Thousands of journalists have lost their jobs in the last 9 months in Afghanistan, and many media outlets have begun to put locks on their doors due to increased security and financial problems.
According to a December report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 40% of media outlets closed in the last five months of last year, and about 6,400 journalists lost their jobs. Hundreds of them have left the country. In some provinces in Afghanistan, there are only a handful of media outlets left, and the rest have stopped broadcasting music, removed foreign content, and pulled female presenters from the air. More than 80 percent of female journalists nationwide are no longer able to do journalism.
Before August, 543 press organizations were broadcasting across the country. Since the Taliban seized control of the country on August 15, at least 153 media outlets have been shut down and thousands of press workers have become unemployed. According to the Afghan Association of Independent Journalists (AIJA), 4 out of every 10 media outlets in the country have been closed. Sixty percent of media workers became unemployed. The number of media outlets closed in the country is 231. According to AIJA, the number of people who lost their job is more than 6400.
In Kabul alone, one of every two media outlets was forced to close. Before the Taliban, there were 148 media organizations in the city, and now there are 72. Nowadays, while the country’s economy is suffering greatly, journalists have no alternative job options left. In order to make a living, the press workers turned to different lines of work.
The Taliban, which continues its progress throughout the country, has closed down media outlets whose broadcasting policies they do not like, while journalists have turned to other areas either because of threats, or emerging economic problems. In addition to those who had to leave their country, those whose names were on the arrest lists changed their residences and began living in other cities under different identities.
Hassan Sirdash is just one of hundreds of journalists who were forced to leave their country. His experience of 17 years of journalism and his work in dozens of national and international media organizations have made him a target. He has been kidnapped twice by the Taliban and arrested three times by government authorities.
Sirdash, who also served as a press consultant in the Ministry of Economy of the former government, was the target of immediate threats when the Taliban took over the administration. Now he is one of those who, after these threats, was forced to leave his country and take refuge in the neighboring country of Iran. Sirdash, whose journalistic profession is full of achievements, now carries about 50 professional certificates that remain in his bag as memories. Hassan Sirdash says that the main reason for leaving Afghanistan was unemployment. In addition, the prisoners released from the prisons by the Taliban government had increased the threats against him and his family, so he had to leave the country. The released prisoners made death threats and sent anonymous threatening letters to his address.
Sirdash, winner of the “The Bravest Reporter” award and recipient of a certificate of gratitude from the Human Rights Commission and the Afghan Parliament, initially refused to go to Iran because of the racist rhetoric and attitude toward journalists there. However, after receiving refusals from many embassies whose doors he knocked on, he was forced to change his plans and go to Iran. Hassan Sirdash, who has been trying to find an apartment with his family for 2 weeks, now works for $150 a month as both a cleaner and a load carrier in a store.
Sirdash underlines that the Taliban are completely opposed to freedom of expression. For the Taliban, journalists are a remnant of the government of former President Ashraf Ghani and are accused of treason. Not only journalists, but also the Afghan people cannot express their opinions. The loss of these freedoms restricts journalists’ reporting; they are subject to censorship. Journalists are only waiting for mistakes to be made; they are arrested and prosecuted on flimsy grounds.
BANS ON FEMALE JOURNALISTS
In 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, there are no longer any working women journalists. In the northern province of Jausjan, where 112 female journalists worked and 19 media companies were based before the Taliban, 7 institutions closed their doors, and none of the remaining 12 media companies employed women journalists. It was announced from the first moment that the Taliban prohibited women from working in the local media.
According to Asliye Ahmadzai, chief of women journalists in the northern region, journalism and freedom of expression are considered a stigma in the Taliban era. Ahmadzai regrets that the Taliban’s years-long efforts to silence freedom of expression are succeeding and fears that there will soon be no women journalists left throughout the country.
It should be noted that the heyday of women journalists was the period when Afghanistan was ruled by a republic. With the collapse of the republic, it became more and more difficult for women journalists to practice their profession. Hundreds of women journalists became unemployed. With the Taliban’s Sharia law, women were again forced to give up their jobs. Many of our female colleagues could not return to their jobs due to fear of the Taliban.
With the Taliban’s capture of the capital Kabul, they declared that women should stay at home. Women journalists who still dared to go to work could be counted on the fingers of one hand. In recent months, however, female journalists have begun to return to media houses in the capital. The number of female journalists in Kabul, which was 1,190 at the beginning of August, now stands at only 320. In the northern province of Jawizjan, where 112 women worked before the Taliban and 19 media outlets were located, 7 institutions closed their doors.
NEW RULES FOR JOURNALISM
Media professionals must now abide by the “11 Rules of Journalism” issued by the Ministry of Information and Culture and the Islamic commandment to “enjoin good and forbid injustice.” News and music programs are banned, and only programs with religious content are broadcasted. Local radio stations stopped broadcasting during this period.
Journalists who are still trying to practice their profession in some way are exposed to Taliban violence. There are reports of nearly 40 violent attacks against journalists so far. IAJA President Hojatollah Mujadadi, in his appeal to international organizations, stressed that the closure of half of the country’s media outlets is a disaster for freedom of the press and that the other half of journalists are suffering in difficult conditions and will lose their jobs if urgent action is not taken. In the World Press Freedom Index published by RSF before the Taliban took power, Afghanistan ranked 122nd out of 180 countries. Given the above figures, it should not be difficult to estimate where the country willrank in this year’s index.