David Hoffman's InterNews, a $35 million organization which has helped support the development of 4,800 news outlets in 30 countries, has just opened its 42nd radio station in Afghanistan, and over lunch, Hoffman had an interesting story to tell. It was about the response from the Taliban to this form of public diplomacy.
Shortly after the station started reporting local news, says Hoffman, it received a phone call from a very polite member of the Taliban. "Could you please take the little jingle off the air?" the caller asked. "I want to listen to the news, but it starts with a jingle, and we're not allowed to listen to music." The Taliban could burn us down, says Hoffman, but they don't, because we provide an important function in Afghanistan.
In that country, as in other parts of the world where Internews has news outlets, local news trumps national news, especially in an emergency. To get started, local staff receives training in the science of program production along with broadcast equipment. They then are free to write and report on whatever they want.
Each year, Internews trains about 5,000 women in news media production and reporting. Women are an especially important target, notes Hoffman, because when you educate women, they report on what is important to them. It transforms their lives and the communities in which they live.
Today, most of the world lives in information poverty. With the rapid rise of cell phone technology and information equity, he says, the world will transform. Already 50% of people living in the developing world now have a cell phone. In less than five years, everyone will have one. Text messages sent to women micro-entrepreneurs can keep them educated.
Years ago, when Internews first launched its media training service, it sent six people to the Soviet Union. Their mission was to identify 200 people who were interested in receiving professional media training. Today, the organization hosts 600 TV stations across the country with 400 staff located in Moscow. In the Ukraine, they launched the country's first news agency, first print newspaper, and first TV and radio stations.
Currently, the organization is sending 70 reporters from around the world to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen. In 2007, they sent 40 reporters to the UN's conference in Bali after learning that news about climate change was not making it into the local news media in their countries.
"Today," smiles Hoffman, "you can subscribe to our media feed and receive stories from around the world. They're not all in English, of course, but if you know how to read Chinese, Russian, Farsi or any of the other languages spoken by these reporters, you can follow firsthand, the transformation taking place around the world."