Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Afghan Broadcaster Tolo Fears Violent Clampdown

Afghan journalists and human rights advocates say there are ominous signs that a violent media clampdown is underway. The NYTimes reports Taliban fighters hunted a journalist from Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster, who had already left the country, shooting dead a member of his family and seriously injuring another, according to the broadcaster.

Saad Mohseni, co-wner of Tolo Broadcasting said Ziar Khan Yaad, a Tolo journalist, and a cameraman were beaten by five Taliban at gunpoint while out reporting last week. He said the Taliban jumped out of a Land Cruiser and confiscated their equipment and cellphones.

The Taliban have also barred at least two female journalists from their jobs at the public broadcaster Radio Television Afghanistan. And the female anchor at Tolo, who grabbed global headlines when she interviewed a Taliban spokesman, has since fled the country, along with many other journalists

Khadija Amin, an anchor with the public broadcaster, said in a phone interview that, on the day the Taliban entered Kabul, one of the militants took her place at the station.

“We are in a very bad situation,” Ms. Amin said, adding that male journalists were now afraid to sit next to their female colleagues or even talk to them.  “There is no longer space for us here,” she said.

Saad Mohseni
Tolo rose to prominence after the United States toppled the Taliban in 2001, tapping into Afghans’ pent-up hunger for news and entertainment following the insurgents’ ban on independent news, music and film. Today, Tolo is Afghanistan’s largest and most popular broadcaster, with its Pashto- and Dari-language channels viewed by an estimated 60 percent of Afghans who watch television and listen to the radio.

Longtime Afghanistan watchers say it is hard to underestimate the influence that Tolo has had in shaping Afghanistan’s swaggering media culture. “Tolo was the pioneer,” said Andrew North, a former BBC journalist who trained Afghan journalists. “They arrived and shook things up, and everyone else followed.”

In January 2016, the Taliban took aim at Tolo, when a suicide bomber slammed his car into a bus carrying employees of Tolo TV, killing seven staff members and injuring 15 others. The Taliban accused Tolo of “promoting obscenity, irreligiousness, foreign culture and nudity.”

Mohseni stressed that this time around, the Taliban would face an uphill struggle to suppress the news media in a country that had been radically transformed in the past 20 years.

The Afghanistan that the Taliban conquered this month has a vibrant media culture, with roughly 170 radio stations across the country and dozens of television stations in Kabul alone. They broadcast everything from hard-hitting news documentaries to game shows. Social media has also offered a cacophonous outlet for debate — and dissent.

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