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Afghanistan's 'Flowering' Media Could Disappear Upon Transition

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Download Afghanistan has moved from being a country where news and pictures were banned to hosting a bewildering variety of media.

The most popular of all is the soap opera.

But how free is the press in Afghanistan? And what will happen to it should the Taliban swing back into power in one form or another?

The Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid is considered one of the world's pre-eminent writers on the Taliban and on the so called nation-building that Afghanistan has witnessed over the past 12 years.

He’s speaking about Afghan’s press freedom with Tim Palmer from ABC Radio Australia.

“The media has played an enormous role in allowing Afghanistan to develop democratic institutions, literacy. The concept of a free media encourages the process of education, encourages young people to work and send their children to school so that they can read the newspapers and watch and understand the television. And television has become now the number one source of entertainment for the first time, after many decades of war.”

“So all this is off course at risk, because the future is uncertain. We don't know what kind of government we're going to get in Afghanistan. Are they going to censor the press? Are the Taliban coming back to power either as a power-sharing partner or as something more? And in which case, will they revert back to disallowing everything they consider un-Islamic?"

"So all these questions are being grappled with by the Afghan TV satellite channels and with the newspapers and magazines, all of which have been shown an enormous flowering in the last 12 years.”

Q. How free is the expression of the press across Afghanistan with landlords dominating various regions of the country? Are journalists able to operate however they wish?

“Well in many areas that is very true. You've got very powerful warlords who dictate what can be reported and can't be reported by the local stringers or local reporters. Many of the warlords have their own TV channel by the way: this is quite an extraordinary development. But certainly independent press has been harassed a lot in the past, and if there's going to be a collapse of government after 2014, we are going to see fewer and fewer independent journalists able to stand up to these warlords.”

Q. Let's just go back a little over a decade, when the Taliban were removed from power. I remember seeing in Herat, in the west of Afghanistan, people gathering around noticeboards, where for the first time in many years, they were able to look at pictures and articles put up on the noticeboard. What it showed was that what they really wanted to see after coming out of the repression of the Taliban was news.

“Well absolutely. I mean, there was just a complete blackout of news during the seven or eight years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan. TV was banned of course. There was only one radio station, which was run by the Taliban. There was no press. There was a ban on having pictures; there was a ban on any mention of the Koran or any religious artefacts.”

Q. So were the Taliban to return to power, as you foreshadowed, in some sort of process after the Western forces leave, would they repress the media to the same extent?

“No, I really don't think so. By and large, I think the media now has become incredibly powerful. The Taliban themselves have been using their own media and even Kabul media to propagate their cause. So I think they understand and realise now what they did before was very short-sighted and very stupid, but on the other hand obviously there will be restrictions.”

“For example, they have been opposed to some of these soap operas that the Afghans love very much and which are run by the TV stations - Afghan soap operas and Turkish and Pakistani and Indian soap operas. Now, they've been very much opposed to that. I'm sure there's going to be a big battle of the soap operas if the Taliban do come in.”

Q. Is it likely that once the Western troops go, that the majority of Western journalists will follow soon after, and Afghanistan will largely disappear from the front pages?

“I think so; I think this is the big fear. This is what happened in 1989 after the Soviet withdrawal. I mean nobody is going to be particularly interested about the political developments inside Afghanistan, and I think this is a very big fear. It's very important, I think, that the international media keeps its eye on the ball, because this region is inherently unstable. We may get over one crisis, but you know, there's bound to be more.”


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 February 2013 13:03 )  

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