Among the many distressing images to come out of Afghanistan over the past days, one inspiring development has been the steadfast commitment among Afghan journalists to continue to report on what’s going on in the country despite the Taliban takeover of Kabul. Afghanistan’s female journalists, in particular, have displayed profound bravery in continuing to report the news during what appears to be the first moments of renewed Taliban rule. The Taliban, pre-U.S. invasion in 2001, had essentially written women out of public life, confining them to their homes with violent penalties for those that defied the group’s harsh interpretation of Sharia law. On Tuesday, however, amidst desperate scenes of evacuation at the airport, journalists at the Afghan news network Tolo News stayed on the job, including female journalists like Hasiba Atakpal, who reported from the streets of Kabul on the Taliban’s taking of the capital city.
The decade-old Afghan news organization has been a pioneer in a country that had no media whatsoever during the previous round of Taliban rule in the late 1990s. Tolo News, however, continued its reporting and broadcasting as the Taliban advanced, beaming out the Dari and Pashto language reports to terrestrial TV sets across Afghanistan, while also posting a selection of English language news on the web and its social media feeds. Saad Mohseni, CEO of Moby Media Group which oversees Tolo News, told NPR that while the Taliban has not yet imposed any restrictions on the outlet’s reporting or other broadcasts, which include daytime soap operas, he doesn’t expect that freedom to continue for long.
The Taliban is believed to be trying to moderate its image, at least internationally, as it reasserts control over the country. Tolo News’ Mohseni said it’s not clear what the Taliban’s ultimate media policy will be because it’s not clear what faction of the group will emerge as dominant. Mohseni said his company had asked some female journalists to stay home out of fear of Taliban treatment, but many refused, including Tolo News anchor Beheshta Arghand, who conducted a studio interview Tuesday with a senior Taliban spokesperson.
The continued visible presence of female journalists is a marked shift from Taliban rule of 20 years ago, and more aligned with its more recent media strategy, where it has given access to female journalists, including those from Afghanistan, to cover its side of the story, notably during recent Doha peace talks in Qatar. Many other women in Afghanistan, however, have stayed away from public spaces as the Taliban combed the streets of Kabul in recent days. After a generation of Afghan women have taken up places in public life, at schools and the workplace, joining the military and participating in politics, even competing in the Olympics, the reemergence of the repressive Taliban has caused many to stay home out of fear of reprisal from the hardline group. Footage showed advertisements of women without headscarves being covered over in the Afghan capital as the Taliban advanced.