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Afghan journalists persevere, despite ongoing dangers for media community

Hroon Nasir,31, an Afghan TV reporter poses for a photograph in his office in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo by: Abdullah Khan

By Humayoon Babur 

Early in the morning on July 1, Haroon Nasir, an Afghan TV reporter, called his editor and asked for the day’s plan. In response, he got “nothing,” so he hurried to prepare for the day, trying to avoid being trapped in Kabul’s heavy morning traffic and missing the morning news meeting, as he had the day before.

When Mr. Nasir, 31, got close to his office, he heard a powerful bomb blast through the capital city, rattling windows and billowing black smoke. He rushed to the office to inform a cameraman of the attack, in which the Taliban had targeted a Defense Ministry logistics center in the heart of Kabul. Mr. Nasir and the cameraman headed to the scene of the blast together. 

Nine journalists were killed in twin bomb blasts in Kabul in April 2018, making that year the deadliest on record for the Afghan media community. 

Mr. Nasir was born in Haska Meyna District, the Islamic State group stronghold in Eastern Nangarhar province. He was one of the survivors of the late April 2018 attack. “I was just a 50 meters away,” he said. “The attacker blows himself up — what I saw, it was absolutely terrible.”

Mr. Nasir said he saw his colleagues stumbling on the ground, but he couldn’t help them.

Minutes later, his phone rang. It was his mother: “Leave the job just right now and come home,” she pleaded. He left for Jalalabad the same day. 

He was jobless for nine months. As the only breadwinner for 13 family members, Mr. Nasir couldn’t remain unemployed. He resumed reporting with another TV channel in Kabul. 

Mr. Nasir said that anti-government opposition, militants, and mafia inside the Afghan government often are threatening and intimidating the free press. Furthermore, reporters take huge risks for low pay and don’t receive adequate training. 

In a statement, the Taliban demanded that Afghan media outlets change their attitude toward the Taliban and abandon airing anti-mujahedeen ads and propaganda, “or else they will no longer be regarded as media and will instead be regarded as enemy intelligence sources and included as military targets that will be attacked by the Taliban.”

“The local media outlets should stop ‘anti-Taliban ads and propaganda,’ otherwise, they will be targeted by the Taliban,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said.

In addition, finding financial resources is a major challenge in the Afghan media landscape.

To tackle these challenges, most media outlets accept conditional funds rather than close their offices. But conditional money hinders impartiality, eventually damaging the freedom of most media outlets in the war-ravaged country. 

Mr. Nasir has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Ariana University, but said he couldn’t find a job in that field.

Haroon Nasir, an Afghan TV reporter, waits for a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Photo by: Abdullah Khan

“I made several efforts to get a job in my own profession,” he said. “I couldn’t succeed because of the widespread corruption and nepotism in the current government. Finally, I returned to journalism.

“I know it’s a risky job, but I’m pleased to raise the voice of voiceless people,” Mr. Nasir said. “I will continue to do what I can to promote freedom of speech.”

But promoting free speech can come at a high cost for journalists in Afghanistan. 

On July 13, officials found the body of Nader Shah Sahibzada, an Afghan radio journalist who was a newsreader for Radio Gardez. He had disappeared the day before. 

The U.S. ambassador in Kabul condemned the attack on Twitter and said that it was “an act of hate and cowardice.” 

Mohammad Hosman Jahnbaz, the police chief for Paktia province, confirmed the incident and added that it was not immediately clear if the murder was linked to his work as a journalist or a personal dispute. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

At the same time, a private radio station shut down after threats by suspected Taliban commanders in Ghazni province.

Reactions to Taliban threats

The Afghanistan Journalists Council (AJC) released a statement strongly condemning the Taliban for threatening the Afghan media and asked the Afghan government to take a serious stance and measures to ensure the safety of journalists in Afghanistan. 

“Attacks on media and journalists — as civilian targets — constitute war crimes and the Taliban will be held to account for every attack of the group on journalists and the media,” the AJC statement said.

Afghanistan is ranked 121st out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 15 media workers were killed in Afghanistan in 2018, making it the deadliest country in the world for journalists last year.

In this April 30, 2018, photo, Haroon Nasir, a Kabul-based Afghan reporter, talks about that day’s attack in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, that targeted journalists and media workers.

According to RSF, “there have been at least 45 cases of violence against journalists and the media in Afghanistan since the start of the year, including threats, physical violence, and destruction of media outlets.

Afghan officials have announced that the government will enhance security measures for media agencies operating in the country, but argued that ads and propaganda should continue to be broadcast.

“It’s very clear that such advertisements have helped the government fight terrorism,” said Rohullah Ahmadzai, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry. “If they weren’t useful we wouldn’t continue to use them.

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