Radio Wars In Pakistan

May 5, 2014

In Pakistan in recent years, tens of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict between the government and the Taliban. But there’s also a propaganda war taking place there, and it’s playing out over the radio airwaves.

For some time now, the Taliban has been using FM stations to deliver its message. Now, the state is hitting back with its own radio station.

There is programming in Urdu, Pashtu, Baloch and also a few hours each week in English, aimed at the big cities. The BBC’s Owen Bennett-Jones has been listening in and brings us this report.

Note: This interview can be heard in the Here & Now podcast or with the WBUR mobile app.


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And in neighboring Pakistan, the fighting between the government and the Pakistani Taliban continues, but there's also a propaganda war taking place. And it is playing out over the radio airwaves. For some time now, the Taliban has been using FM stations to deliver its message. Now the state is hitting back with its own radio station. There's programming in Urdu, Pashtu, and also for a few hours every week in English. The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones has been listening in.

OWEN BENNETT-JONES: The phrase Radio Mullah refers to these mobile transmitters which some of the clerics are using. They go around on motorbikes and vans and start broadcasting their messages. And then as soon as the authorities catch up with them, they can just move on to another location. And the kind of things they're putting out - sermons, advising people, for example, that TVs should be burned, that women should not be educated, should stay at home and so on.

Now, on the other hand, the state has, having failed to stop these broadcasts, decided to compete, and it is putting out its messages on these FM stations saying that women should be educated.

And they've got also sort of relationship advice and technology news and sports news and the kind of things that they think can appeal to youth in Pakistan, and then trying to slip liberal messages in between all that padding, as it were. And some of the people working on that state station have been telling me what they're trying to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, it started back in 2009 when we encountered the Mullah Radio. He had stations giving messages of jihad and terrorism. So we gave much better content than the Mullah Radio.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Live from the federal capital of Pakistan...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: People (unintelligible) them chit chat shows, the correct version of religion. We give them information. We give them entertainment, dance music, everything.

All right, I'm going to play David Bowie for you right now called "Let's Dance." Beautiful, beautiful track, enjoy this track. And now we're into that phase, you know, where we're going to keep the show pumping. All right.


DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If you are boring, if you are saying something wrong, they'll just switch the channel. They love Pakistan. They will die for cricket. They will die for music. They want to listen to music. They want to have fun. They want to get information. They want to know what iPad 5 is coming out and other technical stuff.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen...





UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yohimia Khan(ph) ..


And Peshawar...

We are doing religious programming, the correct version of Islam. The terrorist, they are misinterpretating the religion. So we are just correcting them.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Suna, Pakistan, 89.4.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They say the program is about the education, importance of education of both male and female. And today's program was basically dedicated to female education. So people are changing their mind day by day and they know the importance of education.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So what do you do - I mean do you work or do you stay at home as a housewife?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I've just completed my studies. I couldn't complete my studies before I got married. And I studied after having three children.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's very much inspiration for the rest of the people out there working. You know what I mean?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh yes, I just completed my masters.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You know, I haven't done my masters yet, so now I feel ashamed.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Suna, Pakistan, FM89.4, Radio Network, Radio Network.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I listen to English music. I listen to Beatles, I listen to Elvis, I listen to Pink Floyd, I listen to Metallica. And my son, my family listen to all of them, and they want to have a concert of Britney Spears here in Islamabad. I wish we can do that in collaboration, and if Britney is available.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There's one program, it's called (foreign language spoken). That means have fun with party buddies, a name of that guy. He gets around 3,000 to 4,000 estimates in two hours.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So now Lisba(ph) from (unintelligible) sending in the SMS. She says that Joe is awesome. Thank you very much for your such kind comments.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Suna, Pakistan 89.4.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Actually, we are spreading a positive message to all over the country. Obviously to keep the peace and to keep the harmony and to keep everything out of - and it's in a very positive manner. You know, we are projecting a message and everything like that.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Saturday night and as you know, time for party, yes, I will definitely enjoy myself tonight as always. And I'm hoping that all of you will be definitely having some plans up your sleeves. But for that, you know, you have to call me at the number 0512114375. Did I go too fast?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, all day, all day, every day, every day, your station, 89.4.

YOUNG: That report from the BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in Pakistan.

And now, a quick word on the NBA. The second round of the playoffs begins tonight with the Washington Wizards playing the Pacers in Indianapolis, and the Los Angeles Clippers tipping off against the Oklahoma Thunder in Oklahoma City. The Clippers made it to the Western Conference semi-finals with a 126-121 Game 7 win over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday after, of course, an emotional week.

Team owner, Donald Sterling, banned from the game for life after racist comments. Rumors swirling that their new boss could be Oprah. The NBA commissioner wants to force a sale, and an owners committee agreed to move forward with that. A meeting is expected this week. But there's also talk that Donald Sterling may not go quietly. Stay tuned.

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