Kabul Gets Independent Newspaper

By: Jim Heintz, Associated Press Writer

(AP) The Kabul Weekly offers smudgy photos and crude drawings, and its scoop of the week is in a language many of its readers don’t know.

Weaknesses aside, its founders promise the first independent newspaper in post-Taliban Afghanistan will soon be a major force in a country recovering from two decades of war.

The newspaper’s first edition came out last week and boasts 10 pages in English, French, Dari, and Pashtun — as well as plenty of hearsay.

On Sunday, at a news conference formally launching the paper, Editor Fahim Dashty said he expects the Kabul Weekly to be a significant test of the interim government’s promise of media freedom.

“Of course, we will be facing a lot of problems in a community that is not familiar with free media. We will be facing some problems with writing about governmental agencies,” Dashty said.

He wouldn’t specify what problems he expected, but noted that this is the Kabul Weekly‘s second incarnation — the first was shut down in 1996.

The new version of the newspaper was organized by Reporters Without Borders and the French non-governmental organization AINA. It was funded by UNESCO with a budget of $130,000 a year for the next three years.

Although illiteracy is widespread in Afghanistan, project organizers decided a newspaper would be more useful than a radio station because printed news has some permanence.

“It doesn’t just go into the wind” like radio, said AINA’s Eric Davin.

The small circulation — just 2,500 copies of which a few hundred were sent to other cities — may not look like a harbinger of wide influence, but Davin believes the effects will spread.

“It gives the idea, the energy, to other people. The idea is to open the way,” he said.

The first edition flouts some widely accepted journalistic precepts — such as how to play a big story.

The main article is Dashty’s first-person account of being in the room when northern alliance military commander Ahmed Shah Massood was mortally wounded in September in a suicide attack by bombers masquerading as journalists. Dashty recounts how he sat just behind the cameraman whose equipment turned out to be a bomb.

But the story is buried on an inside page and it’s only in Dari, even though the English-language front page runs a box urging readers to check out the story.

The most attention-grabbing part of the English pages is “People Say,” a compendium of the rumors that spread through the jittery city.

Asked whether printing hearsay during a disorderly time is a responsible strategy, Dashty said the feature would give a forum to people who are afraid to speak out on issues.

“I think we are going to say lots of things that people say, but can’t (publicly),” he said.

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