The Taliban’s move to prevent local media from broadcasting broadcasts by international news agencies, including Voice of America (VOA), sparked international outcry.
Members of the US Congress and human rights groups condemned the decision. They said the media ban and the blocking of girls’ access to education showed that the Taliban were taking Afghanistan in the “wrong direction.”
On Sunday (27/3), the Taliban ordered local broadcasters to stop broadcasting news programs produced by VOA, BBC (from the UK) and German media Deutsche Welle.
A Taliban spokesman on Monday (28/3) defended the ban decision to local media, saying, “We have no control over the content.”
The spokesman, Enamullah Samangani, said foreign media did not comply with Taliban laws. “Their hosts wear clothes that are against Islamic guidelines and sometimes they broadcast programs that are against our national interests and security,” he told 1TV.
The order to ban local media from broadcasting foreign news content comes a week after the Taliban detained at least seven journalists who opposed the ban on entertainment broadcasts, or those who reported that the Taliban denied access to education for girls.
Last week the Taliban retracted announcements that high schools would reopen to girls, arguing it had been postponed until plans for reopening schools were made in accordance with Islamic law.
Michael McCaul, a Republican member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the media ban was unexpected.
“Media censorship by the Taliban is appalling, but sadly not surprising,” McCaul told VOA Monday.
“We are seeing the real Taliban again. The US must continue to support independent media to counter media oppression and human rights abuses by the Taliban,” he added.
The US State Department on Monday (28/3) issued a statement condemning the media ban and the decision to deny access to education for Afghan girls.
“Each of these actions alone is worrying, let alone combined. Both actions make clear that the Taliban are not fulfilling the important commitments they have made to the Afghan people and the world community,” the statement said.
Education and freedom of expression are human rights inherent to every individual in Afghanistan. These are not Western values or recognition of the international community; these are human rights and essential for a peaceful and prosperous Afghan society, which the Taliban claim to want.”
VOA and other broadcasters affected by the media ban have asked the Taliban to change their decision.
“The content bans that the Taliban are trying to enforce are against the freedom of expression that Afghans deserve,” said VOA Acting Director Yolanda Lόpez.
VOA produces a 30-minute news program in Pashto and Dari, the 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 against our affiliated TV partners in the country, our commitment to providing factual information to the Afghan people is a commitment that Voice of America will continue to do,” Lόpez added.
VOA continues to air via satellite, radio, internet and social media.
Peter Limbourg, director general of German public broadcasting DW, also condemned the move.
“The fact that the Taliban is now criminalizing the distribution of the DW program by our media partners hinders positive developments in Afghanistan,” Limbourg said in a statement.
“A free media is very important in this regard, and we will do whatever we can to continue to provide Afghans with independent information via the internet and social media,” he added.
The BBC said Sunday (27/3) that its news broadcasts shared by its Afghan partners in Pashto, Uzbek and Persian have been stopped.
“This is a worrying development at a time of great uncertainty and turbulence for Afghans,” Tarik Kafala, speaking on the BBC’s World Service, said in a statement.
When they take power in August 2021, the Taliban have said they will respect media freedom.
But international media rights groups say their actions have since broken a promise they made, issuing media guidelines that restrict and detain journalists.
“Even though they initially promised to respect press freedom, the Taliban did the opposite,” said Amy Brouillette, advocacy director at the International Press Institute in Vienna.
“The regime instead seeks to control the press and silence the media through a mix of restrictive laws – including requirements on religious content and bans on foreign news and films – as well as through arbitrary arrests, detention, assault, and other forms of intimidation and violence. ” [rd/jm]