October 2006

Strategic Recommendation Paper, Afghanistan

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The commission needs to live in coordination with the information industry, governmental agencies, local and tribal shuras in order to adjust policy efforts in serving the public interest.

Formluation of a strategy
The Afghan independent information and communication commission is a grand step toward strengthening and regulating the media system in Afghanistan. Among the very first priorities of the commission and its first meeting in Paris, one could perceive the creation of a strategic plan. The creation of such a plan parallel to the mission of the commission should ensure the availability of an information system which is in accordance with journalistic standards of fairness, impartiality and inclusivity as well as the media law. Such an information system should be efficient, at reasonable cost and nationwide whether by radio, television, print or cable. Within the strategic plan framework the commission needs to set general goals and objectives defining how the commission will fulfill major segments of its mission; a description of the means and strategies that will be used to achieve the general goals and objectives and identification of key factors that could affect achievement of the general goals and objectives.

Ensuring autonomy
Drastic measures should be put in place to ensure the independence of the commission. Most importantly the commission should be independent of the government. The commission shall be directly responsible to the parliament. That requires the passage of a bill by the parliament to endorse the commission, which is established by a presidential decree, and to charge it with regulating interstate communications. The bill will also confirm the number of commissioners and their term of service.

The Paris meeting shall nominate a chairman, who preferably does not hold a state position. To seal approval on the designated chairman authority it ought to be approved by the president. The chairman and other commissioners oversee, regulate and legislate the information and communication services; delegating selected responsibilities to the relevant state offices.

The commissioners may divide the functions. This will allocate enough time and attention to each of the sub-sections of the information and communication network. It is also a good way of using the specialised knowledge of the commissioners. Some of the most significant responsibilities the commissioners should undertake includes- overseeing the process of licenses applications and other filings, analysing complaints, conducting investigations, developing and implementing regulatory policies, and taking part in hearings. The distribution of individual functions does not mean the commissioners not to share expertise in addressing common commission issues; methods should be identifiable so the commissioners work together regularly.

As part of its functions the commission will educate and inform Afghan citizens about information and communication services and engage their inputs to help guide the work of the commission. The commission needs to work in coordination with the information industry, governmental agencies, local and tribal shuras in order to adjust policy efforts in serving the public interest. 

The Afghan media commission will have a clearer way ahead and follow up work in Kabul, if the Paris meeting could decide on a set of general goals for the commission. It’s the first step for the commission toward fulfilling its responsibility to Afghan people for ensuring that an orderly framework exists within which communications and information services can be quickly and reasonably provided to citizens. The commission, in accordance with its statutory authority and in support of its mission, would need to establish general goals for a specific period of time. The goals should cover the following fields: 

Media: The Nation’s media regulations must promote competition and diversity. One of the very first steps would be to ensure harmonised regulatory treatment of competing state and private sector. Establishment of equal licensing process, complaints handling, investigations and other developing and implementing regulatory policies for state and private media. The removal of all discriminatory policies currently in place. Policies should also facilitate the transition to digital modes of delivery. Regulatory policies must promote technological neutrality, competition, investment, and innovation to ensure service providers with sufficient incentive to develop and offer such products and services.

Spectrum: Efficient and effective use of national spectrum promotes the growth and rapid deployment of innovative and efficient communications technologies and services.

Competition: Competition in the provision of media, information and communications brings about better quality services and supports the Nation’s economy.  The competitive framework for communications services should foster innovation and offer consumers reliable, meaningful choice in affordable services.

Internet: Attempts toward expanding Internet access, product and services directly and indirectly through other media to the nation. Regulatory policies must promote technological neutrality, competition, investment, and innovation to ensure service providers have sufficient incentive to develop and offer such products and services.

Media and ICTs
ICTs has depended on telecom to some degree but today, ICTs are converging in unprecedented ways. But lack of knowledge does not pursue one to comment on communication services. It also bewilders one on role of commission and competencies in communication services and the resources at its disposal.

In order to promote public and stakeholders inputs and ensure transparency the overall objectives for each of the goals need to be explained.  In addition, the means and strategies for achieving these goals and objectives also should be outlined. Finally, key factors external to the commission and beyond its control need to be identified for each goal. These key factors can significantly affect the commission’s achievement of the general goals.

The media vision
The nation’s media regulations must promote competition and diversity. Policies should also facilitate the transition to digital modes of delivery. Harmonised should be ensured for regulatory treatment of competing state and privte sector.

The commission shall develop media rules and policies that achieve statutory policy objectives in light of significant changes to traditional media services. Media development is closely connected with other forms of national development, an emerging media scene increases competition, changing ownership patterns which will challenge both the legal and economic foundations of the commission’s media regulation. The commission shall examine current rules and make changes as required to accommodate the policy goals of competition, diversity, ruralism and localism within the evolving media landscape.

The commission shall do the following:

• enforce compliance with media rules and media law;
• investigate alleged violations and take enforcement action, where appropriate;
• ensure the availability of at least one media to all Afghan citizens, media empowers by providing increased access to information;
•  continue to encourage and promote media development and availability, particularly to those in rural, low-income, or underserved areas;
• seek to understand citizen’s demand for media-information and to encourage all three tiers of broadcast media;
• To meet this objective, the commission shall work in partnership with local and tribal civil society organisations and authorities, as well as media consumers and the industry.
• ensure harmonised regulatory treatment of competing tiers of media outlets, robust competition among media outlet is key to the further development and maturation of the sector;
• ensure harmonised regulatory treatment of media tier services across platforms;
•  ensure that its regulatory approach does not promote state tier or one tier over another, the creation of a harmonised regulatory framework encourages and facilitates an environment that stimulates investment and innovation in media industry.

Factors affecting the achievement of the media goals
The commission must be diligent in enforcing any necessary market-opening regulations to ensure that all Afghans have access to quality media, while at the same time refraining from any unnecessary regulation. Some of the external factors affecting the achievement of the media goals are as follows:

Socio-religious : Supreme Court, Ulema Council, local Mullahs and other religious authorities’ decision and perception have affected the media freedom in the last four years of relative media freedom era. As a matter of fact, religious authorities have not only imposed sanctions on media and have brought regulation and laws to media players and state authority attention, but they have also been the major actor in imposing outlaw limitations on media and pushing for conservative approaches for issue which concern investigative, political, social reporting and entertainment programmes. Ullema and their formal religious structures have consented in continuous revision of the media in the hope to bring to force more and more conservative regulations. They have not had much chance, partly to the fact that their representation in such revision has been given to relatively moderate elements. Nevertheless, continuous revision of press laws culminates in creation of a media environment of uncertainty, where unremitting changes to journalists’ rights does not give them a chance to find out more about their legal rights, role and priorities.

Legal: The new parliament being assuming its role, there might come some legal changes to the media framework. The parliament might mandate continued review of information and communication rules, which may result in further court challenges.  Similarly, the parliament might mandate more coordination among different players, which might be difficult in practice. So far the ministry of information and culture was quite cooperative and easy going in regard to regulations; parliament might also require more serious implementation of laws.

Economic: Ongoing changes in the methods of delivering news and entertainment programming may introduce economic uncertainty and thus, risk, into communications markets.  Economic factors may spur consolidation within the media industries that could potentially affect competition and diversity. This is a process which could be managed, the integrity of the commission and the superiority of the laws are the prerequisite. 

Technological: Advances in technology create the potential for significant increases in media outlets available to the public. This requires coordination among various industries. 

Organisational: Commissioners must be in extensive contact and maintain access to current data on industry and forecasts of future trends in order to conduct rigorous and effective policy analysis. Commissioner and personal of the relevant governmental department also need to be in contact so policy and implementation goes hand in hand. Commissioners need to obtain information on the resources and personnel available at the state level for achieving the goals and objectives in a timely manner.

The Commission must employ rigorous, effective policy analysis, innovative rulemaking, and sound economic decision-making in addressing policies regarding media development. Furthermore, working in partnership with all stakeholders, the Commission must facilitate discussions among key groups of constituents, including industry and consumer groups, to identify and establish best practices. National media strategy indicators are the creation of media regulations that promote competition and diversity.  And the availability of at least one media to each Afghan citizens.

Request for research
If the commission is to bring changes to the legislative and regulatory framework for media in order to improve competition and efficiency in the interests of consumers, it would need to understand and take into account the public benefit that the current system facilitates through provision for media. Scattered studies and research has been undertaken by international media NGOs and organisations. The commission shall collect all available data. The commission shall coordinate future researches and create provisions to avoid duplication and increase efficiency.

There is little quantified data about the economics of media. Analysis of the demand for services and the underlying value of inputs to the sector would be of considerable benefit to a thorough empirical understanding of the sector. There are some strategic performance goals for the Media. Certain suggestions can be made on understanding and analysing the demand for services. It could recommended that the commission call for research to all actors and take a leading role in the process, and at the same time it should be diligent in enforcing any necessary regulations which might hinder potential research work. The research shall help the following strategic performance:    

• review the media law,
• steps toward understanding consumer needs,
• enforce compliance with media rules.

GenARDIS fund: future prospects
The GenARDIS grants programme developed in recognition of the ICT-related constraints and challenges faced by rural women in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries conducted a knowledge-sharing workshop on gender, agriculture and rural development in the information society in Entebbe, Uganda from July 3 to 8. The programme is a partnership between Hivos, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). The programme is administered by the Association for Progressive Communications.

Participants at the GenARDIS workshop in Uganda had the opportunity to learn some concepts of the Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM), a tool developed by the APC-Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP).

Building the capacities of those involved in implementing GenARDIS projects is proving to be crucial, as these skills can be used to determine whether ICTs are really improving the living conditions of women. The workshop emphasised on ICT policy recommendations, gathered from the lessons learnt through various such GenARDIS projects:
• Telecommunications operators should take small food producers into account, especially with regard to access to quality services from remote locations,
• Farmers need special consideration and training if they wish to use ICTs for their agricultural livelihoods,
• The government should draft an ICT policy for rural development through the involvement of peasant women, who are mainly farmers,
• The ICT approach should be integrated into the various socio-economic development programmes,
• Decision makers can improve rural women’s access to ICTs by creating an institutional environment that promotes ICT development and the electrification of rural areas,
• Encourage and finance the development of national language software.

The GenARDIS fund thereby acknowledges in bringing together diverse partners around with the same vision, and in enabling access by women farmers to ICTs in rural areas. With regard to future prospects for the GenARDIS fund, the interesting prospects are as follows:

• Exposing rural women to ICTs and developing strategies to use ICTs to improve their activities globally and,
• Awaiting for the results of the evaluation to see how the issues raised can be translated into research issues, and how to integrate them into its research programmes.

Source:
http://www.genderit.org/en/index.shtml?apc=a—e94815-1&x=94815

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