Due to the long vicious wars and insecurities, despite the rapid current expansion of knowledge and communications no tangible progress has been still seen in the state-run media, since more than 41 years of my work for The Kabul Times daily, said Mir Ahmad Shah, a retired media expert in an exclusive interview as follow:
Question. Would you please tell us your brief biography?
Answer. I was born in 1947 in Kamari village, Bagrami district of Kabul province and graduated in 1969 from Habibia High School. In 1970, I attended Kabul University, Faculty of Literature and Humanitarian Sciences and graduated from the Department of Journalism in 1973.
In 1974, I was recruited as a conscript soldier for one year of legal compulsory military service and received certificate, after which remained as a reserved lieutenant. In 1975 I started working for the Kabul Times daily, within the Ministry of Information and Culture.
Question. Please describe your duties at The Kabul Times?
Answer. I started from reporting and later promoted to the post of in-charge for the daily, deputy director of Annual Ariana magazine; both published in English within the daily through the Al-Beruni Publishing House, then appointed as the director of both abovementioned government-run institutions.
When the communist regime came to power The Kabul Times’ name changed to The Kabul New Times and the Ariana Magazine got the name of Afghanistan Today.
Question. As you said you have worked for the country’s first ever English newspaper (The Kabul Times) and two more organizations, would you please describe somewhat about your career in the course of your work for the daily?
Answer. As I earlier said I started my job from reporting. At that time The Kabul Times had few professional personnel [like today] and I had to do big part the related affairs on my own, however I had no practical professional experience and had to make two direct interviews with news sources each day and publish in the daily. After a while, the responsibility of this department was given to me, with seven other journalists as my subordinate staff.
Question. At that time, there was no computer access, how could you produce your articles, after handwriting?
Yes, instead, we used Linotype Machines, imported from Germany in 1947 (1326 solar year) to produce the articles and news-stories and then proof read them for further correction, after being composed. Lead was the only raw material used in the machines.
It is worth mentioning that at that time, work environment was very good and everyone had to regularly do his/her own duty, with the government providing the state-run press with all equipment, including full-time electricity, vehicles for carrying reporters to the event areas and taking the over-time staffs their homes during the nights.
But, access to computer and modern technology and computerization of press removed major gravity of our work. Because in the past, each proof had to be read several times until the newspaper was published and came out with no mistake.
Question. It was said that during political changes, The Kabul Times daily had been affiliated to different sources, could you please explain it?
Answer. During the reign of Babrak Karmal, first The Kabul Times daily was affiliated to Bakhter News Agency and later to the International Relations Branch of the Central Committee of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (CC-PDPA) led by Mahmoud Baryali (brother of Babrak Karmal) and his assistant was Asad Keshtmand brother of the then Prime Minister Sultan Ali Keshtmand. In that time The Kabul Times enjoyed better resources.
The employees were paid professional salaries beside free of charge coupon-payments, like other government employees.
The Kabul Times was part of Alberuni Publishing House with an organization of about 120 publicity and service employees as well as seven vehicles, modern sofas and furniture, a rich library, beside various books, equipped with different English, English to Dari, Dari to English, Dari to Dari dictionaries and encyclopedias which were usually used by employees.
Question. Could you please shed light on the previous system of employment and facilities, the government provided to them?
Answer. In order to provide facilities for the staffs of the media colleagues, the then government had distributed residential flats near the printing press building against fair rent and ration was implemented simultaneous to residential blocks.
Question. Could you please have a quick glance at your work system under Mujaheddin and the Taliban regimes?
A. Like other national infrastructures, the imposed devastating conflicts and wars had also burnt and destroyed all printing machineries of the printing press. During Mujahedin rule, there was no certain place for working, wherever there was a secure place, we worked and prepared our subjects and articles. Due to devastation of Lino Type machines as well as lack of computers, all articles were prepared by Typewriters, headlines were calligraphy and pages were designed then the designed pages were sent to Charikar city, the provincial capital of Parwan province that enjoyed relative security and were printed in offset form. The publishing days were not clear. Whenever there was security, all our colleagues who were in vagabondage and deep concern, were present to prepare subjects and design the pages.
During the Taliban regime, computer was available but due to certain problems, The Kabul Times came out once a week or biweekly.
Following the ousting of Taliban, establishment of interim, transitional and finally elected administrations and restoration of relative security, the publishing of the newspapers took normal situation. Its circulation was gradually improved and increased and currently it comes out five days a week and is regularly at disposal of our local readers, NGOs, international organizations, UN agencies, embassies and other enthusiasts.
At the moment, economically our employees are in constraint due to high price of essentials and low salaries. There are no coupon system to help the government staffs get rid of poverty.
A number of government employees lost their dwellings due to civil wars and now have to support their families and pay house rent with the lowest income.
Question. You said you received many rewards during your long career for the government?
Answer. During last regimes and systems, my goal was solely serving the people and country because regimes change or collapse, but people and homeland remain. So I honestly served and carried out my jobs and received many letters of appreciation and cash prizes.
Question. Could you please narrate us one of your work memories?
Answer. Once afternoon, during the ex-president Hamid Karzai administration, a group of suicide bombers equipped with heavy and light weapons occupied a semi-constructed high-rise building in front of our office at the Liberty Printing Press and started shelling the US embassy.
The roads around the office were cordoned by both Afghan and coalition troops.
Fierce clash continued between the terrorists and security forces all the night until the assailants were eliminated and the battle was over. However, next day was announced holiday because of the erupted fear and dread but, I along with my few on-duty co-workers had to dare any danger and continue working at the office.
Question. As a final question, I wanted to have your messages for further improvement of the daily’s work environment and affairs.
Answer. Insecurity is the only monster grabbing media development and the final hurdle to be overcome for reaching any goal. Today, due to the long vicious wars and insecurities, despite the rapid current expansion of knowledge and communications no tangible progress, I have still seen in the state-run media, since more than 41 years of my work for The Kabul Times daily.
The government should provide them with enough facilities and equipment as well as an uninterrupted power supply system for the very important body should substantially be revised.