The Taliban Continues to Wage War on the Media and Culture
Earlier this month, the Taliban banned the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which are both funded by the U.S. government. Both outlets are now on the Taliban’s list of banned international media, including the BBC and Deutsche Welle (DW).
The curtailment of freedom of media has been a defining characteristic of Taliban rule.
Since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, access to information has become incredibly difficult. This is not to say that before the Taliban’s return to power information was easily accessible nor was the media entirely free, but since their comeback, the accessibility to critical information has been significantly restricted.
The International Federation of Journalists notes that “The lack of access to information, self-censorship, fear of reprisals, and a severe economic crisis have diminished the capacity of national and local media to operate as it used to.”
According to Human Rights Watch, “journalists have also been detained and punished when they have tried to obtain information for their reports.” Particularly, access to information is limited on reporting topics that the Taliban have prohibited. These topics include protests, military and police actions, ISKP attacks, the drug trade, opium production, and anything else the Taliban view as “sensitive.” Towards this, they have rolled out “11 rules for journalists,” which essentially censors the media and enables them to arbitrarily determine what reporting is prohibited.
Not only has the Taliban restricted access to information, but they have also been providing inaccurate information. A journalist told Human Rights Watch “The information they [Taliban] give to us is not completely accurate as they edit it according to their wishes.”
To paint an even somber picture of the state of the media in Afghanistan, 40% of Afghan media outlets have shuttered, with a staggering 80% of women journalists losing their jobs.
The bleak state of media and lack of access to information in Afghanistan is headed towards a negative trajectory, with very little optimism as the Taliban have transformed the country into a closed society.
But the Taliban’s repression goes beyond the media. The group has also imposed restrictions on culture. Music, fine arts and painting, and Persian New Year celebrations have been banned, among other impositions.
Amid these severe scalebacks, the Cultural Front of Afghanistan was established to strengthen and promote culture and access to information. The front seeks to fight against repression and censorship through its platform, which is a space for activists and a resource for information on Taliban abuses.
While the Taliban have failed to fulfill its international obligations, the international community’s response has largely been limited to condemnations.
But now more than ever, as Afghanistan is regressing backward, it is imperative that the world fulfills the commitments it made to the Afghan people over two decades ago. The international community should prioritize protecting Taliban targets such as media and culture.
As Afghanistan is returning to the dark days, now is the time for the world to reassess its policies and step up.