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Independent Afghan newspaper shuts down after attack on Hamid Karzai

Advertised out: The first newspaper to serve the reborn Afghanistan in 2002, Kabul Weekly has since suffered from advertising losses.

Kabul Weekly claims it has been put out of business after daring to criticise President Hamid Karzai. On Wednesday staff met with their editor, Mohammad Faheem Dashty, for the final time after producing the last edition of a newspaper that has been a regular sight on the streets of the capital since 2002, according to a report in the Guardian.

Dashty said he had no choice but to shut down after more than a year of losses in a media market where most publications are simply bankrolled by warlords. "To preserve our independence we tried to rely on the normal revenue streams of newspapers around the world, advertising and subscriptions, but in Afghanistan everything is political," he said.

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After years of modest profitability, things went awry during the 2009 presidential election when Kabul Weekly earned the ire of Karzai's presidential campaign with a front-page article claiming the president was looking weak after allegedly losing the support of Afghanistan's western backers. Karzai's campaign manager, who now serves as his official spokesman, promptly dropped the political ads it had been running in the paper.

But more serious was the drying up of advertising from the country's biggest companies, including banks and airlines, although Dashty won't say which ones. "All these companies were financing the presidential campaign so they could make back their money through legal and illegal contracts after he won," he said.

The demise of a paper that has been vocal in its opposition to Karzai further concentrates media power in Afghanistan in the hands of powerful interest groups. The hundreds of newspapers, radio and television stations that have sprung up since 2001 are nearly all paid for either directly by the government or by a motley band of still powerful warlords who use newspapers and television stations to beat the drum for their own, often ethnic, interests.

"This one is paid for by the Iranians, this one the Americans," Dashty says as he tosses a pile of the day's papers – which he claims are bankrolled by foreign intelligence services – across his desk in his central Kabul office. "This one is a daily with a print run of 10,000, no adverts and it is not sold anywhere – how do they pay for that?"

Government antipathy towards Kabul Weekly was not helped by the fact that Dashty is the nephew of Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main challenger in the presidential election.

But the editor denies any bias, pointing to the paper's habit of "criticising almost everyone", including his own father, a former government official, who was attacked in Kabul Weekly's pages for failing in his official role to keeping the country's mountainous roads open. "There is no such thing as total independence," said Dashty. "But we did our best."

Date posted: March 6, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 165