Afghanistan experienced significant changes following 2001 related to freedom of press and increased media activity. This was one of the most significant accomplishments of the international coalition, people, and the government of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, after the fall of Kabul and the return of the Taliban, the personal and professional life of journalists and media workers were turned upside down. Previously, Afghan media workers showed the reality of Taliban as a terrorist group and criticized them for their activities. With the Taliban now in power, there is concern for the safety of Afghan Media workers.
State of journalism in Afghanistan today:
Today Taliban restrict all parts of Afghan people’s daily life. Before the Taliban took over on August 15 2021, Afghan reporters and journalists practiced freedom of speech and in most cases, had access to information. But today it is not easy to get access to events, and there are too many restrictions in the media imposed by the Taliban leadership. These restrictions force reporters to think twice before publishing their reports.
In the preceding 20 years, the Afghan media were able to gain the trust of the Afghan people. Prior to that, the international media were the primary source of news for the people of Afghanistan. With the passage of time, the source of news for the people of Afghanistan became reliable domestic media, including Tolo News, Shamshad, One TV and Ariana.
But now that the restrictions have been imposed, local media are trying to maintain the trust of the people. This has been a challenge for them.
Meanwhile, new media outlets broadcasting from outside of Afghanistan along with social media have become a source of news for the people of Afghanistan. At the same time, there is a greater challenge posed by “fake news.”
Compared to the bad experience I had with the first Taliban regime, today’s journalists and media are trying their best to resist opposing the Taliban pressure. This is commendable.
On the other hand, the Taliban have become somewhat more patient compared to their first regime. Still, this is not enough.
Most recently, the Taliban forced Afghan female reporters and journalists to wear masks while they are on TV. At first, their male colleagues also publicly resisted the Taliban and wore masks for several days as a protest. Ultimately, however, power is in the hands of the Taliban and the media have to obey what they say.
Female Journalist Challenges:
The Taliban have removed women as much as possible from the socio-political life. In a society where women cannot go to school, what will be the status of women reporters? We had brave journalists like Anisa Shahid, Shakila Ebrahim Khel, Frahnaz Frotan and dozens of other journalists, but where are they today?
By some accounts, 85% of women who worked in the media have lost their jobs. At present, there are no women employed by the national radio and television of Afghanistan. Many who lost their jobs were the only people in their family who worked.
Meanwhile, how can a male reporter treat issues from a woman’s point of view? The scope of work in public media outlets such as television and radio are severely limited and this is a cause for concern.
As noted, there are many restrictions imposed by the Taliban government which have narrowed the field of journalistic activity.
For example, recently a message was broadcasted by the Taliban leadership which said that no one should criticize government officials unnecessarily.
This complicates the work of journalists who fear what will happen if they express their views. My Afghan colleagues and journalists saying they are very tired of the conditions.
There is a huge difference between the working environment of journalists in Kabul and the provinces. In , Kabul at least there is access to some resources and there are intermediaries that work with government institutions and can intervene when needed. In the provinces, the Taliban system is very closed.
If a journalist publishes a report of a problem in any provincial government institution, officials will think that there is a personal problem with them or their system. They can then create problems for the reporter.
Access to information is also far more difficult outside of Kabul.
Economic Crisis Effect on Media Houses:
Following their establishment in 2001, Afghan press and media never reached self-sufficiency. In that era, large advertising and awareness projects were primary sources of income for Afghan media.
With Afghanistan in an economic crisis, commercial companies are not very interested in investing in marketing through media advertising.
The international community can help Afghanistan’s media by directly and fairly supporting and promoting awareness projects in that country, so that the media can afford their broadcasting costs.
Does media facilitate Taliban to retain sufficient support to make this comeback?
High-ranking officers of the previous government and their supporters, allege that the media published critical reports on the government, providing indirect propaganda for the Taliban.
However, in a democratic system, the media is considered as a fourth pillar of the system. Given this, the media’s duty was to expose the truths and weaknesses of the government.
The rulers were not reformed. According to my personal experience, the media considered national interests as much as possible all time, especially in favor of Afghan security forces.
Current coverage of Afghanistan’s Stories in International & US Media:
I have repeatedly said in front of the highest-ranking American officials, even President Joe Biden, that America has forgotten Afghanistan, especially after the Ukraine crisis.
When Russia attacked Ukraine, no one in America was interested in Afghanistan anymore. The people of Afghanistan believe that America itself caused the downfall of the Afghan government as they gave anything to the Taliban that they wanted in the Doha Agreement, breaking the morale of the security forces.
Likewise, the American media cover the events in Ukraine more than those of Afghanistan. In my opinion, the ones who have suffered the most and been affected by this crisis after the Ukrainians are the Afghans.
Taliban treats local journalists compared to Westerners:
People believe that the Taliban are trying their best to make foreign journalists have good impression of Afghanistan and show a perfect image of the Taliban’s situation to the world, but their attitude towards local journalists is not good at times.
When my journalist friends call me, they say that in many cases these differences are very extreme.
For example, if an incident happens, foreign reporters have full access to visit and take photos but Afghan reporters have to wait for hours until they have minimal access to the scene of the incident or event.
Also, on the days when there is a ceremony, such as the 10th of Muharram, on that day the reporters must have a separate letter from the Taliban security authorities in order to be allowed to record video, defying logic.