Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan on August 15, at least 153 media outlets have shut down, pushing thousands of Afghan journalists into unemployment. Many of them have turned to manual labour and odd jobs, such as street vending, to avoid falling into poverty amid Afghanistan’s crumbling economy. This is what happened to our Observer.
As the Taliban advanced through Afghanistan, occupying city after city, more and more media outlets began to close their doors. And when, on August 15, they captured the capital Kabul, a hundred more media outlets and hundreds of journalists stopped working. Many of them went into hiding, trying to avoid being arrested – or worse – by Taliban fighters.
A number of journalists tried to flee the country, but most were unsuccessful. They went into hiding in places they considered safe. But after weeks without income, they left their hideouts to search for a job, often finding little other than manual labour – jobs that are paid far less than those of journalists.
‘It’s either manual labour or our families die of starvation’
Our Observer, Ali (not his real name), became a journalist in 2014. He used to work for a small local television channel in Samangan Province, in the north of Afghanistan, which shut its doors after the Taliban solidified its hold of Afghanistan. He now works as a vendor in a fruit market.
Since the Taliban took Afghanistan at least 153 media outlets had to close their doors. The main reasons were lack of money and fear of Taliban persecution. Thousands of journalists lost their jobs. Even some of the media outlets that are still working are understaffed. Most female journalists have to stay at home because of the Taliban, and many others lost their jobs because of financial crises in the media after the Taliban took over.
Most journalists hid out for months after the Taliban took power in fear of persecution, but after three months we had no other choice. We have to eat. We have to provide for our families. So even if it’s dangerous, we have to go out and earn some money. It’s either manual labour or our families die of starvation.
In a country devastated by war and financial crisis what else could we do? What kinds of jobs are available? Most of us turned to street vending or some other type of low-income manual labour. Some journalists sell fruits and vegetables from carts, some others sell trinkets, clothes or even their own home appliances on the sidewalks. And others like me started working in shops.
Depending on the media and their level of experience, a journalist could earn somewhere between 150 to 500 dollars a month [132 to 440 euros]. But now, for example, I earn about 50 dollars [52 euros] a month. And all the prices have increased since the Taliban came in.”
The prices of many staple items have indeed risen in Afghanistan. Flour has nearly doubled in price, from 13 dollars to 25 dollars (22.2 euros) for a 50 kilogram sack.
In October, about 8.7 million Afghans, out of a population of 39 million, were "one step away from starvation", according to Mary-Ellen McGroarty, head of the World Food Programme in Afghanistan.
‘The people who have seen my reports make fun of me’
Our Observer continued:
Besides the economic pressure it’s an unbearable psychological pressure too. I studied for years, worked as a journalist for years, and now what? I’m going to live like this now? While I’m at the shop, some people who have seen my reports make fun of me. It crushes the soul. But on the other hand, there are people who support me with some comforting words.
Some journalists were able to escape Afghanistan, and many others were able to evacuate by pretending they were journalists. But most of the journalists are left behind here in this misery. Just last week a TV journalist committed suicide because of the economic and psychological pressure after losing his job. Another died in a car accident while he was trying to escape to Iran.
‘Nothing will be left of journalism in Afghanistan’
On the other hand, when most of the media outlets in a country suddenly shut down, it affects the quality and quantity of the news and information provided to people. In a country like Afghanistan, the local media had an important role in revealing what’s going on in the remote regions. Now, this news might never end up in the public eye, or it could come too late.
Even some of the media outlets that survived are not free. The Taliban has made it clear for them which topics they can and can't talk about, and the things they are forbidden to show. The Taliban even sends them information that they have to broadcast. [Editor’s note: music, entertainment shows, Western-inspired game shows and other Western series are now banned from Afghan airwaves].
Right now, to inform myself I watch Persian media abroad, like BBC Persian, Iran International or international media outlets like CNN.
I’m not optimistic about the future of journalism in Afghanistan. I think if one day I could leave Afghanistan, maybe I would continue my job in a Persian-language media outlet abroad. But inside Afghanistan, I don’t think it’s possible anymore. And if international organisations don’t interfere, nothing will be left of journalism in Afghanistan.”
According to a World Bank report published on October 8, ten million Afghans are at risk of falling into poverty as they deal with rising prices and unemployment. Food security in the country is also in peril, with potentially dangerous effects of Afghanistan’s young population.