Inside a TV News Station Determined to Report Facts on the Taliban’s Afghanistan: NPR


A man works on the evening broadcast of TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s first new 24/7 channel.

Claire Harbage/NPR


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Claire Harbage/NPR


A man works on the evening broadcast of TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s first new 24/7 channel.

Claire Harbage/NPR

KABUL, Afghanistan — Inside a cramped, windowless room at the headquarters of Afghanistan’s main news channel, a group of young editors race against a six o’clock deadline.

One plays with the audio of a story about the closure of a year of girls’ high schools. Another plays with images of Taliban officials at an international conference. These are stories that will be featured on that night’s broadcast of TOLOnews.

When the Taliban returned to power last year, few expected Afghanistan’s first 24/7 news channel to survive. When the group was first in power, in the 1990s, most radio stations broadcast Islamic programming and propaganda, and televisions were banned. After they were toppled in 2001, the Taliban spent the next two decades staging deadly attacks, often targeting journalists. In 2016, seven TOLO TV employees were killed by a Taliban suicide bomber.

Despite that history, the Taliban have left this democratic institution standing. But every day is a struggle for the journalists who still work there.


TOLOnews employees work in the editing department preparing stories for the evening broadcast.

Claire Harbage/NPR


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Claire Harbage/NPR


TOLOnews employees work in the editing department preparing stories for the evening broadcast.

Claire Harbage/NPR

TOLOnews was barely in a position to cover the sudden takeover of the government by the Taliban last year.

“We lost more than 90% of our colleagues after the collapse of the government,” said Khpowlwak Sapai, the network’s head. Many TOLOnews reporters, producers and editors were among the tens of thousands of Afghans who frantically fled the country within days of the fall of Kabul.

Sapai was just lucky because he was able to hire new staff from the more than 200 media outlets that closed shortly after the return of the Taliban. Some closed under the pressure of draconian information restrictions, others ran out of funds amid the country’s economic collapse.


Khpowlwak Sapai, the head of the network, has been adamant about reporting in Afghanistan.

Claire Harbage/NPR


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Khpowlwak Sapai, the head of the network, has been adamant about reporting in Afghanistan.

Claire Harbage/NPR

One of the unemployed young journalists Sapai hired was Toba Walizada, 23, the network’s education reporter, who has spent the past year tirelessly covering the Taliban situation. ban on middle and high schools for girls.

Over the past year, Walizada has produced hundreds of stories about school closures, and authorities don’t understand why she keeps covering the same story.

“The Ministry of Education always slams the door in my face,” Walizada said. “I always call the deputy spokesman for the Islamic Emirate and he always says, ‘I’ve already told you, there’s nothing new to say.'”

“I would like to continue my fight here… if I leave, who will be the voice of Afghanistan?”

His story airing tonight is a new angle for his beat. an afghan ulema – a group of Muslim scholars – has called for girls to be admitted to the school.

This may not be the development the Taliban wants to hear, but the self-proclaimed Islamic Emirate could hardly complain about the news coverage of Islamic scholars.


Toba Walizada, the network’s education reporter, says she is committed to staying and telling stories.

Claire Harbage/NPR


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Toba Walizada, the network’s education reporter, says she is committed to staying and telling stories.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Vague rules and red lines

For journalists still working in Afghanistan, it’s not always clear where the red lines are. the Taliban media law it simply warns against broadcasting anything that is “contrary to Islam” or involves national security.

Over the past year, there have been numerous reports of raids, beatings and arrests of Afghan journalists across the country who were chasing stories the authorities didn’t like, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

None of this has prevented TOLOnews from issuing critical voices.

When the United Nations published a report blame the Taliban for extrajudicial killingsTOLO programs analyzed and discussed the findings.

When the Taliban ordered the network to stop playing popular foreign TV shows featuring women, and ordered TOLO not to explain why shows were disappearing, Sapai decided his news show owed viewers why some were disappearing. of the programs. Both Sapai and the presenter who broke the news were briefly arrested for defying Taliban orders.


Much of TOLO’s staff was recruited from the hundreds of other Afghan media outlets that closed after the Taliban’s takeover last year.

Claire Harbage/NPR


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Claire Harbage/NPR


Much of TOLO’s staff was recruited from the hundreds of other Afghan media outlets that closed after the Taliban’s takeover last year.

Claire Harbage/NPR

In the spring, the Taliban issued a decree instructing women, including on-camera journalists, to cover their faces in public. The female network journalists decided that they would comply with the order by wearing COVID face masks in order to continue working, and in an act of solidarity, their male colleagues also wore masks on air.

And tonight, they’re ready to go back on the air.

With minutes to spare before the six o’clock broadcast, a TOLOnews anchor in a smart navy suit and perfectly coiffed hair sits behind a desk in the brightly lit studio.

A producer counts down and the broadcast begins. She is a woman who tells the main story about the Taliban’s participation in an international conference. TOLO’s audience may not see her face behind her mask, but they will hear her voice as she explains where the Taliban’s Afghanistan is headed next.

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