Afghan journalist Sami Mahdi discussed the future of media in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan at a virtual event hosted by the Shorenstein Center at Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday afternoon.
Thursday’s discussion, moderated by Charles M. Sennott, CEO of the nonprofit GroundTruth Project news organization, took place just over a month after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan following the exit of the country’s US military.
Since taking power, the Taliban has worked to crack down on journalists across the country, including assaulting journalists covering protests in Kabul. More than half of the Afghan media have ceased their activities since the Taliban takeover, according to the New York Times.
Mahdi said on Thursday that the Taliban were seeking to exercise control over the press with violent tactics, and said the “scars on the faces of our journalists” are emblematic of the group’s dealings with the media.
“You will accept whatever the Taliban has told you as a story, or you will be beaten, or maybe killed or kicked out of the country,” Mahdi said. “The only relationship the Taliban want from the media is [for the media] become their spokesperson and their puppets.
Mahdi called the growth of a free and independent media outlet in Afghanistan over the past 20 years – including the formation of about 170 radio stations across the country before the Taliban came to power – “a tremendous achievement. , And attributed the support of the international community allies for the expansion of the free press.
“It has become the torch of freedom for our society. We did not have strong political parties like the political opposition to the government. We did not have strong institutions. We did not have a strong parliament. We didn’t have a strong civil society, ”said Mahdi. “The media kind of played all of these roles providing platforms for all people and all kinds of voices from all walks of life. “
The Taliban’s crackdown on the Afghan media has particularly affected women journalists. A recent Reporters Without Borders report found that only 39 female journalists still work in Afghanistan, up from 700 last year.
Mahdi called the women reporters “courageous,” noting that it was “taboo” in mainstream Afghan society for them to pursue careers in media.
However, he said the recent Taliban ascendancy has been demoralizing for women journalists.
“When [the] The Taliban came to power, one of the first things they did was remove all female reporters and presenters from RTA, our public television station, ”Mahdi said. “It put off all the other presenters and reporters across the country, knowing that the law-abiding Taliban is in control and their lives are in danger. “
Mahdi said the United States and other countries should engage with Afghan journalists to protect the country’s free press.
“Having a platform outside the country is very important now. They will be connected to journalists on the ground to tell the truth, ”Mahdi said. “But the journalists who are on the ground will not be able to publish articles, under [their] own names, and on these points of sale [that] are still in Afghanistan.
As an example, Mahdi said journalists are needed to ensure humanitarian aid is used properly.
“The spending of these aid funds should be monitored by the Afghan media,” Mahdi said. “This is how the Afghan media could once again become a partner of the international community.
—Editor-in-Chief Joshua S. Cai can be contacted at [email protected]
– Editor-in-Chief Eric Yan can be contacted at [email protected]