Fazal Rehman Mehsud still sometimes reminiscences about what he calls his good old days when he was working as a producer at a local radio station in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan tribal region. He says he misses a financially sound employment opportunity near his home. At least 56 others too lost their jobs.
The government suddenly shut down the station in May 2013 without giving any reason in advance. “Our radio (Radio Miranshah) started broadcasting in 2004 along with three other stations. But they got into trouble within a few months. A station in South Waziristan tribal agency on the borders with Afghanistan was destroyed in bomb blast,” he recalls to Freedom Network, Pakistan first media watchdog.
He thinks these radio channels were not only a good source for news and knowledge but entertainment for the local people. “They had deep impact on the tribal people.”
Mr Rehman has to work now very far from his home with another organisation in the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa’s provincial capital, Peshawar. The tribal authorities (FATA secretariat) had set up four radio stations working in the tribal region (FATA) – Radio Khyber, Radio Wana , Radio Miranshah and Radio Razmak. Later, (the then) governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Shaukat Ullah announced re-opening these stations and also released Rupees 60 million for the purpose but no progress as yet. Some former employees have already moved the Peshawar High Court against closure of three of the four FM stations and sacking of the staff. The court has sought reply from the Fata Secretariat.
The petitioners’ lawyers, Abdul Latif Afridi, and Jehanzeb Khan, submitted before the two-member bench headed by Justice Musarrat Hilali that the stations were established in 2004 for peace and development in the militancy-hit tribal agencies. They informed the court that the basic aim of the radio stations was to educate the people of Fata through informative programmes, talk-shows and news.
These radios were very popular in FATA because of the area’s difficult terrain, lack of access to the internet and television, and the lack of education among the majority of the local population. The majority cannot watch television due to non-availability of electricity and other resources. Newspapers are only read by educated people. Local population heavily relies on international and national radio stations for news.
While the authorities have failed to create conducive environment favourable for media growth in these regions, the militants enjoyed until recently free hand to run their illegal FM stations. The electronic regulator authority (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) has been by law stopped from issuing any licences for media in the tribal region.
In FATA, the FM stations working are under paramilitary Frontier Corps (security forces) control. Though these stations provide entertainment but majority of listeners observe that they are “one-sided and have no news or political talk shows.”
According to a research on the media landscape in Pakistan by media development expert Ms Sadaf Baig recently, noted that “the importance of radio as a medium of information in FATA is well established. In the absence of other mediums, radio remains the key source of news for a majority of FATA’s population. Radio is also the only medium with a local focus and thus becomes the news medium with the most influence in the area.”
The data gathered during this survey shows that more than 91% of the respondents have a radio set and are active listeners of multiple stations. Amongst the 70 respondents nearly 60% listen to at least three radios stations and the rest regularly listen to more than three stations. National and local news have been identified as the main reasons for listening to radio.
According to a recent handout issued from Fata Secretariat quoting additional chief secretary, Fata, Mohammad Azam Khan that FM radio stations would be set up in all seven tribal agencies and frontier regions with a central production facility in Fata Secretariat, Peshawar soon. Azam khan says that establishment of FM radios would be a source of information and education, besides providing entertainment to the tribal people. Mr Khan also says that they would also help provide jobs to the educated tribal youth, especially the unemployed journalists.
One hopes that they government rises to this basic need of the tribal people for access to local news and content soon.
The author is a tribal journalist based in Khar, Bajaur tribal district near Afghan border.