WASHINGTON — A coalition of more than two dozen US news outlets and press freedom organizations is calling on the US government to help protect Afghans who worked with foreign media and could face risks from the Taliban as a result.
Letter President Joe Biden and top House and Senate leaders called on the United States to establish a visa program for local journalists and stringers who worked with US news outlets.
The letter said that many of these media persons fear retaliation from the Taliban for being associated with the US media.
Afghanistan has long been one of the most dangerous countries for the media, but the threats and risks have increased since the start of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in September 2020 and the withdrawal of US forces.
At least 10 journalists and media personnel have been killed since peace talks began, and dozens are fleeing north of Afghanistan, where the Taliban have taken over the area. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Wednesday that nearly half of the country’s district centers are in the hands of the Taliban.
“The Taliban has been running a campaign to intimidate and kill journalists for a long time,” the letter to Congress said.
The signatories urged the United States to provide assistance to the nearly 1,000 media persons and their families in the same way it helped protect those who support the US military. The letter said the US established a similar program in 2008 to help Iraqis working with American media.
“This is not a political issue. It is an issue of human rights and human security. There are people whose lives are at risk every moment of every day, and the U.S. government has an obligation, in my opinion, to help solve their problems,” said Dan Shelley, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, which One is the signer of the letter.
The Taliban denied targeting independent media, told the VOA they had only captured state-owned outlets and asked journalists to operate as normal.
The importance that these media personnel have contributed to US coverage of Afghanistan over the past two decades cannot be overstated, says Laura King, a Washington-based correspondent for the Los Angeles Times who served that outlet from 2008-2012. Served as the Kabul bureau chief. .
Vice News Washington bureau chief Sebastian Walker, who has reported from Afghanistan on several occasions, echoed that view.
Both the Los Angeles Times and Vice Media Group are signatories to the letter.
Support staff or “fixers” serve a variety of roles for journalists in conflict areas. They act as translators or drivers, help find sources, analyze cultural nuances, advise on safety assessments and help find food and shelter, King and Walker explained. Many only tell their spouse what their job is because of the risks associated with working for foreign media.
“We couldn’t have done our job without those — it’s as simple as that. They’re absolutely essential to any kind of reporting that you see,” Walker told VOA. “The Afghans on the ground make it possible for international journalists like me to come into the country, go places, make their way around. Talk to people and get an understanding of what’s really happening on the ground. It’s this group of people.” Wouldn’t be possible without it.”
A senior State Department official, speaking on the background, confirmed to VOA on Wednesday that it had seen the letter and would respond “in due course.”
The State Department is in the process of relocating more than 2,500 Afghans to the US later this month under a special immigrant visa, or SIV. The group includes about 700 interpreters and others who assisted the US military, as well as their families.
The senior official said, “With reference to other people in Afghanistan who have helped the United States or helped American organizations – be it NGOs or media organizations – we are looking for other options to provide a safer alternative for them.” are considering.”
all afghan media persons – whether they work for foreign or domestic press – face serious risks because of their work. But according to King, working for the international press presents distinct dangers.
“As far as the Taliban is concerned, the people working with us” [the foreign media] There are as many traitors as the people working with the army,” she said. “In the case of people working for Western organizations, there may be a greater sense of obligation towards them – practical and moral obligations – to ensure that they do not face retaliation for the work they do with us.”
According to Walker, as risks and threats increase, fewer people may be willing to work, which in turn can reduce news coverage of Afghanistan.
King said he agreed, but added that foreign news outlets would in any case reduce coverage of Afghanistan after the US exit.
Both journalists said they supported the US government’s call to protect these media workers and their families, adding that Afghan media personnel wanted to help tell the world what was happening.
“From our side, it is full confidence. We are completely in the hands of our local employees,” Walker said. “We have complete trust and confidence in the people we work with.” And now, Walker said, it’s time for reciprocity.
“Your life is in their hands,” said the king. “It’s really up to us to protect these people who helped explain to us what was happening in Afghanistan, because it wouldn’t have been possible without them.”