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Economic Hardship Impacts Afghan Media

FILE - Afghan Journalists attend a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 13, 2022. A December survey by Reporters Without Borders and the Afghan Independent Journalist Assoc., says 231 media outlets closed and over 6,400 journalists have lost their jobs since last August.

Afghanistan lost two more local radio stations in April, as economic hardship hits the country’s media community.

The stations - Paktia Ghag, in Paktia province, and Sadai Maimana, in Faryab province - cited financial constraints in announcing the closure.

“We were not able to pay either the electricity bill or our expenses,” Zabiullah Ayoubi, managing editor of Paktia Ghag, told VOA.

For Ayoubi the closure is the end of an era. He worked at the station for 14 years, but says that since the Taliban seized control in August, he and his colleagues have not been paid.

Unless the economic problems are resolved, the station will remain shuttered, Ayoubi said.

More than 40% of Afghan media outlets closed between the Taliban takeover in August and the end of last year, according to media groups Reporters Without Borders and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association.

A joint survey by the media rights groups found up to 60% of journalists, around 6,400 people, lost their jobs in that period.

Taliban media guidelines and restrictions, coupled with economic hardship since the takeover, have impacted the finances of the media sector.

Previously, media could rely on international organizations for support, and private companies and the government for advertising revenue. But those sources have dried up.

Overall Afghanistan is facing a devastating humanitarian and economic crisis, the United Nations says.

The Taliban also ordered media organizations to share advertisements before airing them.

In an April 15 letter, viewed by VOA, the Taliban Ministry of Information and Culture said that media outlets are “obliged” to share advertisements that have “political, security or social aspects” with the ministry.

Revenue lost

Without financial assistance, local media will not survive, says Zahid Shah Angar, founder of the Suli Paigham radio station in the eastern province of Khost.

“Except the state-run radio and TV stations in the province, others do not have the means to sustain themselves, and they will definitely shut if there is no financial assistance,” Angar added.

Programs funded by donors and non-governmental organizations in agriculture, health, democracy and other sectors were key sources of revenue for media outlets. Private companies also provided paid advertising.

“Unfortunately, we do not have any of these sources now,” Angar said.

For eight months, his station has been unable to pay its 22 employees, Angar said. “We lost all our income sources.”

Additionally, four women who worked for the station stopped coming to work.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid has said that women can still work, but Angar said, “Our female colleagues are not willing to continue.”

“Even if our female colleagues are willing to work, we will not be able to pay them,” he added.

FILE - Afghan journalists Banafsha Binesh, right, speaks with her colleague Wheeda Hassan, at TOLO TV newsroom in Kabul, Feb. 8, 2022. Binesh fear haunts every step when she leaves her home each morning for the newsroom at Afghanistan's largest TV station.
FILE - Afghan journalists Banafsha Binesh, right, speaks with her colleague Wheeda Hassan, at TOLO TV newsroom in Kabul, Feb. 8, 2022. Binesh fear haunts every step when she leaves her home each morning for the newsroom at Afghanistan's largest TV station.

For others in media, the economic fallout was a shock.

Sefatullah Zahedi, owner of Radio Sakoon in Helmand province, invested $30,000 in establishing his radio station.

“I did not expect that something like this would happen,” he said. “I was thinking that the international community has invested here and will give us advertisements, projects and (sponsor) shows. But the opposite happened.”

Radio Sakoon’s office in the capital Lashkar Gah, was damaged in the fighting and Zahedi had to spend $10,000 on repairs.

Now he faces more problems: paying the rent and salaries.

“I am spending from my own pocket. I pay the rent, salaries, utilities, food and the internet,” Zahedi said.

Some of the journalists in the province who lost their jobs work for him on a volunteer basis.

“I told them that instead of doing nothing, they can work with me. I told them that we have a place, food, and the internet. Because they did not have anything else to do, they came to work with us.”

Zahedi said four radio and three TV stations ceased operation in Helmand since the Taliban’s takeover.

Call for assistance

Economic problems are one of the main reasons media outlets are closing, says Hujatullah Mujadidi, vice president of the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association.

“Unfortunately, the system collapsed and the international organizations halted their financial support. The government and private companies also stopped giving ads.”

He and other Afghan media organizations have been calling on international organizations to support media, and for the Taliban to ensure media freedom, and greater access for journalists.

If media outlets are not supported, Mujadidi said, “We will witness the closure of more outlets, and it will result in silencing freedom of expression and a loss of jobs.”

“It will be a catastrophe for media in Afghanistan.”

This story originated in VOA’s Afghan service.