The Necessity for Critical Journalism
By: Mazdak Parsi
In recent times, even media outlets that are critical and opposed to the Taliban have been reporting in a manner that suggests they are serving the same purpose as the domestic media of Afghanistan. This is why critical journalism is now more important than ever. It appears that the formerly anti–Taliban media no longer have any issues with this group and are attempting to fulfill their journalistic mission and cover events in Afghanistan without any hesitation. The Taliban have an issue with foreign–based critical media, which is the first sign of a crisis in official journalism. Why should the “free“ media have no qualms with the Taliban, who are staunch opponents of freedom and democracy?
Most of the media in Afghanistan that appear to be free operate with a commercial approach. Media workers are present wherever they can make a profit, regardless of whether Afghanistan is under the control of a corrupt “republic“ supported by Westerners or under the control of Taliban rule. The media business also continued without interruption under the previous government, and it is the same in the Taliban Emirate. Commercial media primarily rely on advertising for their income, so when they are forced to choose between freedom of speech, democracy, social justice, and human rights on the one hand and financial resources on the other, they usually opt for the latter.
The domestic commercial media of Afghanistan do not take into consideration which political regime is in power, instead they strive to maintain their “sacred“ business without disruption. Upon examining the commercial approach of domestic media, it appears that there is a disconnect between politics and business, with neither supporting the other. Previously, the domestic media of Afghanistan were strong proponents of democracy, freedom of speech, pluralism, and human rights. However, now that the Taliban have returned, they abide by whatever this group dictates, and there is no evidence of the revelations, investigative reports, and criticism of the government‘s policies that were once present. It can be concluded that the media is not a political institution and should only focus on the peaceful work of business. Nevertheless, this gap is more apparent than real, as business and politics are so intertwined that they are often inseparable.
The domestic media of Afghanistan, which claims to be apolitical, is actually highly political and cannot be any other way. Refraining from political action in favor of business is the most dangerous and detrimental political action. Rather than engaging in critical journalism to criticize the negative reality, the media opts for compromise with the regime, thus allowing for more propaganda tactics. This strain against one of the most oppressive political regimes in the world is a great benefit for its survival.
Most of the media in exile view the reality of Afghanistan from a commercial standpoint rather than a political and value–based one. They also desire to operate without interference from the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Taliban– a request that will never be granted by this group. The Taliban seek compliant media, not critical media.
Journalism has a primary function of reporting that should be conducted objectively and fairly, rather than subjectively. The reporter should impartially narrate what they observe, and if there is an accusation, the perspective of the real or legal person should be included in the news. This is how the reporter fulfills their “honorable“ duty of reporting while adhering to the principle of balance. This technical and professional principle is generally accepted, but the issue arises when it is put into practice. Excessive neutrality, which most media outlets avoid or are less bound to, leads to neutral and bland reporting that provides the most opportunity for the media to be exploited by political movements, including the Taliban. Both domestic and exiled Afghan private media have competed in this type of news coverage. However, news reporting is not only not informative, but it is an impediment to awareness. The media‘s role is to spread news, not to inform. The media publishes a large volume of news daily, which constantly bombards the audience, but the more information that is added, the less impact it has on the audience due to the sheer volume of news. Spreading news creates superficial, popular, and shallow awareness.
The second indication of the crisis in official journalism is that all media, both those critical of the Taliban in exile and those domestically following the Taliban‘s policy, have been affected by a kind of news epidemic that serves the interests of the Taliban. For instance, most of the media critical of the Taliban in exile, like the domestic media, cover trivial news related to the process of providing aid or the false and demonstrative activities of the Taliban, while this group has extensive media facilities, from domestic private media to independent media, and they publish this type of news much more widely and effectively, thus making it unnecessary for exiled media to do so. However, the foreign media also have positive and promising activities that cannot be denied. But since this article focuses on the weaknesses of media critical of the Taliban, we will postpone discussing the positive aspects of these media for later.
The Obligations of Critical Journalism
In a situation where news addiction has become widespread and domestic media have prioritized business over critical engagement with the political regime in Afghanistan, we need original journalism that has the capacity to rebuild and update itself, transforming the media from a mere money–making tool into a powerful institution that can act as a catalyst for sustainable pressure on criminal, corrupt, and dictatorial regimes.
It is essential to have critical journalism, and it should be the primary form of cultural resistance. In certain areas, relying solely on the military resistance of citizens against the Taliban is not sufficient. We must fight the war of official and government journalism by highlighting the terror that plagues our region.
Critical journalism must also oppose commercial journalism, as this type of journalism has been subjugated to the interests of business, disregarding the ideology of knowledge and embracing the politics of fear.