Local journalists as cornerstones of reporting in Afghanistan

Published : August 20, 2021 20:02 IST

A TV journalist is blocked from filming at the site of a bomb attack in Kabul in February. Photo: Rahmat Gul/AP/picture alliance

Local journalists' lives are being threatened. Without them, good reporting from abroad becomes impossible.

"In front of me, the American military is firing warning shots in the air. Behind me, the Taliban are storming the airport compound." This was Natalie Amiri on German television, quoting a telephone conversation she had with an Afghan colleague who called her from Kabul airport on August 18.

As the presenter of Weltspiegel, a foreign affairs magazine program on German public TV channel ARD, Amiri works with many such "stringers." This is what journalists call local colleagues who assist them with their work abroad.

Stringers provide photographic and film material, arrange interviews and reports, and help assess situations on the ground. Amiri gives an example: "I want to accompany a female human rights activist who has to leave the country, so I tell my stringer, 'Find me one!'" Amiri explains that, with his local contacts, the stringer is able to locate a suitable person and put them in touch.

DW, too, works with local residents in a similar manner. And they, too, are desperate — as Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi, the head of DW's Dari-Pashto editorial department, recently tweeted.

"Our courageous colleagues in Afghanistan are sending desperate messages. They are beseeching us to get them out. Their words keep me up at night," she wrote, adding: "But I'm not the one closing my eyes. The German government must act now!"

Indispensable local personnel

"Without the courageous work of local personnel, reporting from countries like Afghanistan is inconceivable," says Katja Gloger, the board spokesperson for the German section of Reporters Without Borders. She explains that these local people don't deal just with important organizational issues; they also help reporters and media organizations connect with the societies they're reporting about.

Gloger was the Moscow correspondent for the German news magazine Stern for many years. She knows from personal experience how important it is to have a network of colleagues very familiar with a country. "Correspondents stationed abroad naturally have to engage in-depth with historical and social events in their respective countries and with current developments there," she said. "But in order to understand a country's often complex realities, the exchange with local journalists and stringers is helpful — and often indispensable."

Gloger explains that for journalists in war and conflict zones especially, and in countries where freedom of expression is suppressed rather than defended as a fundamental right, it's about much more than simply earning a living. "Their work is often so dangerous; they're not just doing it for money. They're concerned about freedom of the press, independent information, plurality, and transparency." In Afghanistan, she says, this is especially true of women; they want their concerns to reach a wider audience.

Local journalists particularly at risk

In places like these, Gloger says, it is local reporters and their families who are most at risk of reprisals. In Afghanistan, they fear for their lives. Foreign journalists are protected to a certain extent by their infrastructure and by their passports. This week, for example, Taliban fighters allowed themselves to be interviewed by the (female) American journalist Clarissa Ward on the streets of Kabul, whereas elsewhere Afghan journalists are clearly being systematically persecuted and abused.

Gloger reports that in recent days Reporters Without Borders has received dozens of desperate inquiries from Afghan journalists, pleading for help to escape their homeland and support in the event of an evacuation.

Colleagues must not be abandoned to their fate

Like DW, Reporters Without Borders is one of numerous media organizations that have written an open letter to the German government. They call on it to assist colleagues who want to leave Afghanistan. The case of one DW correspondent shows how urgent the matter is: The Taliban conducted a house-to-house search in an attempt to find him, in the course of which they shot dead one of his relatives and seriously injured another.

"For years, our correspondents have reported reliably and provided information that has benefited the German media and the German public," DW journalist Hasrat-Nazimi tweeted. "We cannot now simply abandon them to their fate."