A move by the Taliban to prevent local media airing broadcasts from international outlets, including the Voice of America, has resulted in international condemnation.
U.S. lawmakers and rights groups condemned the decision, saying the media bans and a block on girls’ education show the Taliban are moving Afghanistan in the “wrong direction.”
On Sunday, the Taliban ordered local broadcasters to stop carrying news programs produced by VOA, Britain’s BBC and German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
A Taliban spokesperson on Monday defended the ban, telling a local news outlet, “We did not have any control over the content.”
The spokesperson, Enamullah Samangani, said that foreign networks did not follow Taliban law. “Their presenters wear dresses that are against Islamic guidelines and sometimes they air programs that are against our national interest and security," he told 1TV.
The order blocking local media from broadcasting foreign news content came in a week when the Taliban detained at least seven journalists who defied a ban on airing entertainment, or who reported on the Taliban denying girls access to education.
The Taliban last week backtracked on an announcement that high schools would open for all girls, saying they would be preventing from attending classes until a plan was drawn up in accordance with Islamic law for them to reopen.
Michael McCaul, the Republican ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the media ban was not unexpected.
"The Taliban’s censorship of the media is appalling but unfortunately, not surprising," McCaul told VOA Monday.
"We are once again seeing the Taliban show their true colors. The U.S. must continue to support independent media to counter the Taliban’s media suppression and human rights violations,” the Republican representative from Texas added.
The U.S. State Department on Monday issued a statement condemning both the media ban and the decision to deny education to Afghan girls.
“Each of these actions alone is alarming, but combined, they make clear the Taliban are not living up to the essential commitments they made to the Afghan people and the international community,” the statement read.
“Education and freedom of expression are human rights held by every person in Afghanistan. These are not Western values or concessions to the international community; they are human rights and essential to a peaceful and prosperous Afghan society, which is something the Taliban claim to desire.”
McCaul also commented on the education ban during an interview with CNN on Sunday, saying “It is one of the saddest things I’ve had to witness.”
VOA and the other broadcasters affected by the content ban have called on the Taliban to change course.
“The content restrictions that the Taliban are attempting to impose are antithetical to freedom of expression that the people of Afghanistan deserve,” said VOA Acting Director Yolanda Lόpez.
VOA produces a half-hour news bulletin in Pashto and Dari, the two main languages spoken in Afghanistan, five days a week for its Afghan partners, TOLO news and Shamshad TV.
“While we are disappointed and saddened by the Taliban’s orders to our television affiliate partners in the country, our commitment to providing factual information to the people of Afghanistan is one that the Voice of America will continue,” Lόpez added.
VOA continues to broadcast to Afghanistan via satellite, radio, internet and social media.
On Tuesday it announced a new 24/7 direct-to-home satellite-delivered television channel for Afghanistan. The channel, which has been in development since August, will proved news in Dari and Pashto.
It will broadcast content including VOA’s “TV Ashna” newscasts and the women’s show “Etesal,” and with local stations unable to carry music programs, VOA also plans to broadcast entertainment shows.
"Despite the Taliban’s attempt to end press freedom, VOA News stands by its Afghan audience with credible and authoritative news and information,” Lopez said in a statement, announcing the new channel Tuesday.
Peter Limbourg, director general of German public broadcaster DW, also condemned the Taliban’s move.
"The fact that the Taliban are now criminalizing the distribution of DW programs by our media partners is hindering positive developments in Afghanistan,” Limbourg said in a statement.
“Free media is essential for this, and we will do everything we can to continue to provide the people of Afghanistan with independent information via the internet and social media,” he added.
The BBC said Sunday that its newscasts shared by Afghan partners in Pashto, Uzbek and Persian language had been taken off air.
"This is a worrying development at a time of uncertainty and turbulence for the people of Afghanistan," said Tarik Kafala, head of languages at BBC World Service, in a statement.
When they took power in August 2021, the Taliban said they would respect media freedom.
But international media rights groups say their actions since have belied that pledge, issuing restrictive media guidelines and detaining journalists.
"Despite making initial promises to respect press freedom, the Taliban have done the exact opposite," said Amy Brouillette, director of advocacy for the Vienna-based International Press Institute.
"The regime has instead sought to control the press and to silence independent media through a mix of restrictive laws — including requirements regarding religious content and bans on foreign news and films — as well as through arbitrary arrests, detentions, assaults, and other forms of intimidation and violence."