How we rely on local journalists to show our stupidity

The silent heroes who report on inept and criminal Western wars:

Stringers in Afghanistan, where I am the correspondent for al-Jazeera, are the eyes and ears of the world’s media. Without them, getting a picture of what is going on outside Kabul is almost impossible for a western journalist. Most correspondents don’t often stray from the capital and those embedded with security forces struggle to witness anything not cleared by military censors.

Al-Jazeera is bolder than most, with an occasional trip to the more dangerous provinces. But in the past week our invaluable stringer network has closed down. This month, one stringer’s home in Khost was raided and four of his relatives were arrested. Then our Ghazni stringer was arrested two days after polling day for being what the International Security Assistance Force termed a “suspected Taliban media and propaganda facilitator”. Two nights later, our Kandahar stringer was also picked up for being a “Taliban facilitator”.

Whether or not the intention was to intimidate the press, these arrests have in effect shut down our coverage, despite the fact that both men were released on Friday. So when do I stop being a journalist who wants to cover both sides of this conflict and become a facilitator of Taliban propaganda? I recently produced three reports based on footage my brave producer had taken in a Taliban camp in Baghlan province. The fighters talked about the upcoming elections, suicide bombers and al-Qaida.

Their views may be unpalatable, especially for those who have lost relatives in this conflict, but is that a reason not to air them? If the coalition is committed to talking to the more moderate members of the Taliban, then the more we know about them the better.

But there’s a much more basic reply to the suggestion that our footage stopped people voting. About 40% of Afghans have access to TV but only 4% have access to satellite television and even fewer speak English or Arabic. Even if our footage of the Taliban could put fear into the hearts of people here, very few of them even got to see it.

”¢ Payment for this piece will go to the stringers’ families

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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