An international media development organization in Pakistan has trained Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) broadcasters on public service announcements (PSAs) in a training held in Islamabad Pakistan. While PSAs are used widely elsewhere in the world, they have never been used by these stations in Pakistan before. “I have done my Master in journalism but I have not learned on how to produce PSA,” said Asadullah who attended that training along with 10 other colleagues at February 2012.
Asadullah and his colleagues wasted no time putting their new training to good use. They immediately returned to their stations and began developing PSAs, the first of which was about the ongoing voter registration process in Pakistan. After broadcasting the voter registration PSA on Radio Miranshah, the station started receiving a number of calls and letters from listeners congratulating them. According to listeners they are providing them guidance on voter registration and other important social issues. Asadullah a young reporter who has risen quickly to the ranks never thought that he would be bridging gap between government and local people.
Internews has engaged five partner radio stations from FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to train them on professional broadcasting. The partner radio stations have been provided with professional equipment in order to improve working capacity and trainings to strengthen their production skills for the benefit of the local population. These radios are the only government voice in the tribal areas to inform listeners about government development activities. That is why Asadullah and his other colleagues from the same partner radio stations have also been trained in PSA production.
Fazal Rahman, the station manager of the radio Miranshah who also attended that training, regarded this training very fruitful. He has also produced PSAs about local government and has solicited applications from students to attend a free skill development program. Fazal, who remained my colleague during our four years broadcasting in FATA, told me that as soon as he broadcast that announcement, he received many calls from listeners inquiring about this opportunity. He was surprised to see how fruitful this activity was. He never experienced this kind of broadcasting which is very short and concise, and he was happy to see that he has engaged destitute local people in constructive activity.
The impoverished tribal regions have no other option to learn about any opportunity provided by the government or non-government organizations except these radios. Twice, I missed cadet college admissions during my school period because the only source of news was newspapers and the admission news failed to reach me in time. Cadet Colleges are special colleges established by government with subsidized fee and high standard and they admit those students who cleared their tests. They, every year, announced admission with limited seats for general students. But even today, students and people of the FATA don’t get news in real time.
So, the broadcasting of these five radio stations working in Northwestern Pakistan Tribal areas has attracted large audiences, especially students and women who are more interested in education and health programs. This practice has converted a lot of news either from government or non-government into public announcements to reach to larger audiences of FATA. These radios also requested local government to give them permission to start commercial broadcasting in tribal region.
Though, the government has started a number of projects to provide basic facilities to the public, such as health and education initiatives, these were going unnoticed because there was no mechanism in place to disseminate information to large audiences. The local government of FATA usually issued information to newspapers and televisions, but both of these mediums lack access to large audiences in FATA, mainly because of illiteracy and power shortage. Therefore, the information failed to reach concerned people, most of the time, which have been living far away in the mountains. For instance, I have heard commercials given by local government to Peshawar FM channels despite knowing that it is not being heard fully in the FATA. Today, most of the scholarships are advertised in the newspapers meant for FATA students while knowing that newspaper circulation is only a few hundred in the whole of FATA.
The FATA radios are totally dependent on donor’s money and local government has not yet designed commercial plans to make these radios financially sustainable. But Asadullah is confident that sooner or later his radio will get permission for commercial broadcasting and then he could be able to utilize his skills for making commercial spots. He said he would be happy to become part of that broadcasting too.