‘South Asia could support Afghan media’ muzzled by Taliban

By Sudeep Sonawane
New Delhi, November 5, 2022

South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal could help raise the pitch against Taliban regime that has muzzled journalists and media outlets in Afghanistan, a senior Afghan journalist and educator told an international seminar Saturday night.
“There is no hope for Afghanistan media in this situation. There is not much political pressure on Taliban from governments and journalist unions worldwide,” Faisal Karimi, a research scholar at San Jose State University California, told The Pluralist.
Ohio University’s Institute for International Journalism Director Dr Jatin Srivastava moderated the seminar attended by 40 participants comprising media studies professors, students, and journalists. JIIMS Department of Media and Communication Studies Greater Noida is hosting the two-day seminar titled ‘Society, Culture and Communication in the Age of New Media’.
In his presentation titled ‘Media Capture Strategies in an Islamic Authoritarian Context: The Case of the Taliban’, Karimi said, “Free and dynamic media collapsed overnight when Taliban came to power on August 15, 2021 after the US forces withdrew. Media space is getting narrower every day under Taliban.”
Karimi fled from Kabul after Taliban took charge. He defined media capture as “a situation where the media does not succeed in becoming autonomous.” Citing 2022 data from Afghanistan Journalists Centre, he said, Taliban has closed almost 300 media outlets and at least 245 violent incidents have taken place against journalist and media workers.
Quoting a published text (Mehran 2022), Faisal said, “Taliban has adopted a new media strategy based on their ideological policy of the 1990s along with the continuity and specific media approaches seen during the two decades of insurgency.”
Karimi shared the findings of the first ever study done by him on the capture of media by Taliban in Afghanistan to the seminar. His study collected data through people interviews. The study analysed Taliban’s policies administrative letters from the time they came to power in Kabul.
Karimi’s study findings show the Taliban issued a series of formal and informal restrictive rules. They include direct and indirect censorship; the operating rules journalists and media must obey. The Taliban banned music and entertainment, put restrictions on women journalists, regulatory interference, wresting media ownership, limiting information flow, financial pressure on media, suppression, and criminal prosecution of journalists.
“Under these severe controls there is no investigative journalism and media outlets publish only the information the Taliban approves,” he said.
To counter the Taliban’s controls, Karimi said, “Afghan media does self-censorship, low resistance, no controversial stories and no advocacy campaigns.” His study infers the Afghan media has not been able to mitigate Taliban’s media capture strategy.
From Lahore, Pakistan, University of Punjab’s Department of Digital Media Chair Dr Savera Mujib Shami, spoke on trust, misinformation, and polarisation in community in social media age. She spoke on the power and reach of social media.
Social capital and social media support social connectedness, promotes networked individualism. People take help from social networks. The webs of relationships, especially when they link people from different backgrounds are what hold a community together. There is more bonding, she said.
“Trust is an important social capital. There is much polarisation in society. People are not ready to listen to each other. They live in a bubble. More powerful groups dominate social media when social capital in primary social groups remain disconnected from one another,” Said Dr Shami.
Political leaders compromise trust which leads to polarisation, she said. “Elections are inherently polarising events. Political leaders take advantage of the trust people have in them. Political parties thrive on mistrust and cannot afford too much public participation. Much of political life is not about bringing people together for cooperation. Politics thrives on mistrust.
“Political elite spread havoc in society through misinformation because they enjoy the trust of people. Where there is high trust, recipients of news refrain from verifying the source of the information. Polarisation becomes dangerous not when groups disagree, but become dangerous when groups disagree and do not interact,” said Dr Shami.
Eastern Connecticut State University Department of Communication Assistant Professor Michelle Michael spoke on the topic ‘Sri Lanka’s Evolving Social problems in the age of mobile journalism’.
In 2018 Sri Lanka had a little over 7 million internet users. In 2019 this number jumped to 10.1m which is half of Sri Lanka’s population, she said and cited data from Media sustainability Index on Sri Lanka by the International Research and Exchange Board IREX on how handheld device journalism is affecting Sri Lanka.
She referred to Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war from 1970s to 2009, fought between Sinhala and Tamil speaking population, that pushed back development. Post-war reformation did not happen. Sri Lanka’s recent financial crisis and hyperinflation that has derailed the country’s progress and the solutions to social problems lies at the grassroots level, she said.


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