In a country where journalists face threats from militants, strongmen and even government officials, the situation of Samim Frogh Faizi, a Kabul-based reporter, spotlights another daunting challenge facing members of the media: lack of income.
Faizi, 26, works for Roidad news agency, but to make ends meet he drives a taxi in the city of Kabul during his off-hours. In the early morning, long before punching in to start his reporting job around midday, Faizi traverses the giant overpopulated city as a cabbie--fighting through jammed intersections that lack traffic lights and threading his way through streets that are crowded with vehicles despite the government-imposed coronavirus lockdown.
Although dealing with economic hardship, Faizi is a success story. He started out as a journalist in the central province of Ghazni and then worked his way into a job in Kabul--a major professional achievement. He is now a known face.
Freedom of speech is considered one of the biggest achievements of Afghanistan since 2001, when the Taliban regime was toppled – a regime whose conservative ideology and laws stood against many kinds of individual freedom, as defined by the broader international community.
Post-2001, funding flowed in to support the Afghan media, but it was individual Afghan men and women who shouldered the often around-the-clock labor and life-threatening risks of gathering and reporting the news that has established Afghanistan's international reputation for a strong and free press.
According to government figures from 2019, there are 96 TV networks, 65 radio stations and 911 print media outlets in Kabul, as well as 107 TV networks, 284 radio stations and 416 print media organizations in the 33 remaining provinces.
In total, there are 1,879 active media outlets in Afghanistan, according to the 2019 government numbers.
But media outlets are relentlessly pressured by security threats and financial problems. The closure of some media outlets over the last year has left dozens of journalists jobless.
Faizi, 26, has been employed in the journalism field for the last four years, and his wife--who is from Faizi's hometown in Ghazni-- works as a midwife.
Every morning, Faizi leaves home after looking at the smiling face of his daughter, he says, to give him the hope and energy to get through the hard day ahead.
He earns between Afs400 ($5) and Afs500 ($6.50) daily by driving the taxi from early morning to around 12 pm, after which he goes to the news agency. As a reporter he earns Afs10,000 ($130) a month.
“I pay Afs7,000 ($91) for house rent. I cannot afford other necessities, so I decided to rent this taxi and drive it,” he said.
Faizi’s wife, Farahnaz Frogh, 22, raises their daughter. She spoke about Faizi:
“He taught freedom to me. I am proud of my husband. I love his work and he loves his family,” she said.
Faizi says his wife is his "first love" and "the biggest idol of his life," but, second to his family, his passion is journalism.
"My ambition is to work in one of the biggest media outlets in the world as a reporter to raise the voice of the people,” said Faizi, who is also a student in his last year of a journalism program at a private university in Kabul.
His media colleagues described him as an "enthusiastic journalist."
“Our office was not at a level to further support Mr. Faizi. As his colleagues, we made a big effort to help him,” said Rohullah Raziqi, the editor-in-chief of the Roidad news agency.
Journalists, like workers in other industries in Afghanistan and around the world, have been negatively affected by the coronavirus. But even before the pandemic, the instability caused by the war with the Taliban, and the political feuding of Afghan leaders, has deterred investment in the Afghan economy, and endemic corruption threatens to dissuade the international community from continuing support for the development of vital sectors of Afghan society.
“Journalists cannot concentrate adequately on their work if they face hardships and fears over losing their jobs,” said Wahid Paiman, chief editor at Hasht-e-Subh newspaper in Kabul.
Paiman added that such a lack of focus will affect the quality of the story, which will in turn diminish the impact of the news on society and the government.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in its "2020 World Press Freedom Index," rated Afghanistan "122" out of 180 countries, down from 121 in 2019, and 118 in 2018. The ranking is determined by a number of factors, including infrastructure for media, and transparency allowed journalists, but the primary threat to press freedom mentioned in the RSF brief about Afghanistan was the violence of the war, which has taken many lives of press members in recent years.