How mainstream media has failed in its reporting of Afghanistan’s unfolding crisis
Over the summer I worked as an intern for the consulate of The Republic of Afghanistan, at a time where the country underwent a tumultuous overturn. Every day my routine tasks included reading out and highlighting important headlines and news articles. I flipped through pages of major English dailies, only to find a small section about what was transpiring in far-out provinces of Afghanistan, while there were bigger columns that had charred pieces on who was to be blamed for international military boots being pulled out from the country.
Through my daily checks, I observed how the progression of an event as big as the takeover of the Taliban was conveyed; the sad reality was how short-sighted the print and online journalism was at the time. Everyone was too quick to point fingers. It was a game only letting a select few players onto the court, with spectators hurling names from the sidelines, each shunning a different person they thought responsible for the poor outcome.
“…the sad reality was how short-sighted the print and online journalism was at the time…”
Whilst so much information about Afghanistan’s crisis was being deposited all over the world, there was a noticeable lack of conversation about how long it had taken the world to become aware in the first place. Broadcasters, alongside activism seen across social media, have now started to aid the rollout of resources and information about the crisis – but too little too late? The seeds of it were laid years ago.
Most of the reporting that went on focused on evacuations, and desperate people wanting to leave their homeland. While there is a large-scale refugee crisis going on, it cannot be ignored that the Taliban did not gain their power overnight. Academics who studied the country were not enraptured by espionage, but instead pointed out important points that the media may have missed. Brutally ignored over the years has been the way that the Taliban, as a group, have regained territory by changing their once homogeneous make-up from ethnic Pashtuns to diversify into including other ethnicities from the region. Neither was much highlighted about their repeated war crimes in the regions they had control over; only when they started to take over provinces of importance did the media turn their heads. Whilst certain media perspectives may be biased due to international diplomacy, there have been continuous ramblings on a theme: the “blame game”; I don’t believe many of these are justified, nor what the media should be paying attention to.
A document called Afghanistan Papers, was published by The Washington Post in December 2019. It contained the interviews of various media, military, and government administrative personnel from the United States regarding the war that they had launched in Afghanistan. The questions of “who was to be blamed?” and “what went on militarily speaking?” were not shied away from. The document deemed the horrific humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan “unwinnable” – yet the takeover of Kabul was presented as a shock to the world. And when reading this document, the corrupted nature of the government becomes clear; the corrupted nature of a leadership that existed for years, and the shortcomings of the media in reporting it.
“…the horrific humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan [was deemed] “unwinnable” – yet the takeover of Kabul was presented as a shock…”
When the Taliban took over Kabul on the dawn of 15 August 2021, horrific images were reported to the rest of the world. These images were picture proof of the Taliban’s wrongdoings in the country, and one – of men sitting in the presidential office while children ran for their lives – felt like a frightening symbol of the society the militant group was bringing back. The one-sided perspective of the media was evident: their focus off and eyes glazed, they drew attention to Joe Biden’s administration and how grossly misjudged the removal of American Troops, as opposed to more deeply focusing on the horrors many were experiences in their homes, or the history that led to the Taliban takeover.
An article in The Washington Post notes: “Maybe the pullout from Afghanistan really will go down as Biden’s Waterloo. But maybe deciding that should take more than a few hours”. This observation sums up the essence of media failure and partisanship quite well. Most of the digital and print media that I read failed to provide me with a historical context to any argument of what was going on in Afghanistan. An article written by a major British daily paper, headlined “Ten days that shook Afghanistan”, comprised several threads about how the Taliban had apparently taken over a nation in a day. Yes, perhaps you could create discussion from the various facets of corruption, diplomacy, and historical narrative to give an account of an overnight takeover. But that would be ignoring the multitude of events and circumstances that have been brewing for years. I argue today: the media is not always the best way to educate yourself on international relations.