Afghanistan: US influence on Afghan media, alleged bias in reporting, and response to Taliban threats

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“Afghan Journalists Union: Attack on Media by Taliban would be a war crime. &   ” (Muslim Shirzad on Twitter)

Today Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan released a press statement naming 2 TV networks, Tolo and I TV as “military objectives” as opposed to “media outlets” saying that this was “due to their disrespectful and hostile actions towards the Afghan Mujahid nation”. The Taliban accuse these channels of being directly funded by the US Embassy and claim that networks are fabricating stories and propaganda. They state,

“Tolo and 1 TV channels are spearheads among these propaganda networks tasked with promoting the intellectual, cultural and information invasion of the infidels in Afghanistan. These networks with the complete backing of the Americans ridicule our religious and cultural norms, encourage obscenity and lewdness, inject the minds of youth with dangerous substances such as irreligiousness, immorality, violence, gambling, intermixing and profanity and specifically spread propaganda filled with hate and open enmity against Jihad and Mujahideen.

The clear shameless example of propaganda by these satanic networks is a report which they published claiming that on the fourth day following Eid ul Adha when the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate captured Kunduz city, they (may Allah forbid) attacked a female hostel and violated the honor its students.”

Full statement can be read on the following link.

“Afghanistan: Islamic Emirate designates 2 Afghan channels as military objectives following alleged propaganda”

here, https://activist1.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/afghanistan-islamic-emirate-statement-designates-2-afghan-media-channels-as-military-objectives-following-alleged-propaganda/

The Afghan Spectator tweeted,

Afghans are divided on threat to . While most condemn Taliban, others claim Tolo reporting has hurt Afg “culture”

Invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and the double standards of the west

FILE FOOTAGE MAR94 - Lady Margaret Thatcher and former leader Gen. Augusto Pinochet are seen in this file footage taken in March, 1994, during a private meeting in Santiago. Pinochet was arrested in London October 17 while on a visit to Great Britain for medical treatment and is being held under armed guard at The Clinic in London following an appeal for his extradition to Spain to face charges of genocide and torture. Lady Thatcher said that the former leader "must be allowed to return to his own country forthwith" and that "he did so much to save British lives" during the 1982 Falklands War when Chile supported Britain in its conflict with Argentina. CD/HB/ME - RTRIN7N

FILE FOOTAGE MAR94 – Lady Margaret Thatcher and former leader Gen. Augusto Pinochet are seen in this file footage taken in March, 1994, during a private meeting in Santiago. Pinochet was arrested in London October 17 while on a visit to Great Britain for medical treatment and is being held under armed guard at The Clinic in London following an appeal for his extradition to Spain to face charges of genocide and torture. Lady Thatcher said that the former leader “must be allowed to return to his own country forthwith” and that “he did so much to save British lives” during the 1982 Falklands War when Chile supported Britain in its conflict with Argentina.
CD/HB/ME – RTRIN7N

Western hypocrisy regarding support for alleged “terrorists” Margaret Thatcher with Augusto Pinochet

Before exploring the role of the media and what has angered the Taliban to this point, we must go back to 2001. The US-led invasion of Afghanistan was in reaction to 9/11 and like the war in Iraq, the legality of such an extreme move has been under question from the beginning. No Taliban were found to be involved in the attack and many Afghans had never even heard of the Twin Towers. Islamic Emirate, the government of the time was ousted and replaced by a NATO supported parliament with the country under foreign occupation. Though Taliban were accused of sheltering Osama Bin Laden, behind 9/11, there was hypocrisy in the stance of foreign governments. Britain for example had in the past sheltered an equally controversial character. Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, brutal Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet viewed by many in his own country and internationally as a terrorist was feted and protected within the UK. As Ib Times reported,

“under the Pinochet regime, thousands of opponents and left-wing activists were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, executed or simply “disappeared.” Many Chileans, including former President Michelle Bachelet, who is running for a comeback in the current, are demanding that the government conduct a thorough probe of the full magnitude of human rights abuses committed by Pinochet and his military officers.

But as a devout anti-Communist, Pinochet enjoyed the support and friendship of a number of Western leaders, including none other than British Prime Minister and Conservative icon Margaret Thatcher.”

For further details see following link from Amnesty International,

“How General Pinochet’s detention changed the meaning of justice”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2013/10/how-general-pinochets-detention-changed-meaning-justice/

How would the British government have reacted if Chile had decided to occupy Britain over the presence of Pinochet?

Occupation of Afghanistan did not stop at sheltering Bin Laden but continued with trillion dollar efforts to change the entire system within the country from government to the infrastructure and included remodelling the media to shore up an installed western style democracy. (Control the media and you are well on your way to controlling the people).

Its important to explore how today’s statement from the Taliban threatening named TV companies may have arisen given media changes over recent years in Afghanistan. Or to look at this another way…. If Hitler had occupied Britain or Japan taken over the US during the Second World War, would they have viewed those collaborating with media outlets funded by Hitler or Hirohito governments as “independent” or an enemy entities?

Alleged bias of media?

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Tolo image via Twitter

Under the Taliban initially TV was banned although attitudes have changed over the years. TV is accepted though Taliban expect media to work within Islamic guidelines.

Tolo TV is seen as being heavily influenced and financed by those the Taliban view as “foreign occupiers” and in their eyes cannot be termed as “independent”.

I TV describes itself as follows on the station’s website,

“1TV is one of leading television stations in the country.  Known for its hard-hitting news reports and high-impact current affairs programs, 1TV prides itself on rapid, objective, and factual reporting.

1TV reaches a large percentage of highly educated and affluent viewers, targeting a younger audience and a greater share of the middle class.  Its aggressive national outreach and catchy programming make it one of the leading privately owned commercial television stations in Afghanistan.”

One of the concerns of the Taliban appears to be the cultural impact of foreign influenced media and erosion of the teachings of Islam. Taliban do not refer to all media including some international press in a negative manner, they state, “the Military Commission of the Islamic Emirate holds utmost respect for independent and impartial news outlets and exerts efforts to provide a safe atmosphere for their work.” Whatever an individual may think of the Taliban, the question is, did any foreign government or army have a legal and moral right to overthrow not only the Taliban but the entire political system of Afghanistan and have a large controlling stake in the media?

Saad Mohseni is co owner of Tolo, Afghanistan’s most watched station which comes under under Moby Holdings. According to Altai Consulting 2010 report, Moby’s channels reach between 50 to 60 percent of the television audience within the country. They have introduced western style programmes such as soap operas and singing contests. There is also the question of funding, Moby which owns Tolo allegedly received $2.2 million from the United States Agency for International Development to help with start-up in Afghanistan. As New York Times points out,

“Mr. Mohseni has built a business in the bubble of security and prosperity afforded by the international presence in the country. He has done this with the start-up help of United States government money and with a cash injection last year from News Corporation, led by his friend Rupert Murdoch, with whom he shares an Australian background, a love of gossip and an obvious industriousness.”

“As the involvement of the United States winds down, the big question is what the American legacy will be. A flourishing independent media industry is an important pillar of the American strategy for rebuilding the country, and Moby has become an important part of that media landscape”

So what can the Taliban do regarding addressing any complaints of media bias or fabricated stories other than issue statements? Who would take the time to listen as many automatically assume whatever the Taliban says must be “propaganda”. Taliban now see certain human rights groups including Amnesty International as being part of the problem lacking in impartiality so trust is at a very low point.

(I have certainly experienced bias and censorship myself with Afghan media. In early 2014 I was asked to write an article on the war in Afghanistan, for a new magazine Afghan Zariza. So I wrote an anti-war piece discussing troop withdrawal. The person who had approached me said he previously worked for Hindustan Times. I waited for publication and was told finally that the “boss” thought it was “too inflammatory, so it was banned from publication!) Here is a link to the banned article,

“Time for a complete withdrawal in Afghanistan, we should never have invaded in the first place”

http://londonprogressivejournal.com/article/view/1704/time-for-a-complete-withdrawal-in-afghanistan-we-should-never-have-invaded-in-the-first-place

Alleged fabrications of “gang-rape” in media

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Taliban entering Kunduz during take-over, allegations of “gang-rape” denied strongly (Image via Sabiq Jihadmal)

One issue which surfaced in the media almost as soon news came of the Taliban entering the city of Kunduz in an attempt to regain old territory (and prior to the US bombing of the Medecins San Frontiers, MSF hospital) were stories of “gang rape”. These appalled the Taliban and were see as an insult to Islam. Anyone tracking propaganda in Afghanistan in recent years can follow a pattern of such stories arising usually as Taliban make gains in territory, open a political office or are linked to peace talks. These claims appear to be fuelled both by certain press and by Afghan researchers such as Horia Mosadiq, based with Amnesty International in London who clearly has personal contempt for the Taliban. Islamic Emirate wrote in an earlier media release on Amnesty International,

“the invaders and their stooges made some claims yesterday which were unfortunately picked up by media outlets and it was even more unfortunate that the organization of Amnesty International also used these accusations in their own report circulated from the address of the invaders.

They accused the Mujahideen in Kunduz of looting people’s property, torching homes and carrying out other unethical actions.”

@mmodaser tweeted,

Uni, on Facebook, rejects Tolo’s piece on the alleged rape of students; says there were no girls in hostel.

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@mmodaser also tweeted,

The number of cheering for Taliban’s warning to Tolo & 1TV on FB is considerable. A lot of ppl have been upset about the programs.

Bashir Ahmad Gwakh, an Afghan journalist pointed out that the Higher Education Minister, (Dr Farida Mohmand) stated that, “Tolo’s baseless report about rape in Kunduz university hostel has caused serious damage to female education and because of this girls are scared to return to university.” It was highlighted that serious debate and laws are needed to ensure impartial journalism and unbiased media coverage in Afghanistan. I examined recent stories in the media which the Taliban alleged were “fabrications” and “propaganda” in an earlier article, see following link,

“Islamic Emirate claim gains in Badakhshan, allege fabricated interview and deny Amnesty International allegations”

https://activist1.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/islamic-emirate-claim-gains-in-badakhshan-allege-fabricated-interview-and-deny-amnesty-international-allegations/

What disturbed me was the chain reaction of the media, how quickly they picked up on stories and seemingly reran the same accounts often without doing any research or background checking. So far I have not seen any evidence published which has supported either Taliban being present in the Kunduz hospital in a combatant role or evidence of alleged “gang rape”. I have seen comments from those fleeing the conflict of Kunduz saying they saw no evidence of systematic sexual violence against women (or men) from Taliban. The Taliban had issued statements to its fighters on entering Kunduz to respect the lives of civilians even issuing a phone number for NGOs and companies to contact in the event of any difficulty.

Threats to media

I do not support aggression towards media. My colleague Saleem Shahzad, an investigative journalist was tortured and murdered for his honesty in reporting in Pakistan, he also covered insurgency in Afghanistan. We ran a website together reporting on socio-political issues. Saleem (whom I sometimes edited) was just releasing his first book publication, “Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11”. We reported regularly on human rights abuses and were in the planning stages of a conference and documentary on drones and “collateral damage” at a time when few were addressing this issue. If alive today, Saleem would have been one of the first on the ground to report on the Taliban take-over of Kunduz and the terrible bombing of Medecins Sans Frontier (MSF) hospital. There were allegations from media and human rights organizations that he may have been killed by state entities but despite an inquiry (and avoidance of my evidence) no- one was was ever held to account nor did I receive support from human rights organizations that promised to phone me back to discuss but never did.

It is important that during conflict journalists have access to cover stories and can work without threat. It is also essential to cover the opinions of all sides and to restrain from propaganda and fabricated stories.

Human Rights Watch responds to Taliban statement on Tolo and 1 TV

Patricia Grossman, Afghanistan senior researcher for Human Rights Watch tweeted,

outrageous statement by Taliban–adding to already dangerous situation for Afghan media 

Ahmad Sujah also of HRW tweeted

1 Taliban violate int’l laws by declaring journalists “military objects…[to be] directly eliminated”

2. Journalists are civilians and are protected. Not liking what they report doesn’t allow the Taliban to declare them “military objects”

Phelim Kine Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch reminded that deliberate targeting of journalists by Taliban or anyone else is considered a “war crime”.

The danger of propaganda

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Did alleged media propaganda contribute to the US bombing of Kunduz hospital?

The Taliban statement on Tolo and 1 TV is viewed as a serious threat to media however there were and are also other serious threats. Consider this, what if alleged media propaganda about the Taliban being inside the MSF hospital at Kunduz had contributed to it being targeted and bombed?

Jason Cone, Executive Director, Doctors Without Borders, Medecins Sans Frontier US, claimed in TV interviews that there was no evidence of Taliban using the hospital as a base for military action on the night the hospital was attacked. He tweeted, that there was a

burden on to substantiate false claims of fighters in our hospital.

There is also a need  for media to substantiate gang rape allegations against the Taliban or if there is no credible evidence to state this and drop the story.

Recently efforts have been made to secure peace talks with the Taliban, what will not help is state authorities and media misreporting or fabricating stories. If media propagates or deliberately conjures up stories to support an aggressor does the protected status of the media change as it is no longer neutral?

Tolo response to Taliban threat

Tolo gave a press conference today in response to Taliban threat making the following points:-

Fahim Dashti head of Afghan journalist union says any attack on media would be a war crime.

Dashti says Afghan people expect media to not bow to Taliban threats and to carry on reporting based on journalism ethics.

Dashti says Afghan media emphasizes commitment to democratic values & professional journalistic ethics, ensuring impartiality and balance.

Dashti says media calls on govt and international organizations to support Afghan media, making their security & immunity a top priority.

Fahim Dashti on behalf of AFG media: Attack on media is a war crime and if Taliban does it, as a first reaction, we will boycott their news.

US double standards regarding media

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Image representing McCarthy and the “Hollywood Ten”, who were Hollywood blacklisted and seen as untrustworthy and accused of placing subliminal messaging .. (via Thinglink)

US now has a considerable role and influence on Afghan media in a partnership role with Afghan companies. America however did not take so kindly to what it considered interference in its own media. Take the era of McCarthyism for example which affected US media heavily, including the Hollywood film industry and is described as,

“a vociferous campaign against alleged communists in the US government and other institutions carried out under Senator Joseph McCarthy in the period 1950–4. Many of the accused were blacklisted or lost their jobs, though most did not in fact belong to the Communist Party.”

The US government would not allow those they saw as communist sympathizers (often those with connections in the Soviet Union for example) to exert influence on American media. There was a major clampdown whether those accused had connections in reality or were wrongly accused.

Today the US seeks to exert considerable influence over the media of a number of countries including Afghanistan. Given the links of some Afghan media to the US in terms of funding and training, how can they be seen as independent of outside influence and how does this affect reporting?

Perhaps the most disturbing element is how misreporting and propaganda can affect the security of a country. The Taliban have now issued their statement making it clear that media who allegedly act in this way will not protected. It could be argued that companies who do not follow the ethics of good journalism and engage in biased reporting are actually inciting terrorism in Afghanistan.

Links 

“Afghanistan profile: Media”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12013942

“An Afghan Media Mogul, Pushing Boundaries”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/business/an-afghan-media-mogul-pushing-boundaries.html?_r=0

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad.  She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.

 

 

About Carol Anne Grayson

Blogging for Humanity.... Campaigner/researcher global health/human rights/drones/WOT/insurgency http://www.esrc.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/PO/experts/Health_and_Wellbeing.aspx Exec Producer of Oscar nominated documentary Incident in New Baghdad, currently filming on drones.
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