Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Friday, January 05, 2007

"Canadian radio to hit airwaves in Kandahar," Edmonton Sun/CP, January 3, 2007.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Canadian military will begin radio broadcasts in Kandahar this week, but forget about comparisons with the movie Good Morning Vietnam.

In the movie, actor Robin Williams played an irreverent disc jockey with American armed forces radio who used his unorthodox style to boost morale among American troops.

Canada’s RANA-FM, on the other hand, will specifically target Afghan residents, primarily those between the ages of 15 and 25.

“(We) want to give them pretty much a progressive station that plays a lot of music and promotes the Afghan way of life,” said Capt. Robin Thibault, 32, of Montreal.

“It allows us to demystify what we’re trying to do and accomplish in their area and help us to explain to people, better, who we are.”

The station, 88.5 on the radio dial, is scheduled to hit the airwaves Jan. 6 and will also provide the commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan, Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant, a means to talk to the people of Kandahar, although officials insist the station will not be a propaganda tool.

It will play mostly Bollywood and modern Afghan music and would be considered “on the edge” by Afghan standards. And in a bit of a twist, the radio station itself is located in an unidentified city in Canada.

“We have Canadian-Afghan presenters, mostly true-Pashto speakers so they’ll be recognizable to the people of Kandahar city,” he said.

“We’re located in Canada but linked into Afghanistan by satellite and basically we just rebroadcast the transmission,” said Thibault.

The station will also provide public affairs programming dealing with international sporting events and include features on Afghans living in other countries. Basing the radio station in Canada is simply part of security measures.

“The station is safe back home. It’s because of the security threat that we’re facing right now. The reason we didn’t have the station here to begin with is because of the security aspect,” said Thibault, who notes BBC Pashto already broadcasts into Afghanistan from London along with Voice of America, which comes from Washington, D.C.

“As you know, I think it was in April or May that an interpreters’ bus was blown up on the way to Kandahar Airfield and that’s what we’re trying to prevent,” he said.

The 300-watt radio station will have limited reach by Canadian standards but should be strong enough to hit all of Kandahar city since it is “half the size of west island of Montreal but with a greater populace.”

The call letters, RANA, is a Pashtun-Dari word that means light.

“Our slogan is `Light in your life,’” he said.

“We want to be a factual, unbiased radio station so we need to be credible, ... we cannot be western or push western views or values,” Thibault said.

If the commander of the Canadian task force wants to address the people of Kandahar, it would be part of public affairs programming and with the use of a translator.

RANA-FM is not competing with any local radio stations and will not sell advertisements, aiming instead for a target audience that nobody else has hit before.

But by offering what the military calls progressive messages, modern music and a pipeline for the Canadian views, it is bound to attract the attention of the Taliban. And that is something Thibault acknowledges.

“Once the people start to take sides and the Taliban realize people are not taking their side then chances are the Taliban are going to be very upset by what we’re trying to do,” he said.
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