Taliban takeover ended flourishing media in Afghanistan: Report

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban’s takeover in 2021 marked the end of a “period of media flourishing and improving freedom of expression in Afghanistan,” according to a report by JX Fund, the European Fund for Journalism in Exile.

In its report, “Afghan Exiled Media Since the Taliban Takeover,” the organization highlighted the collapse of the former government, which triggered an environment of “fear and uncertainty within the media community.”

“Independent and diverse non-state media are in danger; many journalists have fled their homeland in search of safety and freedom,” the report stated.

Despite these challenges, Afghan journalists in exile continue to demonstrate resilience and dedication to their profession, providing crucial insights and reporting on the ground while navigating the complexities of life far from home, the report noted.

The JX Fund currently monitors 47 independent media outlets, gathering data from both open sources and submissions by market stakeholders, including the media themselves.

The report revealed that independent Afghan media in exile remain highly esteemed by their audiences, with cumulative YouTube views reaching an estimated 36 million as of April 2024, and an aggregate 6 million followers on Facebook engaging with these media outlets.

“A notable feature of the Afghan exiled media community is the importance of television, partially due to low internet penetration and high illiteracy rates,” the report said. According to the report, 27% of the exiled media use television formats.

The report urged the donor community to consider the high costs of TV production when calculating total support for Afghan exiled media.

The report also highlighted that economic instability, along with other constraints, restrictions, and threats, has been a major contributor to media outlet closures since the Taliban’s takeover. Many outlets have lacked the resources to continue operations.

The diverse media ecosystem that had developed over two decades in Afghanistan typically fell into one of five categories: mainstream commercial media (TV stations), local community FM radio stations, interest group media (ethnic, religious, partisan media, and media owned by warlords), Taliban media, and government-controlled media. The report argued that media fell on a broad spectrum in terms of editorial approach, with some outlets challenging conservative elements in Afghan culture while others promoted ethnonationalist and political agendas.

“In practice, many media were instrumentalized as tools to pursue specific agendas, which likely contributed to further worsening of the already existing social divisions in the country,” the JX Fund stated.

JX Fund reported that the Taliban has issued 17 severe directives to systematically control media and journalists over the past three years. These directives aim to monopolize information, implement severe censorship, and restrain media alignment.

The Taliban has also arrested and beaten dozens of journalists, the report said. “Media linked to opposition parties are shut down (Noor, Barya, Kabul News TV). Private media have to align with propaganda narratives,” the report noted, adding that the Taliban has also canceled the law on access to information and set up over 10 new digital media outlets to boost their narrative.

Quoting data from Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) and other external sources, JX Fund reported that AFJC documented a total of 366 incidents of abuse against media from August 2021 to August 2023, including 23 cases of injuries, 176 cases of detention, three deaths, 139 cases of threats, and 25 instances of harassment.