Media and Culture Centre Opens in Kabul to Boost Freedom of Expression in Afghanistan
Paris/Kabul, October 10 - Efforts to promote freedom of expression in Afghanistan took a big step forward today with the official opening of the Afghan Media and Culture Centre in Kabul. The centre, which UNESCO has equipped with ten computers connected to the Internet via satellite, is already home to nine independent publications.
The inauguration of the Centre, which was set up jointly by UNESCO and the NGO AÏNA, with funding from the European Union, the British and US government aid agencies DFID and USAID, was officiated by the Afghan Minister for Information and Culture, Sayed M. Raheen, the director of UNESCO's Kabul office, Martin Hadlow, the head of AÏNA, Reza Deghat, Chief Editor of the Kabul Weekly, Faheem Dashty, and Jamila Mudjaed, the Chief Editor of Malalai, a women's magazine.
The building will house independent media such as the newspaper Kabul Weekly, and provide training areas for photography, video production, newspaper production, and communication techniques. Afghan journalists can get help there with their work, sign up for courses, use a library and modern communication and publishing equipment, and attend discussions and lectures given by local and foreign guests. The Centre also includes three classrooms that will be used for journalism courses, computer training and English lessons, as well as a conference area and projection room that will be used as the base for a cinema club. Journalists at the Centre will also be able to consult local and foreign newspapers there, as well as despatches from AFP, the French news agency.
Apart from Kabul Weekly, other independent publications launched at the beginning of the year, such as the women's magazine Malalai and Seerat, the satirical magazine Zambil e Ghan, the investigative weekly Payam e Millat, the family magazine Sabahoon, and Parvaz, a recently launched children's magazine also have their offices in the Centre.
The Centre serves as a "media nursery" by reducing costs for these nascent publications, providing expert advice on how to raise funds, developing distribution networks both in Kabul and beyond, making contacts with international agencies and organising advertising. "All those involved in this project have the same goals," says Martin Hadlow, "to support independent media projects, encourage a new generation of professional journalists, defend real freedom of expression in Afghanistan and guarantee democratic and multi-ethnic debate throughout the country."
The Women's Publication Group already has an office at the Centre, where about 20 Afghan women journalists meet, with UNESCO's support, to exchange ideas and attend workshops on management, gender issues and health problems, as well as discussing how journalists tackle subjects that especially concern women. The Group - which formed around two independent women's publications, Malalai and Seerat - has close ties with the Voice of Afghan Women in Global Media, an association supported by UNESCO, AÏNA and Policy and Civil Society (IMPACS, Canada), to bring together Afghan women print and audiovisual journalists and foster links with colleagues throughout the world.
The Centre's visual unit was set up at the beginning of the Afghan summer and will allow journalists to be trained on the latest digital equipment. Several training courses have already taken place, resulting in the production of a 52 minute film on the Afghan New Year, as well as three educational films which have been shown throughout the country thanks to a campaign conducted via travelling cinema. Twenty Afghan women have also undertaken courses on camera work and digital editing, with the aim a producing an historical video on Afghan Women Seen Through the Eyes of Afghan Women.
The Centre is aiming to establish the AÏNA Image Institute, which will offer a complete training programme in visual media, allowing young graduates from the faculty of journalism to complement their studies with a practical programme to bring them up to the professional standards of international agencies.
The Centre also helps coordinate the efforts of international bodies and agencies involved in rebuilding Afghanistan's communications infrastructure, which has been badly hit (and sometimes destroyed) by so many years of war. NGOs such as the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Media Action International (Geneva), IMPACS (Canada), the Baltic Media Centre and Internews (Washington) all have offices at the Centre.
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