U.S. Media Groups Seek To Get Afghan Journalists Out Of Afghanistan

Aug 17, 2021
Originally published on August 17, 2021 3:52 am
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U.S. news organizations are facing two challenges in Afghanistan - how to get the news out and how to get Afghan journalists out. American media executives are desperately appealing to the Biden administration to help get their Afghan colleagues to safety. Here's NPR's David Folkenflik.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: I reached Ayesha Tanzeem in the Afghan capital.

AYESHA TANZEEM: A week ago, I would walk around Kabul in jeans, a long tunic and a scarf over my head. Today, I walked out full abaya, full head covered, and in areas where there was extra Taliban presence, I covered my face as well.

FOLKENFLIK: Tanzeem is the Afghanistan-Pakistan bureau chief for Voice of America, the U.S. government-owned broadcaster. She's been in Kabul for 10 days and went to the airport twice to return to Pakistan. She couldn't get out. She's most worried, she says, for her Afghan colleagues - reporters, producers, translators, technicians, everyone.

TANZEEM: It's a different Afghanistan from a week ago. And nobody knows whether a week from now, we'll say, oh, it turned out OK, it's not as bad, or we would say, oh, my God. Nobody knows. Your guess is just as good as mine.

FOLKENFLIK: The plight of Afghan reporters there is like an intensified version of the dilemma confronting Afghans more generally. The more educated they are and the more closely tethered they are to the West, especially to the U.S., the more dangerous their position is likely to be.

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UNIDENTIFIED AFGHAN REPORTER: I don't know how long I'm going to be safe here because now they are going to search house to house in some places.

FOLKENFLIK: Last night, another U.S. government-funded news network called Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty posted a video from one of its Afghan reporters, not named to protect him.

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UNIDENTIFIED AFGHAN REPORTER: What I fear is the future days, and I think a dark future is waiting for everybody.

FOLKENFLIK: The Taliban imposed a harsh Islamic fundamentalist rule on Afghanistan a generation ago. Taliban leaders are now suggesting they'd be more accommodating toward journalists. Media executives are not waiting to find out.

JAMIE FLY: We know that they are high on the Taliban's target list.

FOLKENFLIK: Jamie Fly is president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. It broadcasts news from Central Europe through Central Asia, beaming 12 hours a day of radio shows in Afghanistan. Together with Voice of America, it reaches nearly 70% of all Afghans weekly.

FLY: We as a company have suffered immensely in recent years in targeted attacks by the Taliban and related groups.

FOLKENFLIK: Fly has scores of journalists there, and he says he fears for their safety.

FLY: We've lost four of our correspondents in Afghanistan in the last four years, three of them in one suicide bombing in Kabul in 2018. And then more recently, one of our journalists was assassinated in a targeted killing in Helmand in November 2020. So we know that these groups have targeted journalists, and so I think they're all at risk now that the Taliban are taking over control of government institutions.

FOLKENFLIK: Fly is seeking expedited visas for them from the U.S. and from Europe, and the publishers of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post banded together yesterday, pleading for safe passage of those Afghan journalists who've worked with them and for their families. A senior State Department official told NPR last night their safety is a priority for the U.S. government. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOR'S "LUX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.