Since 28 March, the Taliban have banned the possibility of repeating foreign broadcasters’ programmes on Afghan territory. The first to stop broadcasting was the BBC, which asked for the decision to be revoked because programmes in Persian, Pashto and Uzbek are still only receivable by those with a satellite dish: 20% of the estimated six million listeners. Before the American withdrawal, the BBC also had dozens of FM installations in various parts of the country, including two in Kabul, on 89.0 and 101.6 MHz. The blockade makes no distinction and also affects the Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and the China Global Television Network.
Free speech in free fall
According to a survey conducted by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in collaboration with the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA), in four months (15 August to 20 December 2021), 231 media outlets ceased operations, putting more than 6,400 journalists out of work. And women are the hardest hit: four out of five have been ‘sent home’. And who knows how many positions Afghanistan will lose in the world press freedom rankings drawn up by the World Press Freedom Index, which measures press freedom in 180 countries around the world: in the 2021 report, Afghanistan was already in 122nd place.
The American military disengagement has left the field open to the Taliban, who have resumed their ground offensive in three large cities in the south and west of the country: Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar. In the course of the advance, the terrorists occupy the radio stations, using some of them to rebroadcast their radio signal, and intimidate the others, forcing them to switch off.
As happened on 2 August 2021 in Lashkar Gah, a city of 200,000 inhabitants in the south of the country, capital of the province of Helmand, which has been under attack for days by the Taliban, who now control several neighbourhoods. The Taliban started to broadcast Radio Voice of Sharia (Shariat Ghag) on 95.0 and 105.2 MHz of the former state radio station and switched off all other stations.
Before the American intervention, when the Islamic State controlled 90% of the country, there was only one radio station controlled by the Taliban, which broadcast religious messages. In the last twenty years, however, information has opened up to pluralism: television stations, 170 radio stations and over 100 newspapers have been set up. An interesting report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism takes stock of the situation. More than 50% of the population (a total of 38 million) is under the age of 19, and around 6.5 million Afghans are active on social networks.