The country has seen the closure of 39.59% of its media outlets and unemployment of nearly 59.86% of its journalists ever since the Taliban took over Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, as per a Reporters Without Borders (RSF) survey.
The survey noted that women journalists, three quarters of whom are now unemployed, no longer exist in 11 provinces and all this has happened amid a deep economic crisis and crackdown on press freedom.
RSF’s survey states that Afghanistan had 547 media outlets prior to August 15, 2021 and one year later, 219 have ceased their activities. Of the 11,857 journalists tallied prior to August 15, 2021, there are only 4,759 now. “Women journalists have been impacted most – 76.19% of them have lost their jobs,” the report said.
“Journalism has been decimated during the past year in Afghanistan,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Media and journalists are being subjected to iniquitous regulations that restrict media freedom and open the way to repression and persecution. The authorities must undertake to end the violence and harassment inflicted on media workers, and must allow them to do their job unmolested,” Deloire added.
The report revealed that women have suffered most in the carnage inflicted on Afghan journalism in the past year and have disappeared completely from the media landscape in 11 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces – Badghis, Helmand, Daikundi, Ghazni, Wardak, Nimroz, Nuristan, Paktika, Paktia, Samangan and Zabol. Of the 2,756 women journalists and media workers employed in Afghanistan prior to 15 August 2021, only 656 are still working. Of these, 84.6% are working in the Kabul region.
One year after the fall of Kabul, 76.19% of women journalists are no longer working in the country. Accusations of “immorality or conduct contrary to society’s values” are widely used as pretexts for harassing women journalists and sending them home, the report said.
Bibi Khatera Nejat, a journalist who has fled to Pakistan, described the conditions that drove her into exile. “I worked for Radio Hamseda in Takhar province for seven years,” she told RSF. “Of course, during this period, like all women journalists in the provinces, especially those who work for radio and TV, I was subjected to harassment. Several times I was even threatened, but at least we were able to resist. One of the first things, the Taliban did was destroy media equipment and shut down media premises. With my family, we fled our home and sought refuge in Kabul. But after the fall of Kabul on 15 August, there was no longer any hope and I finally left the country,” Nejat recounted.
The report added that of the 9,101 men practicing journalism before the fall of Kabul, 4,962 are no longer working. The Kabul region in the centre of the country, which had the biggest number of media outlets – 133 – has also been hit hard by the regime change and has lost nearly half of them, the report stated.
The report highlighted how in some provinces, the requirement to replace music or news programmes with religious content has led some media to stop broadcasting. “But new economic constraints, such as the termination of international or national funding and the fall in advertising revenue as a result of the economic crisis, have also led some media to cease operating,” the report stated.
The report also detailed the curbs on press freedom under Taliban orders like the “11 Journalism Rules” announced by the Government Media and Information Centre (GMIC) on 19 September 2021 and Taliban supreme leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada’s new decree on 22 July warning that “defaming and criticising government officials without proof” and “spreading false news and rumours” are forbidden under Islam and that those who “slander” government employees are unwittingly collaborating with the enemy and will be “punished.”
It also noted the abuses and arbitrary arrests resulting from these regulations. “Since 15 August 2021, at least 80 journalists have been detained for periods of varying lengths by the security forces, especially by the Istikhbarat (intelligence services), which have been involved in most of the arbitrary arrests of journalists – some of them violent – since the start of 2022,” it noted.
In 2012, Afghanistan was ranked 150th out of 179 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index. By 2021, it had risen to 122nd out of 180 countries thanks to a dynamic media landscape and the adoption of legislation protecting journalists. And in 2022, after losing nearly 40% of its media and more than half of its journalists, it has fallen to 156th.