FAYZABAD, Afghanistan – In a sign of impending hard times for Afghan media outlets, a lack of resources has forced a female-led radio station in a remote Afghan town to close.
Radio Bazgul bid farewell to its listeners in Fayzabad this month. Some 30,000 residents of this picturesque capital of northeastern Badakhshan Province will no longer be able to listen to the FM station whose voice permeated shops, offices, and homes.
Local resident Ahmad Suhaib was a regular listener. He liked the news, music, political, social, and cultural talk shows that Bazgul offered. “I was saddened to know that this station will be shut,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.
Mahshid, one of the radio’s female fans who goes by one name only, is also unhappy over its closure. “I am very upset because I was a fan of this station and followed its programs,” she said.
Zakia Zhadat, the editor-in chief of the station, says a lack of support from the local government, donors, and nongovernmental organizations compelled Radio Bazgul to shut down.
“Now the six women and two men who worked here will no longer have jobs,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “We failed to secure any assistance, which prompted us to shut our doors forever.”
Zhadat, a university graduate, worked at the station since its opening in 2013.
Layla Tabish, another journalist at the station, says she is worried that more media outlets in Badakhshan are likely to meet the same fate.
“We were doing a good job,” she said. “Now if the government fails to rescue other media outlets, they will follow suit.”
The media in the region, however, is already in dire straits. Abdul Baseer Haqjoo, the head of Badakhshan’s journalists’ association, says 24 out of the 30 magazines and newspapers in the province have gone out of print.
“Lacking resources and marketing potential [for sales and advertisements] and an increase in taxes by the government have forced the media in Badakhshan to face a calamity,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Unfortunately, government promises of help were never acted upon.”
But the cash-strapped Afghan government, embroiled in fighting a countrywide Taliban insurgency, has few resources to prop up independent media.
“No doubt that the demise of a media outlet directly translates into shutting down people’s voice,” noted Hikmatuallah Mohammadi, a senior official at the Information and Culture Ministry. “We are doing our best to help the media in accordance with our government’s policy.”
He says the local branch of the ministry has crafted a plan to support the media in Badakhshan.
The story of Afghan media in the 21st century has been one of boom and bust.
Afghanistan had no independent media under the Taliban. But the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001 was followed by the mushrooming of hundreds of print, television, radio, and online outlets. Western donors made generous investments to shore up the media’s watchdog role.
Eighteen years later, dwindling donor funding is forcing many outlets, particularly in remote provinces such as Badakhshan, to end operations.
Badakhshan, one of the largest among Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, borders Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan. It currently has six newspapers, two radio stations, and three television stations to cater to its 900,000 residents. The government controls a print outlet while the state radio and television have local branches.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Naimatullah Ahmadi’s reporting from Fayzabad, Badakhshan.