Taliban Declares Leading Afghan TV Networks Military Targets
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Since driving out the Taliban government in 2001, one of the few things that has been a great success in Afghanistan is the media. TV networks offer everything from "American Idol"-style singing competitions to much-watched presidential debates. This week, though, the Taliban struck back. The insurgent group declared Afghanistan's two biggest channels military objectives and said that their news teams and anchors are now targets to be, quote, "directly eliminated." Saad Mohseni, who founded Tolo TV, says the threat is a response to the brief Taliban takeover of the city of Kunduz.
SAAD MOHSENI: This occupation was pretty much covered 24/7 by the local media outlets. We had three correspondents going live every single hour. And when they entered the city, they obviously reported on atrocities committed by the Taliban. So it was a very unusual case, where the Taliban saw that whatever they had committed was getting reported live. And from a PR perspective, they probably felt that this was unacceptable.
MONTAGNE: Well, there was one story in particular, and that had to do with a report on rape of women in Kunduz.
MOHSENI: Yes, I mean, there were a number of allegations of rape committed by Taliban troops. And we reported on these stories like any other media outlet. And of course, Amnesty and others came forward as well condemning what they saw as crimes of war. So I think that's a thing that really upset the Taliban. And they have stated that as being the reason as to why this declaration was made. Well, you know, when you're launching attacks from time to time and the objective is to actually kill and maim, they probably feel that sort of coverage is not negative. But this is the first time that the Taliban had to also win hearts and minds. So they probably felt that they needed to make an impression, and that impression wasn't necessarily the one that they ended up making. This declaration came from the military council, so this is a pretty serious threat.
MONTAGNE: Nothing has happened yet. Could this get bad for you?
MOHSENI: We're not in any way taking this lightly. These are the lives of our people. And the Taliban put out a video where they named 23 individuals working for us, including entertainers, broadcasters, news people. So this is a very personal attack from the Taliban.
MONTAGNE: Well, just remind us just of a little history here. Under the Taliban, TV and music were banned. People buried their televisions and their musical instruments. And in these last 12, 14 years, people have become fans of television. Do you have any sense of what the public thinks about this?
MOHSENI: Well, I mean, if we go by comments on Facebook and Twitter and so forth, I mean, people are overwhelmingly supportive of the media outlets. Don't forget, the Taliban's approval rating is less than 10 percent. And this new generation of Afghans - don't forget our median age is 18. A very large proportion of this population, you know, they're fully accustomed to television and radio and media. But what it does highlight is that how little the Taliban have changed. They're just as brutal and just as intolerant as they were in 2001. So we're not in a good place. But it could also be an opportunity for all of us. I think for the Taliban, it was very important for them to show some success. Their Kunduz operation was a very important one. And having failed, it could be a turning point. You know, the government has not performed well. But nonetheless, if they can hold onto territory, they could exhibit to the Afghan nation that they have a viable force; it's a legitimate government. And then for the Taliban, the pressure's going to be on. If you recall, the Taliban used to say that we have the time, basically. Now it's the other way around. The Taliban need to perform quickly in order for them not to lose credibility, especially in an environment where they have a new leader. So as much as things have been difficult, it could be a turning point for the government if they can hold onto territory.
MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.
MOHSENI: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: That's Saad Mohseni, head of Afghanistan's Tolo TV. Its journalists have been declared military targets by the Taliban. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.