50.50: Explainer

How journalists around the world are taking action to help Afghan colleagues

From Italy to India, media workers have launched new initiatives to support colleagues from Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August

roberta BW.jpg
Roberta Scalise
13 October 2021, 9.01am
Illustration: Inge Snip. Photo: Oleksandr Rupeta / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

“We have a duty to help our Afghan colleagues and their families,” said Raffaele Lorusso. “Journalists and European and Western media,” he continued, “can’t remain indifferent” to the peril they face since the Taliban takeover in August.

Lorusso, who is general secretary of the National Federation of Italian Journalists (FNSI), is one of numerous journalists and other media workers around the world, from Italy to India, who have stepped up to support their colleagues in Afghanistan.

The FNSI is pushing for “humanitarian corridors” to help journalists and their families leave the country, and for the Italian government to host some of them. Other initiatives have offered work to displaced journalists – and supported the lives, safety and difficult ongoing reporting of those still in Afghanistan.

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In September, the India-based Network of Women in Media launched a fundraiser to specifically support Afghan women journalists, whether this is to find safe houses within Afghanistan, create new media start-ups or move to new countries.

To raise money, it set up an online shop selling $100 prints of pictures taken by Associated Press photojournalists in Afghanistan over the years. This initiative was a collaboration with AP and the Media Safety & Solidarity Fund.

News organisations and editors have also taken action. BuzzFeed News and HuffPost advertised a one-year fellowship programme for journalists from Afghanistan who managed to leave the country.

VICE World News executive editor Matthew Champion took to Twitter to “offer regular paid freelance work to displaced Afghan journalists in the UK and/or Europe,” to write about Afghanistan or other topics.

It is crucial “to make those young women who are challenging the Taliban feel our full support,” said 21-year-old Afghan reporter Rahila Saya (now in Rome) urging media to “keep the light on them” and prevent their experiences “from being erased”.

International solidarity

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August prompted global alarm over the situation of women in the country, who have seen their rights quickly restricted. Women journalists are seen as doubly at risk – for their gender, and their job.

In 2020, an estimated 700 women journalists worked in the capital, Kabul. Now, according to Reporters Without Borders and its partner organisation the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists, there are fewer than 100.

Basgul Zohra Nawa is one of many women who was forced to leave her job as a journalist. She recently explained: “The Taliban issued several statements in which they said that they would allow journalists to work [...] but they weren’t even authorised to go to the office. Women are disappearing in the Afghan capital.”

Italy’s FNSI journalists’ federation warned: “So many Afghan journalists, especially those who had collaborated with Western media in the last 20 years [...] now risk becoming victims of Taliban revenge, retaliation or executions.”

After the closure of numerous media outlets, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) stepped in to offer journalists support to leave the country. They created a “solidarity fund” to help such departures, and aid those who are still there.

Women journalists are seen as doubly at risk – for their gender, and their job

In early August, Canada-based Afghan journalist Zahra Joya launched a fundraiser for the Rukshana Media outlet she founded to tell news from Afghan women’s perspectives. It is named after a woman stoned to death by the Taliban in 2015.

“We had no idea,” she recently wrote, that just a week after launching the crowdfunder, the Taliban “would capture the Afghan capital [on 15 August] and force our team into hiding and exile.”

“It is hard to be a journalist covering the loss of your own rights, your own freedoms. As female reporters, our worst nightmares came true,” she continued. “What has kept us going is the generous support and kind messages we received.”

When the appeal closed in late September, thousands of people globally had donated almost $300,000 – 15 times the initial target of $20,000. Joya says this will allow the team to expand and also launch an English-language site.

“Solidarity from South Korea,” says one of the many comments on Rukshana Media’s fundraising page. “I admire your courage and the work that you do.”

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