Women-run Afghan media offer untold side of story

Tue Jul 5, 2011 10:44am EDT
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

KABUL (Reuters) - Farida Nekzad has faced threats of kidnapping, acid attacks and a plot to blow up her apartment since she founded her first news agency in Afghanistan seven years ago.

Members of the Taliban e-mailed some of the warnings; others arrived over the phone. One caller warned she would be murdered and disfigured so horrendously that her family would not be able to recognize her body.

But the mother-of-one, whose most recent project is a news agency that spearheads coverage of the problems that Afghan women face, is undeterred. Wakht, or 'Time' in Nekzad's native Dari, is one of a handful of majority female media outlets springing up across a country where women's voices often go unheard.

It has seven female reporters and three male journalists and operates across 10 provinces.

Nekzad, who has start-up funding from private donors and hopes to become self-supporting through advertising within 18 months, aims to expand from text reports to multimedia ones.

"In 30 years of war, women and children are the ones to suffer the most ... but they are not given any attention and have no media coverage," Nekzad told Reuters, referring to decades-long violence sparked by the Soviet invasion in 1979.

A long-time journalist with international media awards under her belt, Nekzad first received threats when she co-founded privately-owned news agency Pajhwok, in 2004 in Kabul. Her husband has also received written warnings saying he would be killed as punishment for his wife's work. Nekzad's new project increased the threat to the safety of both. The only news agency of its kind, Wakht joins five women-owned radio stations spread across Afghanistan, that have also been the target of violence and intimidation.

They face constant opposition from the Taliban, challenges from more conservative sectors of a devoutly Muslim society, and staffing and management issues related to employing women in a country where only a minority work outside the home. One in Kabul was torched, taking it temporarily off the air. Female journalists at Radio Sahar, set up in the western city of Herat, say they have received death threats. A female-run television channel, called Shiberghan TV after the capital of northern Jowzjan province, will air from mid-September, but finding women willing and able to work on camera is a constant struggle.   Continued...

<p>Afghan women reporters set up their sound recorders in a media facility in Kabul on March 16, 2003. REUTERS/Stringer</p>