‘We're scared’: What's going on inside top Afghan TV network under Taliban rule

  • While the Taliban have asked the Afghan media to operate as usual, many are apprehensive given the history of the hardline Islamists who banned TV during their rule from 1996-2001.
Afghan presenter Zarmina Mohammadi for Tolo News takes part in a live broadcast at Tolo TV station in Kabul.(AFP / File photo)
Afghan presenter Zarmina Mohammadi for Tolo News takes part in a live broadcast at Tolo TV station in Kabul.(AFP / File photo)
Published on Sep 04, 2021 03:38 PM IST
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By hindustantimes.com | Written by Kunal Gaurav, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Afghanistan’s biggest independent TV network faces an uncertain future under Taliban rule as the Islamist group has often targeted and killed journalists during the two decades of insurgency. Tolo, one of the first commercial television networks in Afghanistan, kept broadcasting even as Kabul fell to the Taliban on the evening of August 15. While the Taliban have asked the Afghan media to operate as usual, many are apprehensive given the history of the hardline Islamists who banned TV during their rule from 1996-2001.

"We're scared, I'll be honest with you, we are nervous," Saad Mohseni, CEO of Tolo's parent company Moby Group, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "Everyone is having sleepless nights, but what the viewer is experiencing is not that different."

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international media watchdog, had remarked in a report before Kabul’s fall that women journalists “continue to be vulnerable in a country where they are among the leading targets of fundamentalist propaganda, which circulates widely in several regions.” The organisation had raised concern that basic freedoms, including the freedom of women journalists, could be sacrificed for the sake of a peace deal.

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With frequent interviews, the Taliban have taken a different approach this time to reveal their stance on television and women’s rights while they continue to insist on a “genuine Islamic system.” One Taliban official recently gave an interview to a woman host on Tolo News, projecting a softer image than the one they had created two decades ago. But an RSF report exposed the Islamists replacing a female anchor at state-owned Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA), who was told to “stay at home for a few days.”

Mohseni has pledged to keep women on-air even as the company lost many female employees after the Taliban’s return. But the director of Tolo News, Lotfullah Najafizada, acknowledged the difficulty of keeping the news operations alive under the Taliban rule. Najafizada told news agency AFP that the regime change has "put us in a very, very difficult situation... to continue our work or not."

"As a 24/7 news operation, we didn't even have one hour to take a break and rethink," he added.

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Before the Taliban’s takeover, Kabul had 108 media outlets and 1,080 female employees, of whom 700 were journalists, according to RSF. The media watchdog said in a report earlier this week that the number of female journalists formally working in privately-owned radio and TV stations in Afghanistan’s capital has shrunk to fewer than 100.

“A fundamental red line will be the Taliban's treatment of women and girls, and respect for their rights to liberty, freedom of movement, education, self-expression and employment, guided by international human rights norms,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had said last month.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Sunday, October 24, 2021