Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Journalists Seek a Common Voice

By Hafizullah Gardesh

Currently, four groups, including one exclusively for women, claim they are independent of either government or political influence and represent the interests of Afghan journalists.

The oldest and most established is the National Journalists’ Union of Afghanistan, formed in 1980 shortly after the occupation of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union. Patterned after other Communist-era unions, the group now claims to be completely independent.

Competing to represent journalists, however, is the Tadaruk Committee, which was formed last May. Zuhoor Afghan, editor of the influential daily Irada and a member of the Tadaruk Committee, said the group is working to create a nationwide union free of political influence.

The committee said that 480 Afghan journalists have applied for membership, and the group is currently seeking financial support.

Meanwhile, an association claiming to represent female journalists was created in March 2004. Led by Najiba Maram, the group claims to have 350 members in Kabul and the provinces. The purpose of the association, Maram said, is to promote the "development of women within society”.

The most controversial of the groups is the Independent Journalists’ Union, said to be heavily influenced by former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who also leads the conservative Jamiat-e-Islami party.

When the union called an organisational meeting last May, most journalists, led by IWPR staff member Rahimullah Samander, walked out when they discovered that Rabbani's supporters intended to control the organisation and that it would neither be independent nor free of political influence. (See: Anger Over Journalists’ Union

The National Journalists’ Union, meanwhile, is struggling to re-establish itself in the wake of the resignation of its former director. The union subsequently shed its government affiliation and re-established itself as independent, naming veteran Afghan journalist Mahmood Habibi as its head.

Hafizullah Gardesh is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.