With the release of the names of candidates for the parliamentary elections, AAN has been excitedly pouring over the candidates’ list. The former journalists among us – myself and Thomas – were pleased to see a high number of our colleagues putting themselves forward for public office – at least twelve for Kabul alone – but should we be? By Kate Clark, AAN Senior Analyst, in Kabul
Many countries have a high proportion of journalists in parliament – people who like to show off and are interested in politics frequently gravitate from observation to action, it seems. Working as a good journalist in Afghanistan is far from easy, with the need to navigate between the competing pressures of editors and station owners, government and Taliban, militias and mafia. Despite the kidnappings, threats, occasional killings and self-censorship; between outlets controlled by the state or powerful private patrons with political agendas, Afghan journalists have managed to create a media which has many weaknesses certainly, but is still freer than most of the neighbours’ media.
So will the journalist candidates – if elected – bring the skills of the ideal reporter with them – will they be active, investigative and hold the powerful to account?
I canvassed Afghan journalist colleagues and encountered an unnerving degree of cynicism. “There are a few good presenters among them,” said one, “but they’re mainly ‘lunch and restaurant’ journalists and frankly, it’s better to have them out of the journalist family.” Ouch – but the analysis only became more cutting; the journalist candidates are a mainly young group – younger than the average age of those running for parliament – so there were questions as to how exactly they proposed to get into office and why they wanted to. One print reporter dismissed their chances: “The way into parliament this time is going to be by money, having a powerful patron or armed men to issue threats. Which of those routes are these guys taking or are they hoping their fame will win them votes?” Another reporter also thought they were hoping that being a household name would win them support: “Once catapulted into parliament, they think they’ll get lots of bribes – for example, when it’s time to approve or reject the cabinet. They’re after the money.”
It should be said that the Afghan journalists I spoke to were equally disparaging about every other type of candidate: they were not singling out their former colleagues for particular venom. Also, that there is at least one journalist among the candidates who I’ve seen doing good and intelligent work and who, on previous form, would seem to have the makings of a decent MP.
PS/ Please expect more analysis of this year’s parliamentary election candidates to come in this blog.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020