Washington, D.C. — Taliban efforts to block Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty content have been largely ineffective thanks to transmission partnerships and censorship circumvention support from USAGM.
Attempts have been made to block access to USAGM-funded audio and digital content.
This week digital access to the websites of Radio Azadi and VOA Ashna began seeing sporadic signs of interference. However, the broadcasters, with the help of the Open Technology Fund, have had circumvention tools such as VPNs in place since the Taliban takeover in 2021. Evidence indicates visitors are successfully accessing the sites via these circumvention tools.
In addition, two months after the Taliban removed USAGM-funded programming from radio transmitters in Afghanistan, the agency has restored medium wave (AM) radio broadcasting of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to the region.
VOA Deewa Radio and RFE/RL Radio Mashaal are also broadcasting into northwest Pakistan, a primarily Pashto-speaking region after the Taliban removed its programming from a medium wave (AM) transmitter inside Afghanistan.
RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi returned to air with double it’s programming to Afghanistan in January, and by the end of the month, its medium and short-wave radio broadcasts provided 24/7 programming. VOA’s Radio Ashna had previously arranged to continue its AM broadcasts despite the shutdown of USAGM transmitters inside Afghanistan.
And, when the Taliban ordered VOA Ashna programming off local stations in 2022, USAGM moved that content to a satellite TV channel viewable inside Afghanistan. VOA has since increased its TV programming to 24/7.
“It is clear from our research and the feedback from our audiences that the people of Afghanistan are hungry for access to fact-based, reliable news and information, and not just the extremist propaganda that the Taliban supports,” said USAGM CEO Amanda Bennett.
Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty content reaches 66% of Afghan adults on a weekly basis, according to a mobile phone-based survey in 2022.
In Afghanistan, one Radio Azadi listener said, “Hundreds of thousands of people have been deprived of [Azadi’s] programs. We don’t know why the Taliban is afraid of Radio Azadi…it was just informing Afghans about daily events.”
A Deewa listener in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province told VOA that after the programming was removed, people in his district were unable to get information about local anti-militant operations since local media were not covering the story. With the programming back on the air, he said, locals were getting the updates they needed.
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