Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Times Remembers the Dasht-e-Leili Massacre

The Times Remembers the Dasht-e-Leili Massacre

By Prof. Edward Herman

It is always interesting and enlightening to see the New York Times picking up a story belatedly and tracing through the reasons for its early neglect and later resuscitation. This often fits the Orwellian Big Brother principle of using a story only when it is politically helpful and suppressing it when it is inconvenient—forgetting, "and then, when it become necessary again [drawing] it back from oblivion" (1984).

My favorite case was the failure of the New York Times to mention the Salvadoran army death list of 138 left-wing and liberal politicians back in 1982, when the United States was supporting a "demonstration election" there and publicizing the death list would suggest unfavorable electoral conditions, but then mentioning that list in 1989 when the left was tentatively entering an election and the paper was anxious to put that election in a good light, contrasting it with the bad old days (Lindsay Gruson, "A Fingerhold for Dissent," March 17, 1989).

Of course, examples of this and other Orwellian processes abound. An important and notorious one was the almost complete suppression of the Reagan-era alliance with and support for Saddam Hussein—weapons supply, intelligence aid during the war with Iran, agricultural loans, protections against UN condemnations or more biting actions following his use of chemical weapons—after he was transformed into "another Hitler" on August 2, 1990 (he invaded Kuwait on August 1). Again, quoting Orwell: "The Party said that Oceania [here, the United States] had never been in alliance with Eurasia [here, Iraq]. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia so short a time as four years ago." No denial in the U.S.-Iraq case, just a playing dumb about the earlier alliance along with a freshly minted intense indignation at the bad man.

Dasht-e-Leili grave—photos from Physicians for Human Rights
Another fine case can be seen in connection with the recent New York Times front-page article and editorial on the Dasht-e-Leili massacre in Afghanistan (James Risen, "U.S. Inaction Seen After Taliban P.O.W.s Died," July 11, 2009; editorial, "The Truth About Dasht-e-Leili," July 14, 2009). This case harks back to November 2001 when, as asserted in a recent (July 14) editorial, "fighters under the command of Gen.

Abdul Rashid Dostum stuffed surrendering Taliban prisoners into metal shipping containers without food or water. Many suffocated. Guards shot others to death. The victims are believed to be buried in a grave in the desert of Dasht-i-Leili in northern Afghanistan."

The editors now denounce as a "sordid legacy" of the Bush administration its "refusal to investigate charges" of these killings. "There can be no justification for the horrors or for the willingness of the United States and Afghanistan to look the other way." But the truth of the matter is that when the Bush administration refused to "investigate charges" and "looked the other way" back in 2001 and 2002, so did the New York Times. The paper had no editorials or opinion columns on the case and only two news articles by John Burns even dealt with the Dasht-e-Leili massacre (a word that Burns doesn't apply to this case), neither published till August 2002.

In the first one, Burns mentions that "as many as 1,000 others [prisoners] died from wounds or during transport in freight containers to that notorious prison at the northern town of Sheberghan, their desperate appeals for water and fresh air denied by captors who buried them later at a mass grave near the remote village of Dasht-e-Leili." This lonely sentence seems a bit cavalier for a cruel and large-scale massacre and its insignificance is highlighted by the title of Burns's article, which featured not the killings, but the "problem" posed by prisoners to Afghan president Karzai ("Foreign Prisoners Becoming a Problem for Karzai," August 23, 2002).

A second article by Burns does focus on the massacre: "Political Realities Impeding Full Inquiry Into Afghan Atrocity" (August 29, 2002). This article, which closed out the Times' interest in this story till 2009, was surely precipitated by what was possibly the most substantial news article on the Dasht-e-Leili massacre to appear in the mainstream media—a Newsweek piece on August 26, 2002, "The Death Convoy of Afghanistan." Burns again says that "as many as 1,000" Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners may have died in this convoy, but this estimate is on the low side. (Jamie Doran, who spoke to many participants and witnesses in making his documentary, Massacre at Mazar, estimates between 3,000 and 5,000.)

Afghan Massacre: The Convoy Of Death, part 1
Afghan Massacre: The Convoy Of Death, part 2
Afghan Massacre: The Convoy Of Death, part 3
Afghan Massacre: The Convoy Of Death, part 4

Most of Burns's article is on the "political realities" that make pursuit of the case unlikely. Mostly, it's about how General Dostum is in charge in this territory and he hasn't cooperated. The UN representative for Afghanistan said that an investigation was stymied because investigators and witnesses couldn't be protected. Nowhere does Burns mention that Dostum was on the U.S. payroll or suggest that inaction flowed from a U.S. unwillingness to pursue the matter.

Toward the end, Burns cites a U.S. general claiming that there had been no involvement in this atrocity by U.S. personnel and that the U.S. would only consider helping with an investigation if the Pentagon "were asked by the Kabul government" to do so. Burns does not dig any further on the relations between the U.S. and Afghan governments or the truth of the claim of U.S. non-involvement or the possible deeper reasons why the Pentagon might have dragged its feet.

Physicians for Humans Rights (PHR), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch all called attention to Dasht-e-Leili in 2001 and 2002 and PHR urged the importance of protecting the huge burial site for possible future investigation. This was not reported in the New York Times, although in its editorial of July 14, 2009, the editors rather late in the game do say "the site must be guarded and the witnesses protected." The Times had an opportunity to look more deeply into the case when Massacre at Mazar was shown in Europe in June 2002.

This documentary cited a number of witnesses testifying that U.S. Army, Special Forces, and CIA personnel were on the scene when the atrocities occurred and, at several points, seemed to be in overall command. One witness claimed that U.S. personnel urged a quick burial to avoid satellite observance. While this documentarywas shown and reported on in Europe, it was never mentioned in the U.S. mass media, including the New York Times.

Another occasion when this story surfaced occurred in March 2004, at which time the "Tipton Three" were finally released from Guantanamo after several years of incarceration and torture. This release followed British government documentation that the claims of their involvement in terrorism were based on torture-induced falsifications.

While the British media were full of quotes from the released victims on the "hell" they had undergone, the four New York Times articles that mentioned this case were essentially apologetics for Guantanamo, with no details or quotes from the victims and twice as much space given to Pentagon replies than to victims' claims. Times reporters never mention that the Tipton Three were falsely accused by other prisoners, apparently based on torture, and that the Three themselves eventually gave up and "confessed," before an inquiry in Britain showed them to be innocent.

Most relevant here, none of the New York Times articles mention the Tipton Three's experiences in Northern Afghanistan and their claims about the Dasht-e-Leili massacre in which they were among the small number of barely surviving victims.

For half a decade the New York Times followed the official, Bush administration party line that sought to evade any investigation, let alone search for justice, in the Dasht-e-Leili massacre case. With each opportunity to look more closely at the subject and bring it to public attention, the Times failed to do so. The Bush administration wanted the paper to look the other way and it did, and the "sordid legacy" of George Bush is also part of the sordid legacy of the New York Times.

Why is the paper changing its tune now? The editors are open about it. They say that "the administration is pressing Mr. Karzai not to return General Dostum to power. Mr. Obama needs to order a full investigation into the massacre" (ed., July 14, 2009). Now, the editors acknowledge that back in 2001 Dostum "was on the C.I.A. payroll and his militia worked closely with United States Special Forces in the early days of the war."

But seven years ago John Burns quoted a Pentagon general saying that "there is no evidence that America troops were in any way involved in what happened at Shibarghan [sic]." At that time General Dostum was doing what the Pentagon wanted him to do; now the Administration wants Dostum out of the way. And the news fit to print changes accordingly.

Edward S. Herman is an economist and media analyst with a specialty in corporate and regulatory issues as well as political economy and the media.

Source: ZCommunications


Tuesday, 8 November 2011

BBC commitment to impartiality questioned in its coverage of Afghanistan

BBC commitment to impartiality questioned in its coverage of Afghanistan

This article analysis the work of three media organizations relating to their coverage of the same event in Afghanistan. On 10th February 2011 Lutfullah Mashal, a spokesman from the Afghan National Security Directorate, gave a press conference to the world’s media claiming the government had arrested two men suspected of carrying out a suicide bombing in Kabul that killed eight people.

The BBC Pashto Service report of the conference, compared to coverage of the same event by the USA’s Washington Post and an Afghan online news agency Pajhwok calls into question the BBC’s impartiality when reporting on Afghan affairs. The BBC is renowned for its relatively strong commitment to impartial, professional journalism focused on truth in the public interest.

‘‘Impartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences. It applies to all our output and services – television, radio, online, and in our international services and commercial magazines. We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected’’.1 Yet the corporation’s reporting in Afghanistan through its Afghan Section continuously deviates from these principles. The press conference in Kabul is a telling example of this.

The original news story in Pashto, an official language of Afghanistan, was broadcasted on 10th February 2011. For this analysis, I use an English translation. 2  The story was treated as a high profile news item on the day with a picture of Lutfullah Mashal covering the top half of BBC Pashto’s online front page. The headline chosen, ‘Intelligence says a Pul-i-Charkhi prisoner was guiding suicide bombers’, even though the person presenting the information is a government spokesman and not the prisoner himself. The term ‘says’, has been used, when perhaps ‘claims’ might be more accurate. In using this headline the report has already taken what the government says as fact without challenging its version of events, something imperative to good journalism.

Looking at the body of the story, the language used is more evidence to support the notion that the reporting is biased. The first sentence of the story represents a point of view, in this case that the men arrested are terrorists, even though no trial had taken place to confirm or refute this. Other reports carefully refer to ‘alleged bombers’ or ‘suspects’, as impartial journalism should; yet here the reporter is corrupting reader impartiality by stating as fact the government line that the men arrested were in fact terrorists rather than suspects.

The language used is one-sided, therefore compromises on the principles of the impartiality and independence of journalism. In other words, the language used is very opinionated which intentionally endeavours to influence the opinion of the reader. These are contrary to the nature of true journalism. ‘‘The language of the news plays a major part in the construction of what Berger and Luckman have referred to as the ‘social construction of reality’ (1976). It assists in the creation of a set of public discourses through its selection of narratives and the language it employs to project them’’ (Conboy, 2007:5).

The job of journalists is to provide the best obtainable version of truth rather than drive the readers in a particular direction. It is only at the end of that long first sentence that the reporter attributes it to the government spokesman. The opening is more like a government statement than a paragraph in a news story. The language in this first paragraph is political, not factual. 

If a report subsumes the strong views of politicians in this way, it suggests complicity in the state’s attempt to control information; in effect it implies that the reporter is partisan. Yet the BBC is supposed to be a source of impartial and professional journalism regardless whether they are reporting in Britain, Japan or Afghanistan. To illustrate, there are alternative words that can be used instead of ‘terrorist’, some of which are available in BBC’s guideline:

‘‘We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as bomber, attacker, gunman, kidnapper, insurgent, and militant. We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom’’3

The directorate spokesperson, Mr Mashal, is the reporter’s second source; his primary sources are the detained suspects, who also attended the conference. For accuracy, the story should be told using their own voices, after all they are the ones accused of masterminding the suicide attack. How can the BBC Pashto journalist be so sure that the national directorate’s side of the story is the factual side? The reader needs more reporting or at least a caveat from the reporter.

The reporter gives very little detail on the circumstances of the arrests of the suspects, where were they arrested or what did they say verbatim at the press conference? How were the attacks masterminded from prison? Via the internet or cell phone? More information is needed for this to be plausible. Instead, the only development the reader is given is that these men are ‘terrorists’ and bombers. 

This and the incorporation of Mr Mashal’s comments into the body of the news report (outside quotations), compromises the reporter as he is placed as a supporter of the claims made by the intelligence service. In short, the main critique of this piece of reporting is that the journalist appears to support one side of a story, which has skewed his reporting in a way favourable to the government. Here is the last sentence of the report: ‘It is not yet clear whether these people confessed by force and pressure’. 

The first half of the sentence hints at proper investigative reporting; the journalist reverts back to ‘say’ is more neutral than ‘‘confirms’’. The second half of the sentence containing acceptance of Mr Mashal’s claims: ‘but intelligence says the arrested people had direct links with Pakistan’s Lashker-e-Taiba and Jalaluddin Haqani network’.

While BBC World Service English is professional in its work reporting on international conflicts, its Afghanistan section too often deviates from high quality output elsewhere. The mindless regurgitation of particular terms used by state authorities like ‘terrorist’, ‘tragedy’, ‘bloodshed’, ‘painful’, ‘cruel’, ‘innocent’, ‘plot’ and so on, indicate an unquestioning acceptance of state propaganda of the worst kind. ‘‘Victimising language like ‘devastated’, ‘defenceless’, ‘pathetic’, ‘tragedy’ which only tells us what has been done to and could be done for a group of people by others. This is disempowering and limits the options for change’’ (Lynch & McGoldrick, 2009: 29).

Indeed the use of language is a sensitive business for every journalist. Every word generates a meaning; we listen, hear or watch it. Biased language used in a report immediately raises questions about the ownership of a particular media organisation and its ulterior motives. ‘‘News is determined by values, and the kind of language in which that news is told reflects and expresses those values. Audiences feel that the way in which language is used must affect the content of what we receive from the media’’ (Bell, 1993:2).

To further illustrate the case, let us look at Afghan news agency Pajhwok coverage of the same event 4. Pajhwok refers to the alleged bombers as ‘suspects’ in the article title because the men accused have yet to be tried.

The reporter steers clear of suggestive language in his opening sentence referring to ‘arrested men’, whereas BBC Pashto says ‘terrorists’. The skilled approach avoids the personal involvement of the reporter.
The reporter tries to reveal details about possible seize of the military equipment with suspected individuals who appeared in the press conference, and he tried to raise issues to do with the suspicious role of alleged bombers in the attack on supermarket.

The reporter only quoted Mr Mashal when he made an effort to talk about the areas where ‘men’ have been arrested and the equipment which linked to the suspect bombers. Well use of source and professional practice of language by Pajhwok news agency, when the journalist refers to the suspicious role of the arrested ‘men’, he quotes the primary sources. Despite the fact that Pajhwok has a smaller budget and fewer resources than the BBC, it still emerges as the more professional outfit.

The Washington Post also reported the same event from Kabul on 10thFebruary 2011. The Washington Post’s story titled ‘Kabul grocery bombing said to target French diplomats’5, avoids using controversial terms such as ‘terrorist’. The reporter focuses on the primary sources, the suspected bombers, present at the press conference.

The story opens with a quote from Mr Mashal, the official source, but when reporting the details of the bombing and arrests, the post gives time and space to the suspects themselves and not the government spokesman. As a result, the reader is given a descriptive report of the event right down to the type of clothes the suspected bombers wore.

This sample of reporting from a western media outlet contradicts claims that western journalists in Afghanistan are not impartial and instead voices for the international security forces. The Washington Post reporter’s comprehension of political and cultural implications of this event is such that he reports in a sensitive way. Thus he avoids being seen as part of state propaganda.

When reporting in Afghanistan it is important to recognise the different interests that exist. Outside of Kabul, the Taliban are a political and cultural force that may resonate with ordinary Afghans. The use of language which obviously misleads audiences creates an unbridgeable gap of confidence, which can too easily be filled by scepticism. In such matters the BBC guidelines suggest that the possibility of some things being in the public interest for one section of the population, but against the interests of another is a matter of some debate.

‘‘We must not knowingly and materially mislead our audiences with our content. We may need to clarify the nature of some content by labelling (for example, verbally, in text or with visual or audio cues) to avoid being misleading ‘’.6

Another example where BBC journalists working in Afghanistan seem to disregard these guidelines is the BBC Persian TV broadcast on 19th February 2011 titled ‘My Kabul’. 7  The reporter presents the experiences of a small section of society who enjoy life under the current circumstances in Kabul. But he ignores the largely voiceless majority that live in poverty and with the constant threat of death outside Kabul.
The reporter goes so far as to suggest that the Kabul police are trustworthy a laughable claim since even those inside Kabul recognises the systemic problem of police corruption. 

The reporter’s rose tinted view of Afghanistan continues with the claim that because there are post-Taliban private TV channels, there is also freedom of speech in the country. Yet this ignores the murder and kidnap of many journalists and the continued threat to investigative reporters. What of the BBC’s own Samad Rohani, killed in 2008?

The presenter airbrushes out the death of another journalist Sayed Hamid Noori, killed in the heart of Kabul late last year. Private TV channels do not mean freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is being able to speak freely without fear of death or kidnapping.

The reporter does not question the decreasing authority of the Karzai government, where injustice and corruption are widespread. According to Anderson, Peterson and David (2005) the journalist must question the arrangement of an event and only report the true picture rather than the painted official picture.
‘‘Both liberal democratic theory and the various strands of critical theory share a central underlying concern with issues of news representation and source access. Questions concerning whose voices are given prominence, whose voices are silenced or marginalized, and the role of the media in representing ‘public opinion’, is the subject of intense debate’’ (Anderson, Peterson, David 2005:188).

The reporting of the BBC’s Afghan section is indicative of wider problems with Afghan media. Many media organisations employ citizen journalists rather than professionals, which significantly impacts the quality of reporting in the country. Most Afghan journalists appear to ignore the political, social, economic and cultural sensitivities of the country; instead their focus is on the government agenda through press conferences and official statements. 

Symbolic of this is the way that in the reporting of the February press conference, the suspected bombers, such a compelling visual for readers, were studiously ignored by the BBC reporter, and instead the government spokesman was the star of the show. Such reporting suggests audiences and their interests are not important, which makes it little more than a government propaganda machine.

And so it is the interest of editors, who have their own political agenda, which takes precedence in newsrooms across Afghanistan. This agenda usually fits to what the government wants. This trickles down to junior staff members, whose focus is avoiding poverty and unemployment, which means toeing the party line at the expense of journalistic integrity. End.

7: Click for BBC Persian story

Anderson, A &Petersen, A, David, M & Allan, S. (2005), News Production and Sources Strategies, Journalism Critical Issues, New York: Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication.

Bell, A. (1993), the Language of News Media, Oxford: Blackwell.

Conboy,M. (2007), The Language of the News, New York: Routledge.

Lynch, J & McGoldriick, A. (2005), Peace Journalism, Gloucestershire: Hawthorn Press.

The first draft of this article is reviewed by Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi, a UK based journalist, and the second draft of this article is reviewed by Dr Fred Mudhai senior lecturer in global journalism at Coventry University, UK.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Pashto and Pashtuns: In the Light of Linguistic Perspective

In the Light of Linguistic Perspective
By Prof.Dr.M.A. Zyar

Pashto is the language of Pashtuns. Pashtuns (Afghans) are the biggest majority ethno-linguistic tribe and the most long living residents of Afghanistan. The name of the country is links with the name of largest majority, the Pashtuns.

From the point of view of history and geography Pashtuns belong to northeastern areas like Pamir and Balkh. The grandpas of Pashtuns were named as Sakas, Kasyan and Sakan, and the Pashto itself were the grandson of Saki language.

Other current Saki languages belong to Saka origins like: Osety (Caucasia) and 12 or 13 other Pamiri languages are considered close sisters. Sakas are considered the fifth Aryanian origin along with, Awesta-speaking Zartostrians, Partians, Madians and Parsians, which created big empires many centuries before Christ in the Middle East, Caucasia, to northern west India and Kashmir, and defended its main residential territory (Bacteria or Balkh and the area around Axos river) from Greek invaders led by Alexander the Great and later established its first Greeco- Bacter government. 

From today 1965 years back some Sakas moved from north to south and named Halmand down area (Zarangia>Zaranj) with their name Sakistan, which later changed as Sistan. In second century AD when the empire of Sakistan collapsed, in the north the Saki origin Koshanians set the foundation of another empire, which controlled the north, west and south as well as the northwest of India and Kashmir.

Since then Pashtun Sakas established big and small feudal governments in the Ghor and Herat, the valleys of Helmand and Arghandab to Ghawara Margha -غوړه مرغه  - (Arakoziya, current Arghistan),  and to the skirt of Kasay the Solaiman Mountains which were later spread to Sindh, India and Kashmir.  This way Pashto was affected by Indian Aryan languages and collected a lot to its skirt.  

For the first time, the name of Afghan as Apaga is found (252-6 B.C.) in Aechamenian eara, later Apakan as nickname of Sasanian king Shahpuhr the First (309-378).

 In ancient Indian books, in sixth century has been published it as Avagana by Indian astrologer, Aramihra, and O-po-kien in Chinese sources.The Avaganas are the todays' Pashtuns which make the largest majority of Afghanistan.

In this point, let us quit the tales of the history, and let us discuss the current situation. Pashtuns suffer the historic tortures, even though Pashtuns traditional Jirga and meetings are good examples of democracy, but the nation could not experience the democracy with real meaning.

To bring democracy and establish civil society in the war-shattered country, it was necessary that Pashtuns should have been educated, though, historically, Pashtuns have been used as a force of war, as the ruling sources used them to defend against the invaders and that is it.

The largest tribe, with tribal values does not know anything about globalization or the real meaning of democracy.
Pashtuns have been pushed to war in the history because of some foreign movements who invaded Afghanistan time to time in the course of the history to gain control over the region through geopolitical position of the country. Simply like other free nations military, cultural and political interferes of foreign countries were considered as attack on the soil and the values.

Currently their language fights with a cultural invasion and there is no policy within Afghan government to protect Pashto from foreign assaults, and such a bad condition. The Pashto language has almost been separated from official activities intentionally and Pashtuns think that internal and foreigners have launched conspiracies against their language and values.

Many Pashtun intellectuals and writers say if the society does not begin a peaceful cultural struggle to protect its language, does not protect it from negative affects of neighboring Persian language, and does not give hand together against the rivals. It is possible that Pashto will be separated completely from the political ground of the country.

In a society where there are not enough educated people, its members will be deprived from intellectual evolution in technological age. Pashtuns are so behind from the international movement due to involvement in the wars that it needs successive and a lot of efforts to integrate them.

Military wars in their environment and civil war among Pashtuns have made it difficult for Pashtuns to get together to tackle hurdles against them, coordinately.

Looking to the current military and political situation Pashtuns pay the biggest scarifications to survive their future role in the country’s politics, in other hand they appeared main victims of so-called war on terror in Afghanistan.

Taliban are fighting in Pashtun areas and international alliance and its Afghan collaborators non-Pashtun allies so-called Northern Alliance also searches their Pashtun enemies in Pashtun areas.

This condition has given hope to those minorities who attempt to defame Pashtuns and would replace Pashtuns in political ground, as proxies of neighboring countries.

Those who do not accept Pashto-Pashtuns and Afghans- Afghanistan, enjoy the current situation in Afghanistan, the struggles against Pashtuns.

They accept the articles of the constitution which have been set in the constitution by Iranian instructions to protect their separatism and sectionalist interests.  For last 70 to 80 years newly created terminologies used by Iranian have also been used by these minorities.

For instance, since king Amir Shir Ali Khan (1868-79) up to present all military and administrative terminologies were in Pashto among 47 Afghan linguistic groups and this should not be contradicted, but, they ignore the fact and say why it should not be in both languages.

Even when some others do not have any other reasons they say that there has been no limit for these terminologies. When Persian speaking Afghans write a texts and needs to write Afghan terminology then they do not write them in the way it is written in Pashto, as instead of Pashto (څ=ts) they would write Arabic (س) or instead of Pashto (ښ) they would write Arabic( ش) and such others.

Even though such issues look ordinary to many people, but this type of official activities made many Pashtuns upset and have distanced from government officials.
Dari is a dialect of Persian, as Tajiki Persian, and was forcefully added to Afghan constitution in 1964 as Dari language.  They think, if Dari owns its original Persian linguistic name, then its origin should be recognized as southwestern Aryanian languages, not northeast Bakhtari group.

Historian Muhiuddin Mehdi discovered the Surkh Kotal  in 1956 and later in 1993 Rubatak, provided historic information from inscriptions about 200 to 300 other scattered discove- ries has picked up information from Professor Hinning to the current alive Sims Williams (SOAS, Lodon) as a famous Aryasnist  (Iranist) and has selected the position of Pashto and Pamiri (as of Yadghi and Monji) and also Soghdi, Bactri, Parti and Khawarezmi.

This best historic-geographic position and long and prosper activities and literature of Pashto has attracted the attention of many Aryanists since18th century and have undertaken significant academic researches.

Following French expert J.Darmesteter and German W.Geigar, distinguished Pashto language’s scholar, Professor George Morgenstierne devoted 60 years of his life on new linguistic knowledge about Pashto and the related languages.

He was always saying that the Landay (special type of Pashto popülar poems), and Khushal Khan Khatak (1613-1689), the great Pasho poet, were enough for me to get special interest and involvement with all Aryan and then Aryanian languages, in particular the Pashto.

As Pashtuns have spent over 2500 years in defense and invasive wars due to its geographical location, they could not find time to nourish Pashto, and in new Aryanian eara. On the other words, in the beginning of Islam, Pashtuns were in need or were pushed to use and utilize the south-western Persian as second Islamic language.

This requirement and motivation forced a famous king Sekander Ludi to use and send Persian language letters to India instead of his native language Pashto, and then pave way to Sory rulers and Turk- Mongol rulers to use Persian and at the end from Kabul to Dakan, the Indian city,  Persian became the language of majesty courts and offices.

Hotaks with the support of fourth Hotak king Shah Hussian (1729-38) started to accommodate Pashto language, but storm came on them from west of the country.
Ahmad Shah Baba also designed a map to support Pashto, but his successor ignored it, particularly when King Teemor Shah chose Kabul as the capital with the consultation of Turk-Mongol colonizers, which thrown all hopes and efforts to Kabul River.

It was a big cause, since then the culturist and developed minded Amir Shir Ali Khan attempted to restore the position of Pashto Language, but his successors up to present could not help stand Pashto as equal rival to Persian.

Very unfortunately at the present, the Pashtuns and Afghanistan are confronted ethnic groups, anti-national unity filthy alliance and foreign military occupation which challenge the war torn Pashtuns and their war shattered position.

 And much rudely with provocation and support of Iranian leaders implement the tripartite Persian states concept, that has been initiated by Raza Shah pehlavi in .1936, (you will read more about this in the upcoming chapters)

Afghanistan ministry of information and culture expressed concern over the use of Iranian terminology in media. An origin Pashtun, former minister Karim Khuram viewed concerns over the Iranian increasing influence.  He went a step ahead and made efforts to encourage media to use national terminologies, but, no one heard his voices, instead, following his comment, Iranian cultural sources in Kabul criticized him.

Afghan experts say, if the international community wants peace in Afghanistan, they should pave way for the establishment of Pashto research centers and development of the language. Pashtuns will consider the move a good news, and this way international community will attract majority Pashtuns to support foreign efforts in Afghanistan.  

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The complexity of newsgathering in Afghanistan

By Hanan Habibzai

The local communication is characterised by restricted media culture which involves ethnic and sectarian ideologies. In an environment where decades of conflicts destroyed everything, thinking style is consequently exaggerated one way or another. Therefore, the function of communication system and resources shape the audiences opinions toward particular direction.

The ‘‘journalists are licensed agents of symbolic power – authorised by their status as employees of news organisations to tell the stories through which we make sense of our society’’ (Meikle & Redden 2011:10).
An Editorial policy requires, and the audiences should be in the heart of this guiding principle. Although Pajhwok has a specific written editorial guideline, but mostly news gathering process in Afghanistan comes through oral and unwritten editorial management. The news gathering methods are often borrowed from western media organisations news guidelines such as the BBC, and the Reuters News Agency, but frequently remain overshadowed by professional concerns.

This essay examines the complication of news gathering in Afghanistan, and provides a scholastic definition of news production in the country where searching truth becomes difficult due to security risks. My analysis is based on a statement by Danish Karokhel the founder of the Pajhwok Afghan News (PAN) and relevant studies.

News production is severely controlled by powerful people and criminal gangs outside and inside Afghanistan’s government. The journalists usually recognise the threat consequences of a particular story might pose; they also can feel the state’s influence further more visibly. Reporters receive calls from known and unknown officials concerning particular news stories. As a result, the meaning of the news text changes or the coverage of a particular event prohibited. Free discussion through news controls one way or another.

‘‘News matters. It remains the main forum for discussion of issues of public importance. It offers an arena in which journalists and media firms, politicians, other high – status sources of information and audiences come together to inform, persuade, influence ,endorse or reject one another in a collaborative process of making meaning from events’’(Meikle & Redden 2011:1a).

Journalists put themselves in the line of fire of powerful members of society who attempt to consolidate their power through political corruption. They utilise their positions to influence the process of agenda settings and editorial decisions within private media organisations, a reason which distress the news gathering process.
News gathering ‘‘involves reporters, correspondents, producers, news editors and planners. They use sources such as people, documents, news releases and Internet –and other media outlets. They use equipment from a pen and notebook to audio recorders and cameras’’ (Franklin, Hamer, Hanna, Kinsey & Richardson 2005:169).

Journalists require these things to elevate the truth and keep their audiences informed. However, the interest of audiences widely decreases when the meanings of news text become causality of direct influence by political actors. Many people working across Afghan Media face lack of ethical and professional skills, simply for the reason that they are more citizens rather than professional journalists.
BBC’s Inayatulhaq Yasini says his experience of nearly 18 years of work as a journalist shows that most of those working in Afghan media face lack of professional skills. He summarises the reasons as below:
  • ‘‘Media organizations are not paying attention to the training of their staff; they just concentrate on how to cover the events.
  • People are mostly recruited if they got personal relationship.
  • The payment is very low, that is why most of journalists are forced to have second jobs, which affects their journalistic work.
  • Lack of security, which force journalist to self-censorship.
  • Most media outlets are supported by foreign or local donors, and everyone has its own agenda, it is forcing journalist to follow strictly what the boss saying even on the expense of violating journalistic values’’ (Yasini,2011).
Pajhwok Afghan News is based at the heart of Afghan news. Like eye witness journalism, its reporters closely observe every day events all across the country, which allow them to have a full coverage of Afghan developments. The ‘Eye witness journalism is in one sense the purest and best of what we do. It has the power to settle part of the argument, to close down propaganda, to challenge myth-making. It is the first draft in the writing of history and, in itself, a primary source for future historians’ (Little 2010:10).

The environment in which Pajhwok runs remains a dangerous region for journalists and reporters where the freedom of speech regularly victimised or offended by powerful officials, drug lords and militants. 

‘‘We live in a world where journalists are kidnapped and beheaded and so becoming embedded has become a necessary evil. It needs to be seen in context (as the reporters quoted here stress): embedded reporting is only part of the coverage of the war’’ (Hayward 2010:54).

At least one of PAN’s reporters and several other journalists lost their lives searching for the truth and ever since, news gathering has become an even more complex job.

‘‘Journalists who cover Afghan issues face the anger of many: warlords, drug lords, war criminals, corrupt officials, insurgents and killers – the people who hate truth tellers. Afghanistan is a dangerous country (particularly for journalists who want to tell the truth) quite simply because the people who are in the business of killing and the drug traders are the real power in the land’’ (Habibzai 2010: 57) and these are the people who remain major sources for the news as well. Quite simply, what they want to hide and what they want to tell is up to them.

‘‘The Afghan authorities think foreign journalists have the strong support of the international security assistance force and hence they offer them excellent access. However, local journalists do not enjoy such access: there is no security assurance for them to cover big issues such as corruption. On that issue, local journalists can only report from press conferences. But foreign journalists can investigate it deeper because they enjoy the support of their organisation and the Western countries’ military and political presence’’ (Habibzai 2010: 57a).

Access to the information is an elaborate process drives journalists to leave a number of key stories uncovered. The local reporters and journalists see and hear what is happening in their environment, but often security events need the confirmation of local officials which usually arrives too late or not happening at all.

Danish Karokhel is the founder and director of Pajhwok Afghan News (PAN) is satisfied to some extent for the work his organisation does in Afghanistan.‘‘We have won the confidence of people owing to our constant adherence to objective, clean and responsible journalism. Groups of people from different parts of the country come and share their problems with us. To quote just one instance, representatives of the remote Wakhan district in Northern Badakhshan, Ghorband and central Ghazni and Kabul recently shared their concerns with Pajhwok, which they view as an effective forum for raising such issues in a constructive and rational manner’’(Karokhel 2011).

Talking about the complexity of news gathering involves some risks to security. This is because it can cause the rich and powerful to be embarrassed which biases them against the news media. The poverty of human resources within Afghan government and on-going conflict in the country resulted in the transfer of power to people with criminal backgrounds. Many journalists don’t dare to cover the issues to do with bribery and political corruption in Afghanistan.

Raising issues to do with illegal business could cost people their lives for which there are quite a few examples of journalists losing their life in pursuit of the story. Going to the scene of events, they may find many things that are news worthy, but they are forced into silence due to fear for their lives. Many local journalists are not ready to work in such a tense surroundings where the exposure of truth becomes problematic.

‘‘Because of these security and economic problems, Pajhwok has had a difficult struggle with staff attrition. Replacing staff has been made more difficult by the related flight of qualified Afghan journalism trainers to better paying jobs. The problems are even more acute in turnover within Pajhwok‘s management team’’ (Danish, 2011a).

Several types of censorship exist in the process of news gathering which can alter the true meaning of a story. The majority of news reports contain censorship and thus, the reality remains a casualty of the on-going situation. By studying and better understanding all types of news stories as sociological practice, one can easily find out the difficulties journalists are facing every day. 

‘‘Local journalists are the main victims of the conflict. They don’t have life insurance and so they do not dare to go on dangerous assignments. If they are brave and say the truth they immediately face death threats’’ (Habibzai 2010:58b). Since, Afghanistan is a war shattered country; specialism is an issue for media and other governmental and non-governmental organisations. Therefore, the news gathering process in the country is quite unlike that in the west. However, Pajhwok’s founder Danish Karokhel insists that journalists working for the organisation are absolutely given professional training and capable of modern journalistic skills.

Apart from professional codes, almost every media organisation has particular norms for processing news production. ‘’Journalism has a distinct culture with norms, conventions, and expectations of behaviour from those who are part of the culture. Many of those expectations are fuelled by the public service aspects of the profession-the feeling among journalists that they are working for the public good, not just for their private benefit’’ (Stovall,2005:22).

The preventions drive the significance of a news story from one side to another because from outside the newsroom, several factors interfere with the process of news production. Those factors involve political interests of the gatekeepers and text producers’; therefore, Afghan media outlets always containing single focus.

This culture generally exists in countries lead by an authoritarian system. Afghanistan can be relatively characterised as an authoritarian country because the public sphere theory does not exist and the powerful men use official positions to undermine the freedom of speech.

William H Hachten [2001] points out that the press nearly always magnifies the bad and underplays the good. ‘‘The media are no longer seen as society’s truth-Sayers. By embellishing the bad and filtering out the good, a negative picture emerge’’ (Hachten 2001:115). This is what powerful people accuse journalists of focusing on political and military corruption and ignorance of ‘so called’ development in Afghanistan. They are also blaming media on more favouritism toward negativity.

‘‘It is clear that Afghanistan’s institutions, despite, all the rhetoric are one of the most corrupt in the world. There might be some exemptions but generally speaking corruption is high everywhere. This has affected every aspect of the country. The problems with media organizations, particularly which are based in Afghanistan are under the influence of different reasons. The news organizations are looking to the events according to their ethno-political interests and affiliations’’ (Yasini, 2011a).

The continuous war and violence, state corruption, political fraud and crimes against humanity overshadowed the so called reconstructive development in the country, if there is any. Many journalists including Pajhwok’s reporters trying to raise issues to do with above mentioned phenomenon. 

‘‘There are many times more new events circulating than any newspaper or magazine could ever print. So it has to select those items that will have the most interest to its target audience’’ (Niblock 2005:75) .In this case Afghan media seem to have no cross ethnic and cross border audiences, and the politics of media organisations are mostly interconnected with contemporary political factions .

The essential uses of functional sociological theories in the study of news reporting may help a scholar to identify the impact of such product on audience as well as the confrontation with a tricky process to raise a truth. This can be recognised as a study of sociology of the news subjected by general sociology of the knowledge. The men or women setting in the newsroom waiting for a complete package of materials and expect a comprehensive story, but they have to pay less attention to understand that informational crisis drives the story toward meaningless direction.

In this type of condition journalists covering the everyday issues require specialised knowledge of news gathering and news production. ‘‘This need will encourage new forms of journalism and new journalistic skills to emerge. A more instrumental journalism will transform journalists into information brokers drawing on a variety of journalistic, graphic and database skills to supply particular clients with information relevant to their concerns’’ (Manning 2001:77).

To ensure this purpose, the practice of journalism ‘‘requires extraordinary energy and intellectual accomplishment under the constant pressure of daily deadlines. Journalists have to perform in pressure-packed environments. They have to produce, and they have to find ways of producing’’ (Stovall 2005:25a) a news story. The text of a story affects when a news source denies providing basic information. Many Afghan journalists claim that the content of their work remains imperfect when they denied information by Afghan authorities.

State corruption, political and military chaos have characterised major challenges against free and independent discussion through media outlets. Political and armed instability is a main reason pushing journalists to censor his or her work.

‘‘Journalists and media rights activists in Afghanistan are warning of a growing threat to freedom of expression, while officials contend that restrictions are imposed on media outlets only in response to irresponsible reporting. Most recently, the Pashto-language news website Benawa was banned on September 10th 2010 after it erroneously reported that Afghan vice-president Mohammad Qasim Fahim had died’’ (Wahedi 2010).

‘‘It is also moving to outlaw another widely followed muckraking journalism site, The steps come weeks after Afghanistan’s government closed down one of Kabul’s most popular TV stations, Emroz TV, following a request by the Iranian Embassy, and enacted wide-ranging’’ (Trofimov 2010).

‘‘Benawa officials said the article was corrected within half an hour and they accused information minister Sayed Makhdum Rahin of slapping the barring order on them because of stories they had published about him in the past’’[Wahedi 2010a]. ‘‘The flourishing Afghan media scene is one of the success stories of the post-Taleban era, but the country’s ministry of information and culture has come under fire for imposing bans on several television stations’’ (Wahedi 2010b).

‘‘Conservative values are also a strong force, and many media outlets have been accused of carrying morally offensive material. Some of this criticism has come from the Commission for Monitoring Media Misconduct, a body set up by the information and culture ministry. Afghan internet service providers have been told to block thousands of websites that contain pornography or are linked to insurgent groups like the Taleban’’ (Wahedi 2010c).

Many Afghan journalists including Pajhwok Afghan News reporters disputed against the denial of information by Afghan officials, but so far officials show no signs of collaboration.

Franklin, B, Hamer, M, Hanna, M, Kinsey, M & Richardson, J, E. (2005), Key concepts in Journalism Studies, news gathering, London: Sage.

Habibzai,H. (2010), The Challenge facing media coverage: an Afghan perspective , J. Mair, & R. Keeble, (eds),  Afghanistan, War and the Media: deadlines and frontlines, p56 – 62, London: arima.

Hachten, W, H. (2001), the Troubles of Journalism, Self-Criticism of the Press, MAHWAH: Lawrence Erlbaum Association, Inc.

Hayward, D (2010), Why embedded reporting is a necessary evil, J, Mair, & R, Keeble. (eds),  Afghanistan, War and the Media: deadlines and frontlines, p 49 - 55, London: arima.

Karokhel, D.  (2011), Info about Pajhwok, To Habibzai, Email (18.05.2011).
Little, A. (2010), in defence of the non-embed, J, Mair & R, Keeble, (eds), Afghanistan, War and the Media: deadlines and frontlines,  p 6 – 12,  London: arima.

Manning, P. (2001), News and News Sources, News Technology and the Impact of Electronic News-gathering, London: Sage.

Meikle, G & Redden, G.  (2011), News Online, New York: Palgrave MaCmillan.
Niblock, S. (2005), practice and theory, R, Keeble. (eds), Print Journalism a critical introduction, np, New York : Routledge.

Stovall, J, G . (2005), the culture of journalism, the world of the Journalism, New York: Pearson Education, Inc.

Tromifov, Y. (2010), Afghan Media Freedoms Erode (Online), Available here (Accessed: 18.05.2011).

Wahedi, F. (2010), Afghan Journalists Angered by Media Bans, Information ministry
Accused of meddling after television stations shut down
(Online), Available here (Accessed:17.05.2011).

Yasini, I, H. (2011), Challenges Afghan Media face, To Habibzai, Email. (08.06.2011).