December 1, 2022
ISLAMABAD — The Islamist Taliban government has defended banning FM radio broadcasts from two U.S.-funded news media, including the Voice of America, in Afghanistan, alleging they were offending local laws.
The ban on VOA and Azadi Radio, an Afghan extension of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or RFE/RL, went into effect Thursday, a day after the Taliban’s ministry of information and culture said it had received complaints about programing content but shared no specifics.
It is unclear whether the ban will apply to other international broadcasters that have used the same system for FM broadcasts in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan has press laws and any network found repeatedly contravening these laws will have their privilege of reporting from and broadcasting within Afghanistan taken away,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the Taliban foreign ministry spokesman, said in his written comments to VOA.
“VOA and Azadi Radio failed to adhere to these laws, were found as repeat offenders, failed to show professionalism and were therefore shut down,” Balkhi asserted.
The two U.S. government-funded news organizations operate with journalistic independence and aim to provide comprehensive, balanced coverage.
VOA’s Afghan services broadcast 12 hours a day on 15 FM channels and two medium wave (MW) channels, with programming split between Pashto and Dari, reaching millions of listeners across impoverished Afghanistan, where radio remains a primary source of information.
The Taliban retook control of Afghanistan in August 2021, just days before American and NATO troops concluded their withdrawal from the country after 20 years of war with the then-insurgent Islamist group.
The Taliban have since implemented their harsh interpretation of Islamic law to govern the conflict-ridding country, restricting rights and freedoms.
The restrictions and financial hardships have forced dozens of private television channels, radio stations and print media reportedly to cease operation in Afghanistan, with thousands of journalists losing jobs. Hundreds of Afghan media personnel also have fled the country, fearing Taliban persecution.
France-based global media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, has reported that the country has lost 40% of its media outlets and 60% of its journalists since the Taliban takeover.
Dari and Pashto radio programs of VOA started broadcasting to Afghanistan in the1980s when the South Asian nation was being occupied by Soviet forces.
The local language broadcasts are widely respected as credible and reliable.
VOA also reaches a large Afghan audience via digital media. In March the Taliban stopped VOA’s Ashna TV news shows, which had been broadcast on Afghan National Television, Tolo News and Lamar for a decade, VOA Pashto reported.
Amnesty International said Thursday on Twitter that the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan “has resulted in sweeping changes to the lives of all Afghans, but even more for women and girls. They face dire restrictions on their rights in their daily lives.”
Since taking over the country, the Taliban have barred women from undergoing long road trips without a male relative, have ordered women to cover their faces in public and have prevented teenage girls from returning to secondary schools.
Akmal Dawi contributed to this report.