As Taliban advance and fighting intensifies, Afghan media shut down | Voice of America
As the Taliban advance through Afghanistan, more than 90 media outlets have shut down and concerns about the safety of journalists in the country have increased.
Afghan officials said on Wednesday that most outlets were in provinces the Taliban had reached.
In southern Helmand alone, 12 radio stations and four television stations have closed due to intense fighting in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, officials and reporters said.
âPeople cannot leave their homes,â Sifatullah Zahidi, founder of Sukoon Radio told Helmand. “As a safety measure, we stopped broadcasting two days before the fighting spread to the area of ââtown where our station is located.”
Zahidi, who is also a reporter for Kabul-based 1TV, told VOA that most journalists work from home.
âAs a journalist, I’m supposed to go and report from the front lines, but I can’t,â he said. “The fighting continues [in the city]. Bullets are firing from everywhere. Rockets land and airstrikes are carried out. ”
The fighting severely damaged the Sukoon Radio offices, Zahidi said. âThe approximate total cost of the damage could be around $ 20,000,â he said.
Aziz Ahmad Shafi, a freelance journalist who has worked in Helmand for 15 years, told VOA journalists are also restricted in their travel. They can’t go to other districts in the province unless they coordinate with the Taliban.
“The Taliban told us to contact them if we want to go somewhere,” Shafi said, adding that two journalists who wanted to leave the city earlier this month have been arrested.
Fortunately, “after we contacted the Taliban, they were released,” he said.
The Taliban still have a journalist. Nematullah Hemat, who works for Gharghasht TV, was taken from his home in Lashkar Gah on August 9.
The journalists’ colleagues are in contact with the Taliban to attempt mediation, Shafi said. âGod willing, he will be released soon.
The Kabul government has also detained journalists. Authorities arrested four people on charges of propaganda after traveling to Spin Boldak district in Kandahar to question the Taliban.
Afghan government arrests four journalists accused of propaganda
Journalists traveled to disputed area to interview Taliban commanders
The Interior Ministry said journalists ignored a warning not to travel to the area.
Increase in violence
The risks to journalists were further highlighted on Monday when Toofan Omari, a radio director who also worked as a prosecutor, was killed in Kabul. Omari is the fourth journalist to be killed in Afghanistan in the past three months.
No group has yet claimed responsibility, but Afghan officials blamed the Taliban.
The Taliban have not commented on Omari’s death, but the group claimed responsibility for the murder of government spokesman Dawa Khan Meenapal outside a mosque on August 6.
Prior to working for the government, Meenapal was a reporter for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s Afghan service, where he won an award for his bravery.
Taliban assassinate head of Afghan government media department
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the death, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid sending a message to the media saying: “He was killed in a special attack led by mujahedin”
The Taliban have stepped up attacks on government-controlled areas in Afghanistan and say they’ve captured nine provincial capitals.
Taliban capture provincial airports as they consolidate gains in Afghanistan
Afghan forces struggle to stem Taliban quick gains
Shiwai Sharq, deputy minister of the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture, told VOA that 46 journalists have left the provinces for Kabul due to the fighting and threats.
The government plans to move more journalists to Kabul from at least 10 provinces, he added.
“We are trying to help with their resettlement in Kabul. We will also help them financially. We are doing this through the Journalist and Media Support Fund,” Sharq said.
In another impact on the Afghan journalistic community, the Ministry of Information and Culture said last week that more than 1,000 people working in the media, including 150 women, have lost their jobs due to the violence.
Mujib Khalwatgar, head of the Nai media advocacy group, called the current situation a “critical moment” for the country’s media.
Taliban fighting and advances “could erase one of the major gains of the past two decades,” Khalwatgar said.
“Our journalists are facing threats. The media is shutting down. We are in the worst financial situation and access to information is limited,” Khalwatgar said.
Can the free Afghan press survive?
Assassins kill Afghan journalists and force others to resign. The planned US withdrawal could make matters worse.
International news outlets in the US and UK and media rights groups have called for urgent action to protect the country’s journalists and help some resettle overseas.
Taliban control over much of the country “poses an unprecedented threat to journalists and independent media,” the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders reported last week.
Khalwatgar underlined the important role the media play as independent observers.
âJournalists are neutral individuals,â Khalwatgar said. “We ask (the Taliban) to respect the laws of war and what their leaders have promised.”