Monday, August 24, 2015

U.S. stake in Afghan press freedom seen at risk, especially in rural areas, when U.S. troops leave

"Since the fall of the fundamentalist regime in 2001, the U.S. has spent at least $110.7 million to develop and promote an open media in Afghanistan where none before existed, according to an analysis of contracts on," Sudarsan Raghavarn reports for The Washington Post. "In that time, at least 43 local and foreign journalists have been killed, and scores more have been injured. With the U.S. about to depart, the future of the press hangs in doubt in one of the most hostile environments for journalism in the world." (Post photo by Andrew Quilty: A news team prepares to do a broadcast from the site of a truck bomb that killed at least 15 people)
Najib Sharifi, a founding member of the Afghan Journalists Federation, told Raghavarn that the creation of many independent media outlets “is the biggest achievement the U.S. has had in Afghanistan. We’ve got to preserve it.” Lotfullah Najafizada, director of news and current affairs at Tolo TV, said that because two-thirds of Afghans are under 25, “They have been raised with freedom of expression. It’s in their blood. It has been institutionalized.”

While urban news outlets are expected to survive when the U.S troops leave, most likely by the end of 2016, the fear is that "small radio stations and newspapers in rural areas that largely depend on donor funds will go out of business or become tools of warlords, political figures or insurgents," Raghavarn reports.

It's been an uphill climb for Afghan reporters. The U.S.-funded Nai Institute "is located in a large two-story house behind an armored steel door, guarded by armed security guards who gain access only through a computerized fingerprint scanner," Raghavarn writes. "The safety measures were installed in the spring after the Nai Institute was accused by the Taliban of being 'the center of the American cultural invasion.'”

"The free flow of information in the country, which is home to about 31 million people and is about the size of Texas, has been transformed," Raghavarn reports. "Under the Taliban for more than five years, there was no independent media. Today, the landscape includes roughly 100 TV channels and about 250 radio stations, according to a U.S.-funded survey of the Afghan media this year. There are more than 200 newspapers and magazines. Most outlets are in private hands. Collectively, they employ about 7,200 journalists." (Read more)

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