BROOKE GLADSTONE: London's Guardian newspaper recently observed that BBC bureaucrats aren't the obvious candidates to help rebuild Afghanistan, but a BBC team did travel there recently to assess its media needs and found to its surprise that media was at the top of many Afghans' lists along with shelter and food. When the team brought its findings to a conference in Japan recently, the major nations assembled there pledged 70 million dollar to the cause of constructing a media infrastructure. The reason, according to BBC team leader John Tuckey is that there can be no life without peace, and there can be no peace without media to unify the fractured nation.
JOHN TUCKEY: There needs to be political communication within the country, and everybody we spoke to saw the media as the major tool for that communication.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:How did the existing Afghan media fare under the Taliban? We've all heard about the ban on music. We have to assume there was a, a ban on the free exchange of information as well.
JOHN TUCKEY: There never has been free exchange of information in Afghanistan as far as I can understand it. Even before the Taliban ban on television, television did not in fact cover the whole country; it never has covered the whole country.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So then what sort of infrastructure is there to build upon?
JOHN TUCKEY:There is quite a strong infrastructure of institutions. There's radio and television Afghanistan; there's Bakhtar [sp?], the state news agency; in training terms there's the faculty of journalism at the University of Kabul. So there is the institutional infrastructure there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What did you recommend to the Tokyo conference?
JOHN TUCKEY:We recommended a national broadcaster; we were aware that there are risks in doing that. But everybody felt that if you have, say, a model of community radio stations or local radio stations and build up a, a network from that, what you would actually get are factional stations controlled by war lords. So there was a very, very strong feeling that a national broadcaster which could be multilingual and could act as this cultural and political tool for the reconstruction of the country was an essential. Now we are not naive; I mean among the team there was the BBC World Services regional editor for Eurasia, and he pointed out that there is no, virtually no country in that region which has a free media. But the case for it was very strong, and everybody from the chairman of the interim authority, Hamid Karzai down, said that the national broadcaster must have some kind of editorial independence. Hamid Karzai himself actually was in favor of a kind of BBC model where you have a sort of board of governors which put it at arm's length from the government.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You asked the question in your piece on the Guardian: Can anyone really expect a strong, independent media to emerge from a fractured, warlord state with a traumatized and scattered population? But you came back with a measure of hope.
JOHN TUCKEY: Oh we certainly came back with a measure of hope. I mean it's very often that quite radical things do come out of the immediate post-conflict situations. The BBC itself came out of the trauma for Britain of the First World War. There is a great sense of optimism. I mean there's a great sense of fear. People are not complacent that all of this is going to work. But there is a lot of optimism, and our feeling was that when you've got so much momentum in a post-conflict situation, it really is the time to [LAUGHS] take that chance.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much.
JOHN TUCKEY: Okay!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: John Tuckey was the team leader of the Needs Assessment Team that the BBC sent to Afghanistan on behalf of the United Nations.