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Afghanistan media struggle to chart path through Taliban upheaval

Taliban updates

Madina Morwat was amongst scores of Afghan journalists who misplaced their jobs when dozens of tv and radio stations suspended programming after the Taliban captured Kabul final month.

However the 23-year outdated reporter rapidly resumed her profession after taking a job at Tolo Information, a part of Afghanistan’s largest media firm Moby Group and a channel that has come to symbolise the rise of liberal media in Afghanistan because the Taliban had been first ousted from energy following the US-led invasion in 2001. “Many embassies requested if I wished to depart Afghanistan, however I’m dedicated to work for ladies and my nation,” she mentioned.

Because the hardline Islamist group swept again into the Afghan capital in August, Tolo Information has continued to broadcast a full schedule. The nation’s first 24/7 channel is understood for hard-hitting protection. It broke the information that deposed president Ashraf Ghani had fled because the Taliban swept throughout the nation and has reported on corruption within the navy. It additionally employs dozens of feminine journalists. Its destiny beneath the Taliban is being broadly seen as a litmus check of whether or not the brand new regime will assure fundamental freedoms.

In the course of the Taliban’s earlier tenure from 1996-2001, ladies had been banished from public life, the media was strictly managed and tv and different types of leisure had been banned.

In want of worldwide recognition to entry help, the Taliban have an curiosity in presenting a extra liberal face to Western powers. In flip, overseas governments are hoping the regime might be one they’ll work with with a purpose to avert an financial disaster that would unleash a flood of refugees and a proliferation of jihadis within the area.

However thus far, the outlook appears precarious. Regardless of an early promise from senior Taliban figures that Afghans had nothing to worry and that the hardline Islamists had no intention of returning to the repression of the previous, Kabul has seen a crackdown on dissent. Armed fighters have aggressively disbursed protesters and final week beat and detained journalists — together with a Tolo Information cameraman — who had been reporting on anti-government protests within the capital.

“They might ultimately kick us out . . . I half anticipate that,” mentioned Saad Mohseni, chair and chief govt of Moby Group, who launched Tolo Information in 2004.

However Mohseni mentioned this was the second to speak to the Taliban and persuade them of the deserves of a average Afghanistan earlier than their views hardened. “Partaking them might be the best factor to do proper now,” he mentioned.

Saad Mohseni, chairman and chief executive of Moby Group
Saad Mohseni, Moby Group chief, mentioned Tolo Information must relocate exterior Kabul if safety or impartial protection grew to become compromised © Massoud Hossaini/AP

Mohseni, a 55-year-old Afghan Australian and son of an Afghan diplomat, was born in London and left a profession in finance at Australian stockbroker Tricom to return to Afghanistan and begin his media enterprise. Moby Group was launched in 2003 with help from a USAID grant. Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who Mohseni describes as a good friend, took a minority stake within the firm in 2012.

Tolo’s rise heralded the modernisation of Afghanistan’s media panorama following the US-led invasion, with the nation boasting dozens of tv channels and 150 radio stations earlier than the Taliban regained management.

Because the nation’s main broadcaster, with programming in Pashto and Dari, two of the nation’s predominant languages, Tolo and the opposite Moby tv and radio channels command a 60 per cent share of the Afghanistan viewers. Actuality present “Afghan Star” and Tolo’s night information programme often entice some 12m viewers, a 3rd of the nation’s inhabitants. Its channels are additionally out there in international locations throughout the broader area.

Tolo instantly put the brand new regime to the check when it requested Taliban official Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemand to do an interview with feminine information anchor Beheshta Arghand two days after the Islamists seized energy. Their alternate went viral the world over.

Arghand subsequently interviewed human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, a vociferous critic of the Islamist faction’s repression of ladies who was shot as a schoolgirl by the Pakistan Taliban — which has declared allegiance to the Afghan Taliban.

However Arghand and greater than 50 others amongst Tolo’s 400 employees have since fled the nation, fearing for his or her security and that of their households.

Terrified that the Taliban would goal their houses, “we principally spent our nights within the workplace” after the takeover, mentioned a Tolo journalist who left the nation on the finish of August, “The Taliban are usually not doing what they’re saying. We’ve to save lots of our lives and our households.”

Afghan news anchor Beheshta Arghand
Tolo Information anchor Beheshta Arghand and colleagues have fled Afghanistan over security fears © Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

Mohseni, who was talking from Dubai, mentioned he wouldn’t return to Afghanistan till his security was assured. The Taliban had pledged Tolo might proceed its programming, he mentioned, however out of warning he has already pulled some Turkish cleaning soap operas and music movies off the air.

Observers say the early days of the brand new regime raised false hopes for the way forward for free media.

“The highest Taliban management are viewing Tolo as a possible instrument that they’ll exploit to curate their picture to their very own liking within the months to return,” mentioned Avinash Paliwal on the Soas South Asia Institute on the College of London. “Given Tolo’s highly effective worldwide voice, the Taliban is granting it privileges to assist soften their picture. These privileges might change.”

Though it’s unclear for a way for much longer Tolo will have the ability to keep reside, Mohseni has used social media to denounce the flogging of reporters and to pay tribute to a journalist working with the Nationwide Resistance Entrance of Afghanistan who was killed in combating towards the Taliban within the Panjshir Valley, the nation’s final opposition holdout.

Tolo would proceed working out of Kabul for so long as attainable, he mentioned, including: “There are quite a lot of different individuals who wish to keep on and work, and we’ve employed quite a lot of new individuals,” together with many ladies.

But when safety or impartial protection grew to become compromised, operations can be relocated. “We’ve no security nets, there’s no state, authorities, no official police,” he mentioned. “It’s truly nerve-racking for us.”

https://www.ft.com/content material/2374e2a1-1ccc-464c-9ce5-d089a1609fd9 | Afghanistan media battle to chart path by way of Taliban upheaval

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