Afghan media supports the next step under Taliban rule

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP)-Afghanistan’s most popular private television network has voluntarily replaced its dangerous Turkish soap operas and music shows with gentle shows tailored for the country’s new Taliban ruler, the Taliban ruler released Vague directives that the media must not violate Islamic law or harm national interests.

Despite this, the independent Afghan news station is still allowing female hosts to broadcast and test the limitations of media freedom under the organization. The organization’s militants have killed journalists in the past, but since coming to power in August, they have promised to build an open and inclusive system.

When the world is paying close attention to clues about how the Taliban will govern, their attitude towards the media and their policies towards women will become a key indicator. When they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they gave harsh interpretations of Islam, prohibited girls and women from entering schools and public life, and brutally suppressed dissidents.

Since then, the Afghan media has continued to emerge, and women have made some progress under the constraints of an extremely conservative society.

The first sign of the Taliban’s attempt to weaken its reputation for extremism is that only two days after taking control of Kabul in mid-August, an official of the Taliban unexpectedly walked into the studio of the private Tolo News. He sat down and accepted an interview with the female anchor Behishta Arghand.

The 22-year-old anchor told the Associated Press that when she saw him enter the studio, she was nervous, but his behavior and the way he answered questions made her a little relaxed.

“I just said to myself that this is a good time to show the world. Afghan women don’t want to go back. They want to… keep going,” she said.

After the interview, Agunde fled the country, unwilling to risk the greater openness of the Taliban.She is temporarily Afghan refugee camp in Qatar.

She was one of the hundreds of journalists who left the country after the Taliban took over, many of whom were regarded as leaders in the field, as part of the flight of more than 100,000 Afghans.

However, her interviews with Taliban officials marked the first significant shift in militants’ power when women had to cover themselves from head to toe and were stoned to death in public for adultery and other suspected crimes.

This time, the Taliban shared videos of girls going to school in various provinces. After taking control of Kabul, they also held a press conference to answer questions from local and international media.

Saad Mohseni, CEO and chairman of Moby Group, which owns Tolo News, said he believes that the Taliban are tolerating the media because they understand that they must win the hearts of the people, persuade political institutions to function and consolidate their rule.

“The media is important to them, but it remains to be seen what they do to the media in a month or two,” he said in Dubai, where Moby Group has an office in Dubai.

Steven Butler, the Asia Project Coordinator of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, said that although the United States and its allies failed to establish a stable democracy in Afghanistan, they did succeed in establishing a thriving press.The U.S. government has invested huge sums of money to build democratic foundation projects. He famous On CPJ’s website.

The initial US grant helped launch Tolo, which started as a radio station in 2003 and quickly expanded to television. This Pashto and Dari broadcasting company has 500 employees and is the most watched private network in Afghanistan.

Tolo, known for its news and entertainment shows, decided to remove music shows and soap operas from the airwaves because “we don’t think they will be accepted by the new regime,” Mohseni said. Romance dramas have been replaced by Turkish TV dramas set in the Ottoman era, and the actresses dress more plainly.

The Afghan National Broadcasting Corporation RTA suspended its female presenters until further notice. Zan TV, run by independent women, has stopped broadcasting new shows.

However, the privately-run Ariane News Channel has been broadcast by female anchors. Tolo’s breakfast show on Thursday has a female host, and the network has a female news anchor and several female reporters.

Since gaining control, there have been reports of Taliban beating and threatening journalists. In a known case, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle said that Taliban militants hunted down a reporter from house to house, shot and killed one of his family members, and seriously injured another.

“We must ensure that the Afghan journalism industry stays alive because people will need it,” said Bilal Sarwary, a journalist who has been working in Afghanistan for a long time, whose work has appeared on BBC and other websites.

Although he also left Afghanistan with his family, he said that a generation of citizen journalists is more powerful than ever.

“If we can’t go (come back), it doesn’t mean we will abandon Afghanistan. No matter where we are, we will work in Afghanistan. …Global connectivity is the new normal,” Sarwary said .

At the same time, the Taliban allowed journalists to enter Afghanistan from Pakistan and allowed the media to continue operations in Kabul, albeit under ominous guidance. They stipulate that news reports must not violate Islamic values ​​or challenge national interests.

Such vague rules are typical of authoritarian states in the Middle East and Central Asia, and they are used to suppress and prosecute journalists. In order to operate, local media may have to conduct self-censorship to avoid influence.

For a long time, Afghanistan has been dangerous for journalists. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists stated that 53 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, and 33 of them have been killed since 2018.

In July, a Reuters Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer was killed while reporting on a conflict between the Taliban and Afghan security forces. In 2014, an AFP reporter, his wife and two children were among nine people killed by Taliban gunmen while dining in a hotel in Kabul.

Nearly two years later, in 2016, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a Tolo employee on a bus, killing 7 of them and injuring at least 25 others. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that Toro was a tool of Western influence.

Mohseni said that when the Taliban occupied Kabul, he was worried that he was still “not necessarily positive”.

“But I’m just thinking: Okay, let’s wait and see. Let’s see how much they will be restricted,” he said, “There is no doubt that they will be restricted. The question is how restrictive they are.”


Associated Press writers Tameem Akhgar in Istanbul, Turkey and Bram Janssen in Doha, Qatar contributed.

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