”If the world wants to help media in Afghanistan, they should help the local media there. That means empowering and enabling local journalists to tell their stories and the stories of daily life in Afghanistan under the Taliban”, says Samiullah Mahdi, editor-in-chief of Amu TV, a digital news platform he co-founded that brings together journalists from within and outside Afghanistan to provide independent reporting in Farsi and Pashto.
He talked to the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) where he now works as a program consultant after having left Afghanistan when the Taliban returned to power.
”One of the things that journalists in exile are doing is connecting with those who are still inside the country. Journalists who are inside the country send footage, stories, leaks to those who are outside, and those who are outside produce the stories.”
”Safeguarding the free press and freedom of expression in Afghanistan should become a priority in any conversation of the international community with the Taliban.”
Mahdi is the new editor-in-chief of Amu TV, a digital news platform he co-founded that brings together journalists from within and outside Afghanistan to provide independent reporting in Farsi and Pashto.
”If we want to know what is really happening in Afghanistan, document the situation and hold the Taliban accountable, we can only do it through journalism. Otherwise, the tragedies of the 1990s will be repeated. Displacement to different corners of the country, revenge, and murders will prevail.
“Only journalists can document it all and bring awareness about what’s happening. Sending a reporter from a very far country for the first time to Afghanistan to stay inside Kabul for a few days and cover the story will not help a lot, because they cannot capture the full story”, he argues.
Talking about how the media situation has changed since the Taliban returned to power last year, he says everything changed in a matter of days:
“We are now looking at the ashes of what we created years ago, as the Taliban crack down with an iron fist on every free medium. It is very hard to watch how things you loved or have worked a life on are being destroyed brutally.”
”About 300 media outlets have been closed since 15 August 2021 in Afghanistan. Over 60% of journalists in total have lost their jobs. Over 85% of women journalists have lost jobs. More than 32 arrests and detentions by the Taliban have been reported. But many other incidents go unreported.”
He says the Taliban were going to newsrooms on a daily basis, giving instructions – what kind of stories journalists are allowed to cover and what kind of stories they shouldn’t touch.
”Now, in some parts, especially in the Northeast, they ask journalists to send their agenda on a daily basis and get approval from the Taliban intelligence service. Nobody criticizes the Taliban, nobody can ask them about corruption or about their leaders. This leaves the society in Afghanistan without a free media and critical information to understand and analyze the situation.”
One of the journalists receiving the 2022 ICFJ Knight International Journalism Award is Anisa Shaheed, who worked as a television reporter for TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s first 24/7 news network, until Kabul fell to the Taliban. Shaheed faced a dual threat as a woman journalist in Afghanistan and was forced to flee along with thousands of her colleagues and fellow citizens.