Kabul: In our series from Kabul—‘Taliban 2.0: One Year On, From Winning The War To Governance’, Khpolwak Sapai, the Director of TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s first 24-hours news, current affairs, business, regional & world news television network in conversation with StratNews Global(SNG) Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi. SNG reports in Afghanistan have been filmed by Video Journalist Rohit Pandita. SNG has a tie-up with TOLOnews since January 2020.
Mr Sapai, the man who almost single-handedly prevented TOLOnews from shutting down after the Taliban takeover on August 15, 2021, “despite losing almost ninety per cent of journalistic, editorial, production and administrative staff” recounts the surreal surrender of power and how he and the TOLO team hired almost-impossible-to-find talent and trained them, what the last year has been like for a once vibrant, thriving free press, how the media played a crucial role for an information-starved public during and after the takeover, handling some threats and many restrictions including on women journalists, the woman journalist Beheshta Arghand, who made viral headlines across the globe for first interviewing the Taliban just after they took control of Afghanistan and how she and many hundreds of thousands of people fled the country. He also describes how a #FreeHerFace social media campaign was born, when Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan officials imposed an uncovered-face-ban on women and how both men and women, Afghan and worldwide raised their voices in support. When the decision to shut down the channel in the face of restrictions, rather than comply with them stared the management in the face, he recounts how “women said men shouldn’t make the decision for them and decided to wear Covid masks to be able to continue their work, even and especially on air.
The unassuming and soft-spoken head of TOLOnews, who is considered a giant in Afghanistan’s media circles, points out that “new media restrictions can be dragged in any direction”. He notes that “many Taliban officials support the free media, but the mid and low level feel they have conquered the whole country and defeated America, so they take a free press as their property”. Having been through the highs and lows and trials and tribulations of Afghanistan’s history over the decades, Mr Sapai admits “the future is difficult to predict”, but warns the Taliban government “a free media is very important for it”.