Symposium Report: The road ahead for exiled Afghan media

  • December 21, 2023
  • Press Releases

After the Taliban regained power in August 2021, they have reinstated repressive policies against independent media. Within two years, Afghanistan has dropped 30 places on the World Press Freedom Index, now ranking 156 out of 180. Hundreds of newspapers, television and radio stations have ceased operations, while those who are still on the ground face increasing repression. In 2023, more than 120 cases of violence against journalists were recorded.

These figures illustrate the sad reality of a country that only a few years ago was home to a diverse media landscape. Yet, numerous independent Afghan media are still alive, trying and – against all odds – continue working from exile. In December 2023, the JX Fund organized a two-day symposium bringing 120 Afghan media professionals in exile together to discuss and outline future perspectives.

CONNECTION

“The role of journalism is to create a platform from which people are enabled to make informed decisions, and in order to do so, journalism needs to be impartial.”

Mina Jawad

The current situation of independent Afghan journalists is caught between two  poles: Those who are still in the country must either adjust to the strict requirements of the Taliban regime or continue working in secrecy, while those who report from exile are relatively safe but confronted with numerous other uncertainties that come with living and working in exile. In addition to legal, administrative, and strategic problems, maintaining ties between those in the country and those in exile is a multidimensional challenge by itself.

“We do not just live for ourselves, but for the people who are still in Afghanistan.”

Breshna Safi, Laghman Local Radio Television and Cheragh TV

COLLABORATION

“My colleagues in Afghanistan do not know each other for the sake of their security. If one of them is caught by the Taliban, all their lives would be at risk. And this is my worst nightmare. I am safe here; I can say whatever I want. But this is not true for my colleagues in Afghanistan.”

Zahra Nader, Zan Times

To continue reporting on current events, most exiled media outlets are dependent on access to information from the ground. Therefore, many of them have developed security protocols for working with journalists and sources in Afghanistan. The safety of those who continue to be subjected to Taliban repression remains one the biggest concerns. Another difficulty that comes with working in a hybrid environment is the communication across different time zones.

For those who are already in exile, additional questions arise. Many want to strengthen their networks, both with other Afghan media and media professionals in exile, as well as with the media in their respective countries of residence. Some media outlets opt for research and publication cooperation.

DIVERSIFICATION

Although the exiled media themselves are outside the legal reach of the Taliban, their employees and their audiences on the ground are not. Many Afghan media in exile have had their licenses revoked by the Taliban in the last two years. This makes it significantly more difficult for them to reach their audience. They constantly must resort to new channels to avoid being blocked by the Taliban.

“We need to diversify our content. Right now, we are over-serving an elite with political news. We need to focus on younger people, women, and minorities.”

Hafizullah Maroof, BBC Pashto and BBC World Service

Another pressing question is which target groups are being addressed at all. Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country with over 50 different ethnic groups. Almost three quarters of the population reside in rural areas, with limited access to the internet. In addition, according to UNESCO, around 12 million adult Afghans cannot read. It is a major challenge for Afghan media in exile to tap into new target groups outside the urban educational elite.

ADAPTION

“Disruption requires adjustment. But adjustment doesn’t mean to compromise on your values and principles. It is an adjustment in your approach. We must come up with creative solutions to a) advance our increasing difficulty in access to information and b) ensure the Afghan people are informed and empowered through affordable means of content consumption.”

Lotfullah Najafizada, Amu TV

Living and working in exile presents the media with new challenges that they have to meet creatively and flexibly. Every country of residence has specific legal and administrative conditions to which an exiled medium must adapt. Language was repeatedly cited as one of the biggest problems.

REPRESENTATION

“Before the Taliban takeover, women in Afghanistan had the right to educate themselves, to go to school, to go to university. Those rights are now denied to them. We need to be the voice of that women; we owe it to them.”

Zahra Nader, Zan Times

Women in Afghanistan are systematically excluded from the public sphere. They are confined to their homes and prevented from moving around or traveling without a male companion. The professional opportunities for women have been severely restricted, many have lost their jobs. In journalism alone, an estimated 84 percent had to abandon their profession. Newsrooms are obliged to ensure gender-segregated workspaces and production processes. For exiled Afghan media, giving visibility to those made invisible by the Taliban is a top priority. This includes not only reporting about them but finding ways to report with them.

EDUCATION

In the face of an authoritarian regime and the propaganda that accompanies it, the need for independent media becomes all the more apparent. The importance of an impartial and fact-based reporting has been emphasized repeatedly during the entire conference. Yet the question of how this knowledge can be passed on to the next generation of journalists remains unresolved for the time being. It is, however, of great importance, as Afghanistan’s future generations must also be enabled to critically examine the country’s history and present.

“Afghanistan is a country which has always been going through very difficult situations. There will be brighter days again. The country will still be there, the future will be there, the mountains will be there. So let us unite, work hard, and raise the voices of girls, women, and minorities.”

Hafizullah Maroof, BBC Pashto and BBC World Service

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In addition to the two-day symposium “Rebuilding Afghan Media in Exile: Challenges, Chances, and the Path Forward,” the JX Fund has conducted a survey to assess the current situation and needs of exiled Afghan journalists. A total of 154 journalists located in 14 different exile countries took part.

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