During my first practicum rotation in the BCIT Broadcast and Online Journalism program, I was running around grasping at ideas, trying to make newsworthy stories out of nothing. At one point, I turned to a classmate, Ahmadullah Rahmat (who goes by Rahmat), to see what he was doing. Not only was he fully caught up with his coursework, he was making a video for himself. He came here from Kandahar, Afghanistan.
An attack in Afghanistan that killed eight journalists on April 30th, 2018 was personal for him. He knew four of those journalists, and he was making a video documenting the tragedy and who they were.
That was a year ago. Since then, there have been multiple attacks on journalists that have resulted in permanent wounds or death in Afghanistan. For Rahmat, he’s now co-opted his own business that reports on the political strife in Afghanistan, and he delivers the news on his website in English and in Pashto. He intends to open a radio station in Kandahar. He formed the business plan during the newly implemented Media Entrepreneurship in the Broadcast program.
During his time with the Peak Leadership program, he’s also found the desire to get back into teaching, a role he filled before he came to BCIT. Rahmat wants to share what he’s learned in the program here with budding journalists in Afghanistan.
We sat down to speak with him about the state of journalism in Afghanistan, and the Peak leadership program that he went through.
What brought you to BCIT?
Many of my friends in Afghanistan had an interest in journalism, so it was always in the back of my mind. I decided on BCIT, because someone I knew had gone here. The difficult part was that I had to pass an entrance exam that tested how you speak English, how you write English, the history of Canada, and local current events. I used to be a director at an English Language institute in Kandahar, with more than 40 English language teachers working under my supervision, but I still was nervous about my language skills.
But, I passed the entrance exam. I was very happy when I made it to the program at BCIT and felt that this is where I wanted to be.
During the first few weeks of my program, the instructors were so helpful and so well educated. When you compare the journalism classes in Afghanistan and at BCIT, there is a huge difference. Everything they taught me was delivered with a very good methodology.
What were some of the biggest changes going from Afghanistan to Canada?
There is a cultural difference—you can’t tell what is news and what’s not news. I would find the story ideas and I would think something might not be newsworthy.
For example, an organization that would raise money by trimming dog nails, and they would donate money to something. I was like, “how can this make the news?” I later understood that these stories are the human-interest stories that people find interesting.
What do you think were some of the most practical skills that you learned going through the program?
There were many skills, like finding what is important in a story, and what people want me to tell them. Whenever I write a story, I just think: what information should I bring into my story that the public wants to know? I think this has been one skill that I always keep in mind—the news determinants. The proximity, prominence, interests, impact, and all those things.
Another skill is background sound. I think it makes a huge impact when people are listening to a story or your documentary. It’s important to tell the audience where you are, if that’s through ambient sound or words. You just bring the person into the situation you’re in.
All of these are skills that don’t really depend on the language you are writing.
So, let’s talk about your business you co-opted to.
In the first year of BCIT Journalism, you learn almost everything that you need, but you just need some more practice, which you do in the second year. So once the third semester was over, I came up with an idea to launch my own business.I thought that the competition is not easy here in Canada. But in Afghanistan, it is. So why not start with a news website there?
So, I made a business plan.
I planned for a news website first, then a radio station, and one day, maybe TV.
I’ve hired two reporters in Afghanistan. I’m working as the online editor. They send me information and I write news stories using skills that I learned at BCIT. The website is up and running in two languages, Pashto and English. I will translate it into Farsi as well, when I graduate from school. The website is called Atlas News, atlasnewsafg.com.
It’s mostly news based in Kandahar.
Can you tell me about the Peak Leadership program?
It’s an extra curriculum program offered through the Student Association that students at BCIT can take for free. It’s practical leadership experience. You discover yourself and you attend professional sessions of leaders from the industry, and they talk to you about the leadership skills and what they do and how they have got success for their companies, societies or organizations. We had to do a leadership challenge and a self-reflection after every session, which was very helpful.
Who do you think would most benefit from taking the Peak Leadership program?
I think it’s important for every person, especially for those who are in the business sector or in community work. Leadership skills can be applied to family, business, office, everywhere. It’s very important.
Are there any direct links between a leadership program and journalism?
In both, it’s very important to deliver a message clearly and concisely. Journalism and leadership have so much in common. I would say the peak leadership program would be very beneficial to a journalist.
Can you tell me more about news and reporting in Afghanistan?
I have seen, what I call, “lazy journalism” in Afghanistan. I’ve seen so many journalists who don’t actually bother to go really spend time or know more about the story, find the facts and the range of people in it. When I used to watch a story on CNN or CBC or other international media outlets, I was really into those stories. Before I came to BCIT, I couldn’t say why these stories were so engaging—but I know now that it’s because these stories have real people, real consequences.
Can you tell me what World Press Freedom means to you?
There are journalists killed in Afghanistan. It is a risky job – there are some journalists who are in danger – even in other developed parts of the world, and if it can happen there, it’s obvious that these things can very easily happen to journalists in Afghanistan. You want to be a voice for the people, and it’s dangerous, but you still have to keep doing your job. Sometimes, we can’t really talk about sensitive topics, like religion or politics. It could put your life in danger. I think everyone has to think about their own safety.
There are a lot of untold stories. Some are the stories everybody can tell, they don’t harm anyone, but no one has thought about as important. Then, there are the hard stories to tell, that could be risky.
For example, the Afghanistan government lost more than 45,000 soldiers in five years. Imagine if one in every five would have a family or kids. It would be a very heart touching story if a journalist would go and talk about the life of that family, what do they face? How is life for them? Are they supported?
Some of the harder stories can really put a journalist’s life in danger. I think in that case the story needs to be told in a different way. I know it’s hard, but these stories need to be told.
Peak Leadership is a FREE extra-curricular program designed to give BCIT students the opportunity to learn leadership and professional development through professional sessions, practical leadership experience and self-discovery. This flexible program runs from October 2018 to April, and applications are open until late September 2019. They accept 100 students into the program each year.
Sean is in the BCIT Broadcast & Online Journalism program. He also works at the BCIT Student Associations as a Publication Intern for Link Magazine and volunteers at The Cinematheque. He enjoys local music, overly complicated board games and a good cup of black coffee.