UA professor to nurture free press in Afghanistan

2011-10-25T00:00:00Z 2014-08-05T10:28:51Z UA professor to nurture free press in AfghanistanCarol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 25, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Criticizing the news media is a popular pastime in America. But could it catch on in, say, Afghanistan?

Maybe one day, if Maggy Zanger has anything to do with it.

The University of Arizona journalism professor has been tapped by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to help nurture a free press in Afghanistan.

Soon she'll travel to Jalalabad, a one-time Taliban stronghold near the Pakistan border, to help develop a journalism curriculum at the University of Nangarhar.

She's one of several UA personnel actively involved in upgrading Afghanistan's higher education system.

The journalism effort is being funded by a $1 million grant from the embassy, in recognition of the media's role in sustaining a civil society.

Americans tend to take press freedom for granted, said Zanger, who has lived and worked in Iraq, Egypt and Palestine.

"We're always complaining about the U.S media, myself included. But until you've been to a country where there's no free press, you just don't realize how important it is."

Afghanistan's universities have been stunted by decades of strife, and by Taliban restrictions on educating women, Zanger said.

The new journalism program also will bring Afghan professors to Tucson. Much of the program's focus will be on radio and multimedia reporting, given the nation's high rate of illiteracy.

Zanger realizes there are risks involved in visiting a nation still subject to insurgent attacks. But every troubled country she's worked in had pockets of normalcy where she was able to function safely, she said.

Afghanistan's universities also are getting help from a UA librarian and from an expert in historic preservation.

Librarian Atifa Rawan, who was born and raised in Afghanistan, has spent the last several years helping to rebuild the country's academic libraries.

The effort, fueled with $630,000 in grant money, involves cataloging and digitizing library content and teaching Afghans how to build and maintain new information-sharing systems.

At the UA's Drachman Institute, Director R. Brooks Jeffery is leading an effort to protect the country's cultural sites, with $100,000 in seed money from the U.S. State Department.

He's helping develop university programs in Afghanistan to train locals to identify historic sites, build and run museums, and restore and preserve heritage buildings, some of which are thousands of years old.

The UA was specifically chosen, Jeffery said, because of Tucson's expertise with adobe, the most popular building material in Afghanistan and one many of its ancient landmarks are made of.

Jeffery, a former Peace Corps volunteer, said part of the joy of working on international projects is getting to know people from foreign cultures on a personal level.

"There are these wonderful moments when you realize you have so much in common," he said.

"The world is a lot smaller than we think."

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at or at 573-4138.

"We're always complaining about the U.S media, myself included. But until you've been to a country where there's no free press, you just don't realize how important it is."

Maggy Zanger,

UA journalism professor

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