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At The Polls And On The Air In Afghanistan

Afghanistan - Election officials count ballot papers the end of polling in Kabul June 14, 2014.

Afghans voted on June 14, 2014 to choose a successor to longtime president Hamid Karzai and chart a course for the country after U.S. troops withdraw at the end of the year. RFE/RL’s Afghan service spent months preparing a campaign of its own to cover the polls, providing voters with the most comprehensive election-related reporting of any news outlet inside the country.

“On this particular day people need information,” said Hashem Mohmand, Director of the Afghan service, or Radio Azadi, as it is known locally. “The people wanted to know what was happening in the whole country, and Azadi reported from all corners of Afghanistan.”

Radio Azadi reported from Afghanistan’s most remote regions, deploying 54 correspondents in the country’s major provinces--the most fielded by any single news organization--in addition to a team of 20 journalists in its offices in Prague. Together they produced 12 hours of continuous, live broadcasting, including over 150 live reports and more than a dozen interviews with electoral experts and candidate representatives.

Because of their ground knowlege, Radio Azadi reporters were able to interact with voters and ask them directly about their expectations and experiences in vox pops that peppered their reports.

“I voted to bring peace to our country and for the people to live in peace and comfort. I voted to eliminate the war, to have prosperity and lower prices,” a woman from Herat told Radio Azadi.

Radio Azadi’s webteam ran its own marathon coverage of the elections, live-blogging reports from the field and tweeting beginning the night before and ending when the polls closed. The blog ultimately contained 110 posts in Dari and 88 posts in Pashto.

Reporters also posted hundreds of photos taken in and around polling stations that were complemented by over 50 photos sent by Facebook fans.

Long before the balloting began, Radio Azadi made voter education a priority, producing programs that established the service as a resource for listeners seeking election-related information. It launched a regular call-in show to discuss the candidates and issues with listeners, and constantly provided updates on electoral developments and voting procedures on the air.

A two-hour-long call-in show on election day allowed listeners to pose questions to electoral commission members and candidate representatives directly, said Mohmand. Moreover, the service stayed in contact with a commission member throughout the day to pass on any questions or grievances about the voting process heard from listeners.

WATCH: Kabul voters call on fellow citizens to go to the polls

Kabul Voters Queue To Participate In 'Historic' Election
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Mohmand explains the impact of his service’s coverage in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Radio Azadi attracts 43 percent of radio listeners across a broad geographic, ethnic, and ideological spectrum. Its signature blend of accurate and impartial reporting, says Mohmand, has also guaranteed it an influential audience among government officials and the country’s political elite. On election day, “They were all listening to us,” he said.

In addition, the service’s emphasis on interactive programming and its active presence on social media have attracted a growing audience among the country’s youth. On election day alone, posts on the service’s Pashtu and Dari language Facebook pages reached over 200,000 fans, with 11,000 likes in Pashtu and 17,570 in Dari. The high traffic on Facebook helped drive some 20,000 visitors to Azadi’s website that day.

Nour Mohammad Nour, spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, praised Radio Azadi’s election coverage for its professionalism and effectiveness.

“One of the media outlets that played a key role in providing accurate information to the people, was Radio Azadi. [They were] able to provide information to the people in the best possible way.... The Independent Election Commission has always been thankful to Radio Azadi and once again we thank Radio Azadi.”

--Marketa Horazna