After the Fall: journalism in Afghanistan under the Taliban
Afghan Witness reflects on some of the key takeaways of the project’s collaborative event with Etilaatroz. How have Afghan media outlets had to adapt under Taliban rule – and how can open source help them?
23 Aug 2023
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 has drastically shifted the country's media landscape. Journalists have allegedly been arrested and have faced increased restrictions on their reporting. According to Afghan Witness’s (AW) report on the two years of Taliban rule, Afghanistan has seen continuing repressions and the gradual erosion of space for independent media and civil society. Between January 15, 2022, and July 20, 2023, AW recorded 316 claims of violations concerning civil society, human rights defenders, and media, including 98 reports of journalists, photographers and media commentators being detained by the Taliban.
Female journalists have been particularly affected as they must also navigate the Taliban’s restrictions on women’s rights, impacting their freedom of movement and dress, as well as their access to employment and education. Some restrictions have specifically targeted women journalists; for example, in May 2022, female presenters were ordered to cover their faces and, in March 2023, women were reportedly prohibited from participating in TV interviews and discussions at the same table as men.
On Monday 21 August, AW held a collaborative event with Etilaatroz – welcoming Zaki Daryabi, founder and CEO of Etilaatroz and David Osborn, Project Director of AW. Olivia Pirie-Griffiths, Director of the Alliance for Journalists Freedom, moderated the discussion. The key takeaways are below.
Changing approaches to journalism
Etilaatroz can no longer report independently from Kabul as they used to, due to Taliban-imposed restrictions and the risks associated with reporting. Zaki Daryabi and his team had to instead find ways to report from exile. To mitigate the limitations imposed by the lack of access to events on the ground, Etilaatroz sought help from citizen journalists. While the team now has access to information that they would otherwise not have, they face additional challenges such as safety and security concerns, a longer period to publish news and reports, and the need to provide training to citizen journalists to ensure they work to a journalistic standard. Despite these challenges, Etilaatroz remains one of the critical news outlets in Afghanistan.
The restrictions issued by the Taliban limit the coverage and reporting of topics such as women’s rights and human rights, which are more prone to international scrutiny. The introduction of new regulations, such as the issuing of ID cards for journalists, makes it increasingly difficult for those reporting on the ground, as they can be easily identified. Self-censorship is also likely widespread, with both media outlets and individuals conscious of the risks involved with criticising the Taliban.
Open source techniques in journalism
Journalism is, of course, a fundamental mechanism for transparency in any society. In a conflict or crisis area, the information published can impact eventual accountability processes, or the possibility for them to occur. Ensuring journalism is verified and factual is crucial to this. This is where open source techniques – also known as OSINT – can play a role.
As David Osborn mentioned, with much of the media now based outside of Afghanistan, it is difficult to verify the accuracy of reports. Open source techniques such as geolocation can be used to stitch together various pieces of content to reconstruct incidents and shed light on what is happening, why, and who is involved. It can also provide reliable information to journalists as well as the general public, helping to both strengthen Afghanistan’s information environment and support the media’s role in ensuring transparency.
There are limitations to open source, however, particularly when it comes to the situation in Afghanistan. Analysts and journalists are dependent on information emerging online, and there are several factors limiting content and visual evidence from surfacing: access to the internet and mobile phones; digital literacy; education; and, of course, self-censorship due to security concerns. This means it is vital for open source analysis to be corroborated with information from on-the-ground sources where possible, as well as additional reporting from other organisations working in Afghanistan or monitoring the situation.
The Taliban takeover has presented significant challenges for journalism in Afghanistan, and media outlets have had to adapt – for example, organisations such as Etilaatroz have had to expand their on-the-ground networks and increase their capabilities to both work and fact-check remotely.
It’s clear there is now an even greater need for journalists to use open source techniques to find and verify reliable information. This is where AW can provide support – a key aim of the project is to build partnerships to strengthen the information environment and provide training and skill-sharing sessions which support the use of open source to collect, preserve, and verify information on the situation in Afghanistan.
Ultimately, both Zaki and David reinforced the need for increased and continued collaboration between organisations and media outlets working in and on Afghanistan, to provide a more transparent picture of the country.