afghanistan. Early RTA TV used cassettes such as Umatic-3/4, BCN 1 inch tapes, and AVR-2 inch tapes for broadcasting purposes. After 2003 after digitalization of TV studios DVC Pro and BETA CAM digital were used. By completion of TV studios in 2004, there are 6239 hours of video materials in 1-inch tapes, 1561 hours of video material in 2 inches tapes, and in U-matic cassettes nearly 6700 hours of video recording. These materials include political speeches, educational programs, documentaries, films, theaters and dramas.

Between 2006 and 2007 with the assistance of INA the project to transfer analogue materials to digital format were implemented. Unfortunately, the project was stopped after 2700 hours transferring of broadcasting materials. Despite many efforts to re-start this project with INA, RTA has been unsuccessful so far. In total, since the digitalization of TV studios in 2003, from 14500 hours of archived TV materials nearly 3245 hours of analogue cassettes has been transferred to DVC Pro tapes.

In addition, RTA has a large collection of low band U-matic – 3/4, BCN-50/51 and AVR-2 videotape recorders that due to technical problems are not operational. Fixing these recorders is beyond the ability of RTA’s engineers. This limits their ability to transfer analogue cassettes to digital independently.

As result of years of war, lack of investment and negligence the environment to store and maintain broadcasting materials inside the RABA has been sub-standards including unconditional temperature and high humidity score. This situation was exacerbated with the attempt of Taliban between 1996-2001 to destroy the archive as they saw it un-Islamic and idolatrous.

If the situation continues as it is presently, soon this large collection of audio and visual material will be lost, which Afghanistan could not survive its cultural lose for generations to come. Afghanistan’s state broadcaster RTA has had the huge investment in the past 14 years.


Challenges:

A lot of attention has been allotted to infrastructure (i.e. transmitter, studios, equipment and facilities); little attention has been paid to the organization staff and management. Therefore, despite the sophisticated infrastructure, RTA has gradually lost its audience among Afghan Population. Most viewers of RTA agree that it is not doing well. It retains a positive reputation with the public, particularly the older generation, mainly because they grew up listening to its programs.

But, RTA still commands respect as a national broadcaster because it speaks to the entire nation and respect the country’s culture and traditions. It broadcasts not just in the two main national languages, Dari and Pashto, also in five other minority languages as well – Uzbek, Turkmen, Baluch, Pashaei and Nooristani . Its broadcasts have greater reach geographically and linguistically than the commercial rivals. A common complaint is that it is not making good use of these advantages. It has a huge facilities and equipment at the center and in the provinces but do not achieve as much as expected.

The reason most commonly quoted both for the loss of audience and general ineffectiveness is the fact that RTA is the government department without the freedom to put its own house in order. In today’s competitive media market, RTA has already lost much of its audience and will cease to be relevant if left un-reformed for much longer. According to the audience research carried out by Altai consulting, RTA share of the TV audience has declined from 7% in 2010 to 2.9% in 2014.

Loss of audiences is particularly acute among younger people. According to the Afghanistan Statistical Yearbook 2013-2014, 62% of Afghan population is between the age 20 and 40. This is the age group, which RTA is finding it difficult to attract. This was confirmed by the recently viewers’ and listeners’ questioners issued by RTA Policy and Planning Department in 34 provinces.


Other challenges include:

  • Afghanistan is the only country, which started analogue to digital transition without a clear roadmap. As stated earlier, three years ago a private company has signed a contract with the government. Although, there has not been a real support from the government in this process. Some broadcasting experts think that the process will create a media monopoly.
  • Analogue switch off date is not known.
  • Not enough technical and programming capacity within Afghanistan TV stations.
  • Lack of a national broadcasting code.


Broadcasting Laws and Regulations:

Article 34 of the constitution allows for freedom of press and of expression, and the current Mass Media Law, which came into effect in 2009, guarantees the right of citizens to obtain information and prohibits censorship. However there are broad restrictions on any content that is seen contrary to the principles of Islam or being offensive to other religions and sects.

Four media laws have been approved since 2002 and many journalists are unsure or aware of their applications in different circumstances, resulting in self-censorship to avoid violating cultural norms or offending local sensitivities. Article 130 of the constitution stipulates that courts and Islamic jurists can rule on cases “in a way that attain justice in the best manner,” allowing for ambiguity and discriminatory rulings. Under Afghan laws, the Media Commission should handle cases involving journalists, but this rule is not always observed in practice.

In 2012, the Afghan Government drafted a new Mass Media Law, which gives the state increased control over the media. According to the existing law the Media issues in Afghanistan are regulated by Media High Commission headed by the Minister of Information and Culture. The Media High Commission should arrange its activity through Mass Media Commission, Mas Media Complain Commission and RTA Commission.

The government through the Ministry of Information and Culture must register all proprietors of mass media. Licensing process is open with the minimal regulations resulting an oversaturated media market to the extent that in recent years, Afghan Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (ATRA), the body responsible for frequency assignments, to run out of Radio and Television licenses for Kabul. Other challenges include:

  • RTA Commission is established but still not being fully operational. RTA wants to change itself to a real PSB and to be free of the government interference, parliament, and courts.
  • Articulated in RTA’s Editorial Guideline published recently, RTA is proposing to introduce license fee and/or equivalent sources of funding but still not accepted by the government. This will allow RTA to have an independent budget, being able to recruit reliable personals, implement quality improvement initiatives focusing both on content and infrastructures.
  • Mass Media Complain Commission has been established but its work is not according to any pre articulated codes.


Internet:

Internet access has expanded rapidly in recent years. While household access to the Internet raised from 12.1% in 2014 to 13.5% in 2015, 8.0% Afghans say they are using Internet. The figure stands at one in five (22%) in urban areas and nearly four in ten (37.3%) among those with greater than a secondary education. Young people are also more likely to use the Internet, as 13.0% of young adults age 15 to 24 have accessed the Internet in early 2015. Weekly Internet users are as likely to access the Internet via mobile phones (62%) comparing to 61% accessing the Internet by laptop. Only 20% reported that they use desktops.

Likely owing in part to slow download speeds, Internet usage in Afghanistan remains largely confined to basic purpose such as email (71%) and accessing news (45%). Fewer Internet users say that they use the Web for activities that require high bandwidth, such as watching online videos (37%) or listening to music (31%). Still there is no Internet TV in Afghanistan (IPTV or OTT) but some TV and radio stations provide online streaming of their programsix.


Conclusion:

I believe we all have a consensus in media importance but not in its nature. We saw how media became the driving cause in shaping the mentality of people toward extremism and violence in Afghanistan. We witnessed and experienced it during the soviet invasion of Afghanistan, civil war, Taliban and post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

By media as a war driver in the last three decades the minds of the people of Afghanistan and the region have been influenced immensely. By diffusion of fundamentalism in Afghanistan and the region, people have gone for away from the real principles of Islam, which is based on collaboration and mutual understanding without any discrimination and injustice.

A huge number of Afghanistan population entrapped into their war mentality, rejecting dialogue, reconciliation and tolerance, by only choosing violence over peace, hatred over love.

But, media that had been served as war driver can be used as major tool for re conciliation and dialogue, by obliterating the ideas of war, suicide and anguish from the mind of the people of Afghanistan!

So, what Afghanistan media can do to alter the current situation?

This can be done only with an unbiased independent media.

That is why the media must be free from any political and economic interference of the governments and other political actors. Afghanistan government has the responsibility to guarantee the freedom of media and the free flow of information in the country.

It could only be possible if Afghanistan government exercise independently to support public broadcasting systems in their countries and empower social media to foster dialogue between different groups in the society.

With this, the people in the Afghanistan will learn how to be far away from extremist ideology and the truth about the destructive nature and impact of it. People to people communication will improve and confidence will be built in different societal strata. And gradually, it eliminates the conflict we experience today in Afghanistan and will lead to national integration we are longing for.

As a student of NHK training center and as a JICA alumni I believe a close relations between NHK and RTA will help us to improve our programing, create new content and take benefit more from the new technologies.


Sources:

  • In person interview of Afghans between 15 and older years old carried out by RTA Research Department. The total sample consists of 5500 interviews conducted in all 34 provinces.
  • Altai consulting survey 2014.
  • Afghanistan Statistical Yearbook 2014-2015


Bibliography:

Altai Consulting. “ICT in Afghanistan.” Kabul, Afghanistan, 2014.
Central Statistical Organization. “Afghanistan Statistical Yearbook 2014-15.” Afghanistan, 2015.
EU-funded Project. “Preparatory Activities for the Transition of Radio and Television of Afghanistan.” Kabul, 2006.
“Mass Media Law.” Afghanistan, 2009.
Page, David. “Radio and Television Afghanistan, Feasibility Study.” BBC Media Action: Kabul, 2015.
Panjshiri, A.R. “Analytical Report on Analogue to Digital Transition Presented to the Government of Afghanistan.” Kabul, 2013.
Panjshiri, A.R. “RTA Archives, Synthesis Report to the Government of Afghanistan.” Kabul, 2014.
RTA Research Department. “Audience Research Synthesis Report.” Kabul, 2015.

Face-to-face interviews with the members of High Media Council, RTA Commission, and Licensing Department of Mass Media Commission.


Notes:

i. Spectrum license: This is frequency license which issues by Afghanistan Telecommunication Regulatory Organization (ATRA) which is an independent organization by law.

ii. ABS: Afghanistan Broadcasting System (ABS) is a private company which wins Analogue to Digital Transition Project contract from the Government of Afghanistan.

iii. 5 MUXES: 5 multiplexers.

iv. ASO: Analogue to digital switch over phasing. It is important to know in how many phases this transition will be completed and how long it will take.

v. U-matic: Analogue ¾ inch cassette recorder/player made by Sony.

vi. BCN: Analogue 1 inch tape recorder/player made by Bosch German Company.

vii. AVR: Analogue 2 inch tape recorder/player made by Ampex American Company.

viii. Television films and series are mostly broadcasting through different channels are Iranian, Turkish, Indian and Korean films and series. Most of them are purchased films and series. Some stations like Afghanistan National Radio and Television (RTA) and Educational Radio and Television (ERTV) received some donated educational programs from Japan, Korea and Germany.

ix. Radio or TV online streaming: This is internet TV or Radio (Online Television or online Radio). It means the digital distribution of Radio or Television content through public internet. It is sometimes called web television.

Abdul Rahman Panjshiri

Director International Relations, Radio Television of Afghanistan (RTA)

Profile
Abdul Rahman Panjshiri
Director International Relations, Radio Television of Afghanistan (RTA)
Education:
●BS Electotechnic Engineering, Engineering Faculty, Kabul(1975)
●MS in Communication Odyssey – Ukraine(1988)

Work Experience:
Working at RTA Afghanistan as broadcast engineer since 1978
●Broadcast regulation and licensing.
●Feasibility study, development project.
●Audience surveys on economic, social and political Radio and TV programs.
●Advise on production of social, economic and political Radio & TV programs.
●Preparing analytical reports and submitting to the Government on the status of Radio and Television broadcasting.
●Organizing In-House and International Training courses and workshops on Radio and Television broadcasting.

Activities: Member of JICA Alumni, Kabul - Afghanistan.

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