ATLANTA, Georgia — The American media’s main focus concerning Afghanistan has been the looming troop drawdown in 2014 and the uncertain future the country faces once the majority of U.S. forces leave. Amid all the challenges the country faces, there does seem to be a growing bright spot: the development of a free Afghan press.
When one considers the condition of the Afghan press when the U.S. invaded in 2001, the transformation to the current media landscape is astounding.
Kay Johnson writes in the Associated Press of an Afghan news room covering the upcoming presidential elections. She describes a fast paced environment where newsmakers are scrambling to provide the very best coverage of the presidential debates, which will be televised for the very first time.
This new media landscape exists in stark contrast to the prohibitive conditions placed on the media by the Taliban before the war. Now dozens of channels are beamed to television sets all over the country. One shining example of progress is the successful television company Tolo Tv.
The company began as the vision of two Afghan-Australian brothers initially funded with a steady flow of U.S. aid money. Now it operates with annual revenue of 20 million. One of its founders Saad Mohseni lays out three factors that have contributed to the growth of the Afghan media in such a short time.
First, is the establishment of the 2001 Bonn Agreement. The agreement bolstered Afghanistan’s 1964 constitution which gives the right to free expression. Until the U.S. ousted the Taliban from their ruling seat, this tenet of the constitution was ignored for decades. It was the Bonn Agreement along with protections established by the international community that allowed outlets like Tolo TV to take root.
Second, he gives credit to Hamid Karzai and various members of his administration who seem uninterested in silencing the press.
And finally, he points to Afghanistan’s young population for having an appetite for information and free expression. With over 60% of the population under the age of 20, media savvy youths show an enthusiasm for television and internet platforms not displayed among older citizens.
One of the platforms exploding among the young population is social media.
There are approximately 2.4 million internet users in Afghanistan. 74% of those users frequently log on to social media sites. Many government officials frequently update their Twitter and Facebook accounts to keep pace with youths. As the presidential election inches closer, social media activity will undoubtedly increase and may have a significant impact on the candidates and policy discussions.
While the gains in media development are massive, there is still plenty of work to be done. Over 75% of Afghans live in rural areas that have limited access to electricity — 41% live in areas that lack a reliable source of electricity.
The new president will certainly have challenges to face especially with the looming U.S. troop drawdown. A chief priority should be shielding the gains already made while also increasing electrical infrastructure in rural parts of the country.
A free press will be essential to securing new freedoms for the Afghan people and protect them against the repressive ideology of the Taliban.
– Zack Lindberg
Sources: Associated Press, Huffington Post, The Guardian
Photo: Washington Post