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

Reporting Problems in Southeast Afghanistan

Much to be done to raise standards, local media-watchers say.
By Hijratullah Ekhtyar

Allegations of incompetence and corruption are nothing new in Afghanistan, and are usually levelled at government officials.

Journalists in the southeastern Nangarhar province, however, acknowledge that some of their colleagues are prone to the same kinds of problems.

Some of the wilder factual inaccuracies have included a TV report that the Taleban had shot down a drone plane – the unmanned aircraft used by United States forces - killing everyone on board. A local radio station carried dramatic news of the arrest of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the insurgent faction Hezb-e Islami, when in fact it was only a student allegedly linked to the group who was detained.

Stories are often peppered with misspellings and incorrect dates and figures.

Media experts blame the frequently poor standards of accuracy on lack of training and low wages, which leads some reporters to take shortcuts.

“The media have lost their prestige,” media lecturer Abdul Basir Sabawun said.

Sabawun believes Nangarhar needs better training in journalism.

“There are short-term courses in journalism here, but journalism is not an ordinary profession that can be learned in a few months,” he said.

Media analyst Najibollah Nayel often spots suspicious similarities between news reports, which he says result from journalists forming unofficial pools which delegate one of their number to cover a story. If that reporter misunderstands the story, everyone else will repeat the error when they file their own copy.

“They mostly look alike – the only difference is the name of the reporters,” he said of the stories. “The same reports get aired by all media outlets.”

Other journalists are subservient to officialdom.

“Many journalists wait for the government to say something, and then air whatever it tells them to. They don’t cover the real problems affecting society. How can people trust such media outlets?” Nayel asked.

A media analyst in Nangarhar who requested anonymity said he had personally witnessed reporters calling government officials to seek line-by-line approval of stories prior to publication.

“If the official deems the report unacceptable, he abuses the journalist, who listens quietly,” he added.

Ershad Raghand, a reporter for the Zhwandun radio and television network, said bribery was also a major issue in local journalism. When journalists have not been paid for months, they may find it hard to refuse gifts of cash, clothing, fuel and land from local politicians and officials.

In any case, the media outlets they report for may be funded by local power-brokers or foreign donors, creating a temptation to write whatever journalists think their paymasters want to read.

“Journalists are factionalised not just in Nangarhar, but all over the country,” Shakil Ahad Rafiqzai, a student at Nangarhar’s Ariana University, said. “They are influenced by the powers that support them. How can they write something that goes against the interests of their backers?”

Parwais Romal, who reports for Reuters news agency in the province, said he accepted that some journalists were a discredit to the profession, but added that it should be remembered there were others who kept to the highest standards.

Hijratullah Ekhtyar is an IWPR-trained reporter in Nangarhar, Afghanistan.