Thursday, June 30, 2016
The radio and online news outlet Tribal News Network (TNN) in Pakistan reports on areas and topics which the mainstream Pakistani media usually overlook. TNN news bulletins are currently broadcast on local radio stations in the local language, Pushto, and online in Pushto, Urdu and English. Soon listeners will be able to simply call a number on their mobile phones to listen to TNN news bulletins.

Header photo by: Hani Taha

Tayyeb Afridi, the co-founder and director of TNN, emphasized the importance of the new mobile phone news bulletins: “Lots of people in rural areas and in some urban areas don't have access to a landline phone or to television. But they have a mobile phone, especially in the Tribal Areas, to speak to relatives and family members.”

TNN was established in 2013 to produce independent news in Pushto for the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in northwestern Pakistan, and the nearby Tribal Areas along the border with neighbouring Afghanistan. In troubled Pakistan, mainstream news outlets focus heavily on politics and security issues. TNN however makes a point of reporting also on developments in health, education, business and culture. Tayyeb Afridi, the director of TNN, talks about the impact the organization is having, the new mobile phone news bulletins, and a documentary about the news outlet broadcast internationally on Al Jazeera television.

What is TNN about and how is it developing?

“In 2013, we started producing news bulletins for local radio stations. These five-minute daily news bulletins are broadcast by a number of local radio stations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Tribal Areas. We also have radio partners in eastern Afghanistan, so our bulletins are broadcast there as well. Furthermore, we also train local radio reporters, for example in radio skills and in physical and digital security.

What makes us different from other media is our focus on local news. The mainstream media focus on security issues and ignore social issues in the rural areas. Our focus is broader, so development and good governance, for example, are important topics for us.

Now we're going to produce news bulletins which can be listened to on a simple mobile phone. We're going to produce hourly news bulletins of 2 minutes, every day between 8am and 8pm.”

Why is it an advantage to broadcast your bulletins via mobile phone?

“Mobile penetration in Pakistan is excellent, and now it is increasing in the Tribal Areas because mobile companies have extended their coverage to these far- flung areas. In the last few years, mobile penetration has dramatically risen. Moreover, our news bulletins will be available free of charge. The production of news bulletins for mobile phones will give us the opportunity to offer our news bulletins to a wider audience.”

In the 25-minute documentary that Al Jazeera television broadcast recently about your organization, one of the highlights is the fact that TNN is one of the few media outlets in your area of Pakistan that employs women. Can you elaborate on that?

“In the Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, women can't always work or go to school, or can't leave the house without covering their faces. It is very unusual to find female reporters in our conservative part of Pakistan.

We started an internship for female reporters. At the moment, our assistant-producer and six of our 35 reporters are women. I think it is important to have female journalists -- they can get access to stories that men cannot report on.”

Do your stories also help the communities you report on?

“Change in the communities is an important aspect of our project. If people have a problem, for example, water shortages or problems with the electricity, they text or call us. Our reporters talk with the responsible representatives and report about the issue.

A good example of a report that made a difference was the story of a female student who had topped the Education Board exams and, as per government policy, she became eligible to receive a scholarship from the government for further education. But she was denied that for a few months for no reason. She sent a text to us complaining that she had not been given a scholarship. Our reporter contacted the Minister of Education and he took strong notice of this news and directed the education authorities to award a scholarship as promised by the government. She received her scholarship within two weeks.”