‘Journalism is sacred work’: Afghanistan’s entrance line reporters

Kabul, Afghanistan – It was about 8am on a Monday morning in April 2018 when Bushra Seddique felt the multi-storey condo constructing she was living in along with her household in Kabul’s Shash Darak district shake. Smoke billowed from the road beneath.

She barely had time to course of what was occurring as her father rushed the household out of the home, previous the injured and the useless, however she remembers seeing journalists working, cameras in hand, in the direction of the scene of the explosion.

Half an hour later, a second explosion went off; 9 reporters who had arrived on the preliminary blast web site have been killed.

It was the primary time Seddique, who’s now 21, had witnessed the risks Afghan journalists face. “It was traumatic, but inspiring to see their bravery and commitment,” she says.

At the time Seddique was within the second 12 months of her journalism programme at Kabul University. She has now graduated and is embarking on her profession with a combination of willpower and trepidation.

“Over the last few years, we have lost many journalists to bombings and targeted killings, and this is tragic and scary,” she explains. “It’s disappointing for me and anybody making an attempt to develop their expertise as a reporter.

“But I still want to continue,” she provides. “By choosing to pursue journalism, I already accepted the barriers and difficulties of working in this field in this country.”

Bushra Seddique lately graduated from journalism college in Kabul [Barialai Khoshhal/Al Jazeera]

Seddique understands why, regardless of the inherent risks, Afghan journalists proceed to pursue this profession. She needs the world to see Afghanistan as greater than only a battle zone and hopes, by her journalism, to supply a substitute for the everyday portrayals of her nation in Western media.

“Afghanistan has so much ancient history and a vast wealth of culture. I want to tell untold stories of ordinary people,” she says.

“I believe that journalism is not just a job or subject,” she provides, emphatically. “Pursuing journalism is a desire for change and to help.”

A dangerous career

Journalism is without doubt one of the most harmful professions within the nation. According to Reporters Without Borders, not less than 85 native Afghan journalists have been killed in reference to their work prior to now 20 years. After the Taliban seized management of the nation in 1996, journalism went from being severely restricted (because it was throughout Soviet rule) to almost non-existent. Television units have been destroyed and all TV information channels disappeared in a single day. Photos, commentary, and newspaper editorials have been banned, and most print and media publications have been shut down. Only strict spiritual radio programming and propaganda information articles for one newspaper – The Islamic Emirate – ran by the Taliban, have been permitted.

After the US and NATO invasion of Afghanistan and the toppling of the Taliban, the nation skilled a speedy progress within the media sector. Numerous tv information stations, radio programmes and greater than 1,000 print media sources at the moment exist within the nation.

As a profession path, journalism is just not one thing many Afghan households are desirous to encourage on account of its perceived hazard and employment uncertainty. Reporters will typically signal employment contracts with home media retailers with out security clauses or insurance coverage advantages due to the excessive unemployment fee. There are additionally restricted positions with well-paying salaries.

In Afghanistan, there isn’t any minimal wage, and every media organisation pays their employees in line with their very own pay scale. The common earnings for an Afghan journalist is dependent upon expertise, and whether or not they’re working for a home or worldwide outlet. Local retailers pay a wage usually starting from $200 to $1,000 monthly, whereas worldwide retailers pays between $600 to $3,000 monthly. Entry-level graduates are paid on the lowest finish of the spectrum. 

The campus of Kabul University, the place 1,152 college students are enrolled in undergraduate journalism and communications programmes [Robyn Huang/Al Jazeera]

Still, there are 12 state-run universities providing journalism programmes throughout the nation. At Kabul University, the place Seddique studied, 1,152 college students are enrolled in undergraduate journalism and communications programmes, with an almost 50-50 break up between women and men.

“They are pursuing their undergraduate degree with a passion for contributing for the good of this country,” says Abdul Qahar Jawad, an affiliate professor of Journalism at Kabul University and Seddique’s former tutorial adviser. However, he admits that journalism is just not often a pupil’s first selection; it’s a profession they study to understand with expertise and observe.

Seddique understands this as a result of journalism was not her first selection both. She grew up eager to turn out to be a health care provider or a lawyer, however in secondary college, her rating within the nation’s nationwide Kankor college entrance examination course of positioned her in journalism, her third selection.

All Afghan secondary college college students searching for a spot at one of many nation’s universities should take the Kankor examination. Students compete for spots alongside different candidates from their home province, and their rating is the only real figuring out issue for admission right into a college division. Students are allowed to decide on 5 fields so as of choice once they take the nationwide examination, however past that the selection of the place they’re supplied a spot is just not theirs to make. Seddique was not disenchanted along with her final result. After all, she had earned a spot at Afghanistan’s prime college in opposition to a extremely aggressive pool of candidates.

As an undergraduate, one of many first tales she labored on was about individuals living in poverty on Sar-e Yakhdan, a distant rocky hill to the west of Kabul. It took a day to travel to and from the mountain.

“I was a student and travelling by myself as a young girl to report a story. In Afghanistan, this is not common behaviour for young women,” she explains apprehensively. “I remember men staring at me with disgust and asking me why I am on the street by myself, some very harshly. I felt insecure and scared.”

Another time, whereas interning for a nationwide newspaper throughout her second 12 months at college and dealing on a narrative about a number of the most crowded marketplaces within the metropolis, she had insults shouted at her by shopkeepers. One of them referred to as the police, who questioned her on the road and subsequently instructed her to depart the world.

Reporter Saleha Soadat works at her home workplace in Kabul [Barialai Khoshhal/Al Jazeera]

Saleha Soadat, a extra skilled Kabul-based reporter, places such incidents into perspective. “Women don’t have security. During the Taliban era, women were hidden under burqas. After their departure, we re-entered society but were still relatively unseen and persecuted, even sexually harassed,” she explains. “The media space is male-dominant with a negative view towards women. Some men still think that women working in a media outlet are immoral.”

Besides harassment, focused shootings exterior workplaces and houses are a danger, in addition to secondary bombs set to detonate after preliminary assaults with the intention of focusing on journalists and rescue crews and rising the degrees of carnage – just like the 2018 assault Seddique witnessed from her condo window that killed 9 journalists.

‘Prejudice, inequality and terrifying violence’

Journalists masking battle should stroll a dangerously skinny line, balancing threats to their lives from armed teams on the one hand and threats to how they perform their career from the federal government’s safety forces on the opposite. The traces between enabling propaganda, intelligence gathering, and journalism typically blur as they relate to reporting and supply safety in Afghanistan. Given a majority of these challenges, many Afghan journalists have turn out to be accustomed to a level of self-censorship as a type of self-preservation.

Some journalists masking Taliban actions, particularly these with direct entry to members of the group, have been arrested for collaborating with it and spreading propaganda. In different circumstances, journalists have been compelled to work for the intelligence companies or face arrest. Then there are those that have been kidnapped or assassinated by the Taliban for supposedly working with the intelligence companies.

Targeted killings of journalists by armed teams have elevated considerably and proceed to rise amid the US and NATO troop withdrawal. Many Afghan journalists have been compelled to seek out methods to flee the nation however face challenges to find a secure refuge even exterior of Afghanistan.

Female journalists, specifically, are focused in document numbers.

Journalists are sometimes focused in Afghanistan, and feminine journalists face specific dangers [Barialai Khoshhal/Al Jazeera]

According to Soadat, there are solely a handful of feminine journalists. “The split between male and female journalists is roughly 80 to 20. Afghanistan is patriarchal, and journalism is still considered shameful work for women today,” she explains. There are additionally not sufficient journalism roles. In 2020, the unemployment fee in Afghanistan was greater than 11 %. Women, no matter their diploma or expertise, are sometimes ignored for aggressive positions throughout all industries.

The ongoing focused killings have left residents feeling unsure about the way forward for the nation. According to Kabul-based journalist Zakarya Hassani, there was a discount in “freedom of speech, and more fear about what is going on in a critical, historic juncture of Afghanistan”.

There are penalties to this, he says, within the type of “brain drain and loss of hope”, as journalists and others depart the nation.

As somebody simply getting into the trade, Seddique displays upon the results of focused killings. “If the government, the international community is quiet about this violence, and journalists continue to be targeted, then no one will want to work in this field,” she says.

But as a baby rising up through the Taliban period, she understood that she was born into a rustic riddled with challenges. “Even as a child, you know the type of place you come from and what kind of difficulties you face. I knew I had entered a society that faced insecurity, prejudice, gender inequality and terrifying violence,” she says, her joyful manner all of the sudden severe. “I have seen the war with my own eyes, and I want to be part of any efforts to spur change.”

Fuelled by desperation

Seddique’s mentor, Jawad – himself a student-turned-educator of journalism – helps to foster that mindset. The professor is mild-mannered, formal and reserved, but gracious and keen to interact in dialog and pay attention.

He attended Kabul University from 2001 to 2004 and have become a professor on the establishment afterwards. When he was a pupil on the college, his division head was a Taliban official. Though they have been beneath strict Taliban rule, “he treated us like humans,” Jawad says, sitting in his workplace chair along with his legs crossed and his fingers clasped collectively, as he displays on that interval.

Abdul Qahar Jawad attended Kabul University beneath Taliban rule. Today he oversees some of the aggressive journalism programmes within the nation [Courtesy of Mughgan Jawad]

Students have been anticipated to spend 60 % of their time learning Islamic legislation and 40 % on their different topics. They had no entry to computer systems and needed to transcribe lectures by hand. Women weren’t allowed to review or work, solely re-entering lessons throughout his second semester in 2002 when the Taliban had been toppled.

During his tenure as a professor, he was awarded the celebrated Fulbright scholarship, which introduced him to the University of Arkansas within the US to finish a Master of Journalism. After he graduated, he determined to return to Afghanistan as a result of he wished to proceed working for the college.

“To be a lecturer at the journalism school guaranteed me an employment opportunity in 2005 after my undergraduate studies. I didn’t see beyond that economic opportunity at the time. But gradually, while teaching, I started appreciating the significance of journalism for my personal career and its social and professional impact. I was empowering younger generations to flourish and to be the eyes and ears of their communities. So I wanted to continue teaching and become part of a fabric that would drive change in my country through journalism,” he says.

He recollects being scolded by family for giving up the potential of probably staying within the US, however is adamant he made the appropriate resolution. His eyebrows furrow as he explains why.

“I came back because I saw an opportunity to be an influencer, to educate a generation that could change the situation that generations, including myself, have grown up in. These are young generations that are eager to learn and bring change for Afghanistan, and perhaps the world,” he says. “I can’t fix all the problems in Afghanistan, but my country needs people who are brought up here to contribute to helping the country.”

He believes in college students like Seddique and understands the motivations of those that grew up in battle.

Bushra Seddique works on a narrative at her workplace in Kabul [Barialai Khoshhal/Al Jazeera]

Jawad lived by each the Soviet and Taliban eras. He recollects strolling 16km (10 miles) a day as a baby to promote greens out of a cart as rockets fell round him. The more and more violent battle between Mujahideen teams following the Soviet withdrawal compelled him to cease going to highschool for 9 years, and he needed to depend on personal education later in life to atone for his research.

“As I was working, I desperately observed other children my age attending schools with notebooks in their hands, as people then could rarely afford to buy school bags,” he recollects. “Sometimes, in these situations, I ended to assume whether or not my future might be completely different in maturity if I may proceed going again to highschool.

“This feeling of desperation fuelled me to seek out partial education that might align with my obligations to my household. So I attended some small-sized training centres to atone for my research in a couple of topics like English, arithmetic and calligraphy.

“These were baby steps, but they helped a lot when I was able to resume schooling officially. My experiences taught me commitment and resilience. Millions of youth across Afghanistan have faced and still face similar situations. Still, I hope as an educator I can inspire others who are struggling never to give up.”

Today, he oversees a aggressive journalism programme (the fifth-largest programme on the state-run college). It accepts solely 300 candidates out of the two,000 who apply yearly to the college by the nationwide examination course of. He is aware of the programme nonetheless wants developments, however he sees hope in what it stands for at present – in the way in which it prepares the following technology of Afghan journalists, those that want to reframe Afghanistan’s narrative because it enters an unsure future.

Kabul University’s Media Operations Center, the place Professor Jawad’s workplace is situated [Robyn Huang/Al Jazeera]

Seddique is a part of that technology. She admits that it’s typically scary for somebody who’s simply beginning out within the trade. But she is decided and protracted. She knocks on doorways till she will get interviews and works additional laborious to analysis and fact-check as a result of sources typically present her with false data. “If people ignored me, I would return every day until someone spoke to me,” she says.

Seddique, who’s ethnic Tajik, credit this mindset to her open-minded household, particularly her supportive father, who she says “always believed that a key driver to change in this country is education”. And she attracts inspiration from feminine journalists who’ve paved the way in which for her – journalists like Soadat.

‘How can I remain silent?’

At 34, Soadat remembers solely violence from her childhood. She grew up in west Kabul through the civil battle and was compelled to flee her home when it was attacked by an armed group.

While fleeing, she and her sister have been injured in a rocket assault. In a panic, her mom coated their wounds along with her garments, and so they continued escaping with different family underground. These reminiscences and the considered her mom desperately making an attempt to guard them hang-out her to today.

“In a society that does not even spare children, how can I remain silent and not fulfil my mission as a journalist?” she asks, sitting tall along with her fingers crossed in her lap.

Saleha Soadat started her journalism profession on radio, and now works as a contract reporter [Barialai Khoshhal/Al Jazeera]

She speaks with confidence and depth and maintains eye contact with a laser focus behind a pair of black-rimmed glasses. She is formal, but pleasant, energetic and talkative. She began as a reporter for a non-public radio station.

“I started my career with radio so that only my voice could be heard,” she says, explaining that her household have been involved about her safety.

She beforehand labored for TOLOnews as a senior political reporter, and now works as a contract journalist.

Soadat is not any stranger to discrimination and focused violence. She is Hazara, considered one of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic teams, comprising roughly 20 % of the inhabitants of 38 million. Hazaras have been traditionally and systemically persecuted and discriminated in opposition to on account of their Shia religion in addition to by Afghanistan’s Pashtun- and Tajik-dominated authorities, regardless of being granted equal rights within the 2004 Afghanistan Constitution.

Since 2018, there have been greater than 50 Taliban and ISIL (ISIS) assaults focusing on Hazara civilians in all places from mosques to hospitals. In May, there was a bloodbath at a woman’s college in a primarily Hazara neighborhood.

Soadat believes that if native journalists, who’re closest to the challenges the nation faces, don’t report on such issues, there is not going to be progress.

Saleha Soadat reporting in Afghanistan [Courtesy of Waheed Ahmadi]

She credit her dedication to journalism to her mom. “As a child, my mother always told me to strive for myself, my family and community. My mother inspired me to be a good human being first, and I think I chose to pursue journalism because of what she taught me.”

She worries about her future and the way forward for journalism after the US and NATO forces depart.

“Journalists are at the forefront of the country’s struggle because they voice facts. These voices may be to the detriment of the Taliban or the Afghan government, but in either case, they face threats from both sides,” she explains. “The withdrawal of foreign troops will undoubtedly affect the deteriorating security situation.”

But she is just not prepared to surrender and believes the following technology of journalists – these like Seddique – should consider firmly in what they’re doing. They need to hold working to the entrance line, she says, as a result of “journalism is a window to alter.

“Here in Afghanistan, it’s dangerous, but journalism is sacred work.”

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