Three government-run FM radio stations in Fata are reportedly on the verge of closure due to sparse funding. This is disturbing, for it would leave an information vacuum to be filled by non-state, extremist elements. The three stations, in the Jamrud tehsil of the Khyber Agency and the Miramshah and Razmak areas of the North Waziristan Agency, were set up between 2004 and 2006 by the Fata Civil Secretariat. The intention was to counter dangerous propaganda being spread by militant organisations — this was the period when Maulana Fazlullah was using an illegal FM channel to spread his hate-steeped ideology. This was also the period when Taliban-led militants were consolidating their forces for an offensive against state institutions, which they subsequently launched.
The stations continued to operate despite constant threats levelled by militant organisations. Their listeners were, in fact, demanding an increase in broadcast hours. The stations now face closure because of the non-payment of salaries and additional monthly expenses. The bottleneck appears to lie in the Fata Civil Secretariat’s media cell which is reluctant to or cannot release the funds — even though the NWFP governor had ordered the setting up of a full-fledged Fata media directorate. The radio stations constitute a conduit through which the state can regain ideological legitimacy and undermine militant activities.
The causes for the shortage of funds need to be identified and bottlenecks cleared. Reportedly, some international donors have expressed interest in providing funds and equipment to these radio stations. Such options must be explored. Given that the army is poised to take its operation against the militants into Fata, the value of such public-domain, state-run radio stations cannot be overestimated. The state cannot afford to lose its active link with thousands of citizens and a significant method of challenging those who threaten the country’s cultural space.