A newly released assessment of the Afghan media, conducted by Altai Consulting with funding from USAID, is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, its findings shed valuable light on the current state of Afghanistan's media, as well as Afghans' perceptions of the media. One of the more interesting findings is that many Afghans praise state-run network RTA, despite its government bias, partly because the privately run stations are considered too "uncontrolled." The study highlights the importance people accord to respect for local culture, as well as their distaste for divisive politics. Ultimately, though, the roles many Afghans want their media to play - watchdog, agenda-setter, and provider of relevant information (such as on national reconstruction) - coincide with the "ideal" roles of the media enumerated in the recent CommGAP-published edited volume Public Sentinel. An interesting case of academia and the real world meshing, ever so slightly.
From a media development process standpoint, the study is also interesting for its scope. In conducting this study, itself a follow-up to an initial comprehensive survey conducted in 2004-2005, Altai conducted a literature review, key informant interviews, over six thousand close-ended interviews, a daily weeklong audience survey of over 1,500 individuals, roughly 200 qualitative open-ended interviews, and ten community case studies. As someone who has led a number of media assessments in the field, I am duly impressed. Often, out in the field, you're lucky to have the time and resources to achieve only a fraction of that type of information gathering. In this case, USAID has sunk an enormous amount of funding into the Afghan media sector, and it has clearly dedicated a good chunk toward monitoring and evaluation. Of course, this report is only part of the picture; what will be interesting to track is how USAID may, or may not, change its media development approach based on the findings of this assessment.
Photo Credit: Internews Network (on Flickr)