June 18, 2019
Over the last few years, the number of media outlets in Afghanistan has increased substantially, something the Afghan government regularly boasts about and takes credit for, viewing it as a great achievement. And yet what has mostly escaped attention is the fact that these outlets lack independence — especially those with links to Iran. Because many of these media outlets are dependent on its neighbor, the Islamic Republic regime is able to exploit them, using them as propaganda mouthpieces for its policies.
In June 2019, Iranian propaganda for Quds Day — the day the Islamic Republic has designated to support Palestinians and voice its opposition to Israel — led to a backlash by Afghan citizens. So what is the background to this steadily growing propaganda output in Afghanistan?
In 2012, Lutfullah Mashal, the spokesman for the Afghan National Directorate of Security, said that the television networks Nour and Tamadon, as well as the newspaper Ensaf, were all affiliated with the Islamic Republic. “The political programs of Nour TV and its newscasts are dictated by Iran,” he said. “Its programs are aimed at provoking the minds of Afghan people against American forces and at supporting Iranian policies in Afghanistan.”
Tamadon Television, said Mashal, “prepares most of it topics, analyses and its news and political programs based on the directives of the officials of the Islamic Republic. By inviting individuals who work for the Islamic Republic as experts to comment, it force-feeds the people opinions that are against the national interests of Afghanistan and in line with Iranian policies.”
Sheikh Asef Mohseni, the founder of Tamadon TV network, is a Shia Afghan clergymen who studied religion in Iran and has maintained close ties with the Islamic Republic. Besides Tamadon TV, he also founded Khatam Al-Nabieen Seminary, one of the biggest Shia seminaries in Kabul. Tamadon TV is also headquartered in Kabul and it is said that the Islamic Republic pays all its expenses and, as a result, sets the network’s policies.
Many of the movies and TV programs Tamadon broadcasts are produced in Iran, and other programs on the network focus on Islamic religious topics while proselytizing the Shia faith. Its announcers and hosts speak with an Iranian accent, so its audiecen could be forgiven for believing that the programs are directly broadcast from Iran. In other words, there is no difference in content between this network and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Iran’s domestic network.
The Islamic Republic Paid for Everything
A former employee of Tamadon who worked with the network for more than five years supported the theory that the Islamic Republic pays for everything. “At first Tamadon did not own the building [it broadcast from], and not only was the rent paid by Iran, but so was the cost of the antenna and the salaries of its employees and its representatives in provinces,” he says. “It made some money, for instance from commercials, but that does mean it spent them on the network. Every expense the network had was paid by the Islamic Republic.”
According to him, Tamadon employees travel to Iran, visit IRIB’s studios and take part in educational workshops to learn more about the Islamic Republic’s news policies. “The workshops also teach techniques, directing, camera work, etc,” the former employee told IranWire. “Also, once a year, Iranian instructors come to Afghanistan and teach workshops.”
He said Iranian policies shaped all of the network’s editorial content. “We had to follow the Islamic Republic’s policies and had to present the news to the viewers in a way that was consistent with Iranian policies,” he says. “Even the domestic news about Afghanistan was biased and had to serve Iranian interests. And in foreign news, the reports were more about, and in support of, Islamic Republic allies like Syria or Palestine.”
According to the former employee, news about Iran and occasions such as the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, Quds Day and other Shia religious holidays were given priority over other news, even if it was breaking news about Afghanistan, the country in which the outlet was based. “The policy of the media is to give priority to the news of the country where they are active,” he says. “Even if once in a while Iran news was not on the first rung, the second rung was a hundred percent dedicated to news about the Islamic Republic and its allies.”
He also said that even though Tehran paid Tamadon a lot of money, there was no shortage of corruption at the network. “We had two contracts and when we signed them one was sent to Iran and the second remained with the network officials,” he says. “The salary reported to Iran was higher than the salary that we actually received. For instance, on the copy that remained in the office in Afghanistan, the salary of an employee might have been listed as $400 but it was $600 on the contract that was sent to Iran.”
Pundits and analysts who appear on Tamadon’s political shows are either affiliated with the Islamic Republic or allied with Tehran. In their discussions and analyses, these individuals always take the side of the Islamic Republic, even when it came to stories about Afghanistan. For instance, when Iran closed its border to Afghan merchants for a few days, some of the pundits that appeared on Tamadon TV justified this action on behalf of the Islamic Republic and ignored national interests of Afghanistan.
Another former employee of an Afghan media outlet affiliated with the Islamic Republic says that when candidates interview for a job, they have to answer questions about their education, experience and expertise, but also questions about religion and prayers. According to him, a candidate will not be successful if he gives the “wrong” answers to these religious questions. “The employees’ social media pages, including Facebook and Twitter, were under the surveillance of the managers of the media outlet. If an employees’ postings on social networks went against the policies of the outlet and Iran, the employee was first warned to stop and if he did not stop he was fired from his job.”