Peshawar: In the ill-lit studio of Radio Tehzeeb, Romeen Khan smiles and clears her throat before speaking into the microphone: “This is Radio Tehzeeb and I am your host Romeen Khan. What do you want to talk about on the programme today?”
Romeen is a presenter at Radio Tehzeeb, the FM station based in Peshawar’s Karkhano Bazaar, also known as the smuggler’s bazaar where one can find anything from cheap Chinese goods to high-end British toiletries and American supplies meant for marines in Afghanistan – filched from containers and smuggled into Pakistan.
Romeen’s radio broadcasts youth and entertainment programmes for audiences in Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Her programme “Rangoona”, or colours, seeks to engage listeners in discussion around issues in a region that is not allowed to have local media of its own under the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), a parallel law under which the tribal area is governed.
“The audience response to my programme is good,” Khan told Truth Tracker.
Khan is from Charssada district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering FATA. “Men call to request songs and speak about issues but it is the women from FATA who love participating in the programme.”
According to Khan, she gets regular feedback from listeners, with some 80 SMS messages and 50 calls daily. Sixty per cent of these are from women in FATA.”
“Due to cultural and traditional barriers in FATA,” said Khan. “we do not have any female presenters from FATA,” Khan said.
Through her programmes, she tries to spread awareness among her female listeners about the issues they face.
“I try to be a role model to women in FATA, encouraging them to get education and be aware of their rights and responsibilities. And most of all, to live their lives as they wish to.”
She says that although women in FATA are still faced with cultural barriers, there is a “noticeable change” in their behaviour towards the issues that affect them.
“Earlier, women did not even have permission to call the radio station and express their likes and dislikes on radio or give their names on the air. Now they regularly call the radio station to talk about programmes, the content they prefer and their issues.”
According to a research study titled ‘ People’s dependency on Foreign Radio News [in FATA]’ conducted by Danish Babar, a former student of the journalism department at the University of Peshawar, several studies over the last 15 years have established that radio is a popular medium in the border region.
“In FATA due to some cultural and traditional barriers as well as low literacy rate, women do not have access to media outlets like radio, TV and print which directly and indirectly affect their lives. For example, they are unaware of their basic and fundamental rights, far away from education and entertainment etcetera,” The report stated.
Over the last 15 years, the FATA Secretariat that carries out development projects in the tribal area had set up four state-owned FM radio stations in the region.
One of them, in Wana in South Waziristan, was blown up by the Taliban in 2006 and the other three – two in North Waziristan and one in Khyber Agency – were closed down in 2013 after funds dried up.
In 2016, the political administration in Bajaur allowed a private FM station – Shamaal Radio – to broadcast in the tribal agency.
In addition to Tehzeeb and Shamaal Radio, the state-owned Radio Pakistan can also be heard in the border region. But according to the study by Danish Baber, international radio broadcasts from Voice of America, Mashaal Radio and the BBC remain widely popular “because of quality transmission and reception, credible information, timings, news presentation style, interactive, agenda, programme formats and balanced content.”
The research study says that more than 80 per cent of men and over 70 per cent of women sampled in FATA regularly listened to radio. However, the FM stations based there before 2013 rarely did programmes for the women population in the tribal area.
“The three radio stations of FATA under the government control, neglected [women listeners] and the contents were mostly of interest to men,” says the study.
Asiya Shah, a student from FATA, says she listens to special broadcasts for women in FATA on VoA and Mashaal Radio Station in the evening. They bring out the real talent and voice of women in FATA, she says, and discuss their health and education issues.
She says she prefers programmes that seek to create awareness among the male population of FATA about the basic rights of women.
“[I want programmes] to make the FATA men understand the importance of female education and to make women understand their fundamental rights and prevent the physical violence they face.”
Zarmeena, a housewife in Khyber tribal agency, says she listens to different radio programmes on VoA’s Deewa Radio and the BBC with great interest because women in the border areas do not have access to television for cultural and religious reasons.
“I like listening to health programmes where a doctor advises women on their health problems and suggest remedies,” says Zarmeena. “Other than health issues, I also like listening to entertainment programmes.”
Shah Nawaz, a tribesman from FATA, says that women in the region are not allowed to go out of their houses. “Radio is the only medium for them to keep themselves entertained and informed about different aspects of life, religion, health, education etc.”
About the preferences of women radio listeners, Program Manager Zahid Khan of Shamaal Radio in Bajaur Agency says that 40 per cent of their programming is reserved for female audience. The programmes, he said, had “awareness” content about health, education and other issues. “Female’s feedback and participation in these programmes is more than 60 per cent whereas the peak time for their calls is between 10am to 12pm.”