The Islamist Taliban government has defended banning FM radio broadcasts from two U.S.-funded news media, including the Voice of America, in Afghanistan, alleging they were offending local laws.
The ban on VOA and Azadi Radio, an Afghan extension of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or RFE/RL, went into effect Thursday, a day after the Taliban’s ministry of information and culture said it had received complaints about programing content but shared no specifics.
It is unclear whether the ban will apply to other international broadcasters that have used the same system for FM broadcasts in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan has press laws, and any network found repeatedly contravening these laws will have their privilege of reporting from and broadcasting within Afghanistan taken away," Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the Taliban foreign ministry spokesman, said in written comments to VOA.
"VOA and Azadi Radio failed to adhere to these laws, were found as repeat offenders, failed to show professionalism and were therefore shut down," Balkhi said.
RFE/RL and VOA used the same FM frequencies for round the clock broadcasts in Dari and Pashto languages. VOA’s mediumwave and shortwave transmissions broadcast on transmitters based outside the country will continue to reach Afghan listeners.
In March, the Taliban stopped VOA’s Ashna TV news shows, which had been broadcast on Afghan National Television, Tolo, Tolo News and Lamar for a decade, VOA Pashto reported.
Many VOA programs are anchored by women. The Taliban have banned women from appearing on television without covering their faces.
On Thursday, U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees RFE/RL and VOA, said the Taliban ban will not deter its journalistic mission.
"This action by the Taliban will be seen for what it truly is — an effort to restrict Afghan citizens’ access to uncensored information," Amanda Bennett, CEO of USAGM, said in a statement.
"Repressive governments around the world like this one clearly understand the power of independent media — that is why they spend so much time and effort fighting it," Bennett said. "We are already exploring alternate transmissions, and we will not let this action deter us."
It wasn’t immediately clear how much of the audience in Afghanistan will be affected by the FM ban. Dari and Pashto radio programs, first started in the 1980s, reach millions of listeners across Afghanistan and are widely respected as credible and reliable.
The Taliban ban also affected VOA’s FM transmissions based in Afghanistan that reach Pashto-speaking listeners in Pakistan.
VOA’s Afghan services broadcast 12 hours a day on 15 FM channels and two mediumwave (MW) channels, with programming split between Pashto and Dari.
VOA also reaches a large Afghan audience via digital media.
Free press groups have accused the Taliban of imposing widespread censorship on media, harassing journalists and denying work rights for female media personnel.
Since the Taliban reclaimed power in August 2021, dozens of private television channels, radio stations and print media have reportedly ceased operation because of economic hardships and Taliban restrictions.
According to the press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 219 video, audio and print shops have been closed in Afghanistan since the reestablishment of Taliban rule. Before then, 547 media outlets operated in the country, RSF said.
Akmal Dawi contributed to this report.