Here I go, sounding all Pollyanna again.
I’ve been trying to find a way to work this title statement into my non profits’s mission since I first founded Mountain to Mountain. Its something I feel on a gut level and yet can’t find the words to back up the gut.
It became even more clear to me in Kabul after sitting down for several talks with the editor of Kabul Weekly, Faheem Dashty. Faheem Dashty is more than just the editor of Kabul Weekly, he is also the President of AINA Photo Agency. This is Afghanistan’s first and only Afghan owned and run photography agency. A group of men and women photojournalists trained and created this agency to further the country’s ability to tell its own stories through photography and media.
Dashty told me of death threats, some subtle, others more blatant due to the unbiased content of Kabul Weekly. He works hard to maintain his job as editor in chief and not be swayed by the whims of politicians, leaders, and warlords. His office is taken up by a lifesize portrait of Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, who fought the Taliban and inspired a nation. The ‘Lion of Panjshir” serves as a moral compass to Dashty who refers to him in speech as ‘Chief”. If it wasn’t for journalists and editors like Dashty, in countries like Afghanistan, corrupt and violent groups and individuals could run rampant without fear of having a spotlight shoved in their faces.
It is painfully apparent how the work of journalists and photographers serve to tell the stories that would otherwise remain hidden. Whether to highlight the atrocities brushed under the rug, or to tell stories of individual bravery and random acts of kindness that can inspire others to do the same. Yet, to tell these stories, often puts the storytellers at great risk. Corrupt governments, bribed policy makers, and the like don’t want their story told. And Afghanistan has no shortage of corruption, violence, atrocities, and brave souls.
Beyond the storytelling and the ability to educate and inspire, is the use of media as a weapon against tyranny and violence. A recent example on a separate continent proves, yet again, the importance of the media to create change. In the Congo, the systematic rape of over 40,000 women has been on my radar for a couple of years. The rapes are in addition to the appalling genocide that has long since surpassed the numbers of those in better known Rwanda. Yet, little to no mainstream news covers this in the West, worse still is the lack of coverage within a country that despite the high numbers of rape didn’t even have a word for it in its language.
Chouchou Namegabe Nabintu is changing that through the airwaves. Through the power of the radio, individual testimonials of rape are broadcast, helping women understand they are not alone, encouraging women to seek medical attention, and even providing ammunition against the perpetrators. Nabintu’s become a fearless voice in journalism and an important advocate for the rights of women in her country. “As a journalist I found that Congolese women were silenced, and I decided to battle for their freedom of expression.”
Could a better example of the importance of media be out there? So while newspapers are shutting down daily in the United States, and public radio cuts programming, the power of the internet and blogging emerges as a potential tool to remind us all of the importance of skilled journalism and its role in improving the world we live in!
photo by Di Zinno