Afghanistan Through the Eyes of Young, Afghan Reporters

This is for those who have served in Afghanistan or those with a family member or friend there. Tuesday, I and WUSF News Director Scott Finn looked into the eyes and heard the voices of the Afghans you are there to help.

We met with several young, Afghan journalists currently touring of the United States. They come from different provinces and deal with different issues, even different languages. Yet, they all have one goal – to become better journalists. They want training – preferably four-year Bachelor of Arts degrees for a growing, vibrant community of young Afghan journalists. They also ask that you understand their struggle and determination to report despite dangerous conditions. Here’s a piece on our conversation by WUSF’s news director.

This photo is from the USAID - Out of the Shadows: Women in Afghan Society report. Here women train to be photojournalists. Photo: IOM-ATI Staff.

By Scott Finn

I’ve just finished meeting a group of journalists from Afghanistan. They’re coming here to learn about American journalism, but I’m the one who learned from them.

If I tick off the wrong person, I might lose my job. I could get sued for libel or slander. If they tick off the wrong person, they might get a “night letter” or some other threat to their lives and families.

Most of the journalists we met here at WUSF were in radio. If you’ve ever been to a third-world country, you know that radio is still how most people receive their news and entertainment.

We were asked not to interview them on tape or to use their names in writing about them. They try to keep a low profile as they gather news in their communities.

But inevitably, people find out they are journalists. One radio manager said they broadcast the names of journalists on the Taliban-controlled radio stations – along with government employees and other so-called “traitors.”

How would you hold up under that kind of pressure?

But somehow they continue. Matter of fact, they didn’t seem like they thought about the risks too much. None of them said they were considering leaving journalism.

Like us, they worry about getting the real story. They struggle with public officials who don’t feel obligated to answer journalists’ questions (not too different from what we face here.)

They said the international armed forces in their country aren’t good sources of information, too. They say the military will send them a press release about, say, a bombing in a local village, days after it happened.

Often, that military press release will conflict with what people on the ground are saying. Who’s telling them the truth? It’s a similar question to what journalists face here, but the stakes are so much higher.

Since the fall of the Taliban, there’s been a proliferation of media sources in Afghanistan. But many stations are owned by the Taliban or warlords more interested in propaganda than journalism.

And for some reason, the military is unable or unwilling to jam the signals of these anti-Democratic media sources, according to the journalists we met. (If anyone knows more about this, please contact us and let us know.)

They say all they want is for the outside world to know the struggles they face. They want us to know they are getting the truth to their audience under the most difficult of circumstances.

One young woman spoke up and told us that despite the threats, her friends are encouraging her to continue her work as a journalist. In fact, they envy her. They wish they could do what she is doing.

And she’s only 16.

“We are building a new Afghanistan,” she said of her generation.

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