Fledgling Afghan Media Seek Line Between Journalism And Activism

Jun 13, 2014
Originally published on June 14, 2014 9:20 am

When a popular Afghan journalist was killed shortly before the April election, his colleagues stopped reporting Taliban statements and downplayed violence on election day. Some say it was an acceptable display of nationalism; others see it as a sign that the young media need to get tougher and more objective in covering the runoff election.

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Tomorrow, Afghans head to the polls to elect the next president in what could be the nation's first peaceful transfer of power. Afghan journalists will be out in force to cover the historic runoff vote. The growth of the country's young and tenacious media is considered a success story in a country that continues to struggle with violence and corruption. But, as NPR's Sean Carberry reports from Kabul, Afghan journalists are still trying to define the line between reporting and advocacy.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Journalist Sardar Ahmad and his family were dining at the luxury Serena Hotel in Kabul. Four Taliban militants snuck pistols past hotel security and opened fire. Among the nine civilians killed that night were Ahmed, his wife and two of his children. It prompted media backlash against the Taliban.

NADER NADERY: It was felt so emotionally and so personally.

CARBERRY: Nader Nadery is head of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan. He says that shooting prompted Afghan journalists to effectively boycott covering the Taliban in the run up to the first round of voting on April 5.

MUKHTAR PEDRAM: (Foreign language spoken).

CARBERRY: Mukhtar Pedram is a reporter with Afghanistan's Khurshid TV.

PEDRAM: (Through translator) This decision was a message to the Taliban. Avoid killing civilians or your news will be boycotted.

CARBERRY: Consequently, there was limited coverage of Taliban threats and violence on election day itself, says Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar. He's the head of Nai, a U.S. government funded organization promoting independent media in Afghanistan.

ABDUL MUJEEB KHALVATGAR: The fear that people had from Taliban - it was removed.

CARBERRY: Khalvatgar says downplaying Taliban violence resulted in a higher voter turnout. And, he says, the activism is justified to help a nation fighting an insurgency.

KHALVATGAR: We have some responsibilities of our national interest of Afghanistan.

CARBERRY: Najib Sharifi, director of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, says the boycott was a strategic defeat of the Taliban.

NAJIB SHARIFI: It's hard to say if it was in line with journalistic ethics and principles or not. If you look at it from the perspective of serving the public interest, it was right.

CARBERRY: Nader Nadery, head of the Free and Fair Election Foundation, understands the passion driving journalists right now. But their activism shows the industry still has a lot of growing to do.

NADERY: I think they have crossed that absolute neutrality of a journalist line.

HAMID POYA: (Foreign language spoken).

CARBERRY: Hamid Poya is a reporter for Birlik TV. He opposes the move to ignore Taliban statements and attacks which many journalists reportedly planned to do again tomorrow. He says the media are obligated to report on Taliban violence.

POYA: (Foreign language spoken).

CARBERRY: If the media are more aggressive and report in an accurate way throughout the election process, he says, I am certain nothing will go wrong. Though it will be a long process. Voters are choosing between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani. Final election results won't be announced until July 22. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

BLOCK: ALL THINGS CONSIDERED continues right after this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.