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Afghanistan Show Aims To Fix City Problems


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in foreign language).


All around Afghanistan, morning drive time mean it's time for the popular radio call-in show "Safay Shaher," or "Cleaning Your City."

MASSOUD SANJER: In the mornings, you could see that people put big speakers on there, for example, a hotel or a restaurant. People listen in the car, people at home, so we get called from every corner of Afghanistan.

BLOCK: That's the show's co-host, Massoud Sanjer. Listeners call in to report problems. It could be power outages, bad roads, corruption, violence; the hosts field those calls. Then they call up people in power and get them to respond live on the radio. They're holding officials accountable, a revolutionary idea in Afghanistan. Massoud Sanjer explains that each day is devoted to a particular problem.

SANJER: Saturday is, for example, health and education. Sunday is more of a traffic problem. Monday is more of electricity. Tuesday is municipality. Wednesday is the more tougher things, like the security. So - and different days we just collect people's problems and then we call different organization of the government. We always follow up. For example, if we tell them that this week that people have these problems, can you please solve it? Next week we call them with, hey, guys, how are you? Did you solve that problem that we reported last week?

BLOCK: Oh, yeah.

SANJER: So it's not, like, just getting it done and then we say, OK, it's gone.

BLOCK: Well, why do you figure the government officials are taking your calls and responding in a public way and being held accountable that way?

SANJER: Because we make fun of them if they don't pick up our phones.

BLOCK: (Laughter) You're shaming them.

SANJER: (Laughter) Yeah. For example, one day a spokesperson didn't pick up, so we started making fun of them. I said maybe he's sleeping because he's a government official. The government doesn't work. So the next spokesperson we called, he, like, right away picks up and this was, like, I'm always picking up your phone. We will always help people.

BLOCK: What about some of the really major intractable concerns in Afghanistan, like security, like terrorism, like corruption? How much impact do you think you can have?

SANJER: I'll tell you an example of a bribe taken from someone. We got a call from a driver that was driving from Kandahar to Kabul. By chance, I just answered the phone and this guy was like, I'm a driver driving right now from Kandahar to Kabul and these police are taking money from us on the way. I said, OK, where are you exactly? He says, I'm, like, a hundred meters away from the police post. I said, don't cut the phone. Just leave the phone on. We'll broadcast it live. And then this police came to the guy and says, give me, like, 100 or 500 Afs or whatever was it. And everyone was listening to this.

BLOCK: Oh, so you heard the actual bribe transaction on the radio.

SANJER: Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is, like, the conversation between the police and their driver was broadcasted live on our show. And then we called the ministry of interior. We said, did you listen to the show? They said, yes, we were listening. And the police were arrested. And so we do, like, bring very big changes in terms of corruption and all that.

BLOCK: Afghanistan has been such a dangerous place for journalists to work. I know there was a suicide bombing this year and seven employees at your sister TV channel were killed - a Taliban suicide bombing. How does that affect your work?

SANJER: Well, it definitely affects the work because you know that you are now the direct target. For example, the morale and everything is - for all journalists that are in Afghanistan - is not very good at the moment, I will say to be really honest. But this is for the freedom of speech of the country. This is what people want. There are problems. Of course we can understand that, but we continue what we do.

BLOCK: Massoud Sanjer, thanks so much for talking with us.

SANJER: No problem, great to talk to you.

BLOCK: Massoud Sanjer is co-host of the radio show "Safay Shaher," or "Cleaning Your City." It broadcasts out of Kabul, Afghanistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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