Afghanistan orders suspension of WhatsApp, Telegram

Social media users and civil rights groups reacted with outrage to initial reports of Afghanistan’s move to block WhatsApp and Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 05 November 2017
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Afghanistan orders suspension of WhatsApp, Telegram

KABUL: Afghanistan has ordered the suspension of WhatsApp and Telegram to resolve “technical problems,” officials said Saturday, sparking outcry among social media users.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Telegram are popular messaging apps among smartphone-using Afghans — including Taliban and Daesh terrorists.
So far state-owned Salaam Network is the only Internet provider to obey the order, which applies from November 1 to November 20, telecommunications ministry spokesman Najib Nangyalay told AFP.
“We are testing a new technology and WhatsApp and Telegram will be temporarily blocked,” Nangyalay said.
“It is not a blow to the freedom of communication in Afghanistan — we have access to Facebook, Twitter. We are committed to the freedom of expression.”
Acting telecommunications minister Shahzad Aryobee said the move was in response to dissatisfaction with the services — something industry insiders rejected.
“In order to improve the services and solve the technical problems of these two programs the Ministry of Telecommunication and Information Technology is considering to introduce a new technology,” Aryobee said in a Facebook post on Friday.
Testing is “time-consuming” and required the temporary stoppage of WhatsApp and Telegram.
The move has ignited a firestorm on social media with users describing the move to block the messaging services as an assault on their right to free speech.
“Blocking WhatsApp and Telegram is the beginning of censorship by the Afghan government and bringing the virtual world under their control in Afghanistan. I think this is intolerable,” Facebook user Abdullah wrote.
Another user Mahdi Yasir said the quality of WhatsApp and Telegram “are great” and urged the government to focus on closing “factories producing Pakistani suicide bombers” instead.
“The two applications we were using the most are blocked. God damn this government,” Abdulraouf Sharifi posted.
A telecommunications official scoffed at the government’s claim to be developing a new technology.
“They are not going to match an international standard app,” he said.
“WhatsApp is very popular because it uses less data and the quality is very good.
“It could be security related (but) if they block it people can access VPNs,” he added, referring to virtual private networks.
Around eight million people, largely in Afghanistan’s major cities, can access the Internet, up from almost none during the Taliban’s repressive 1996-2001 regime. Most do so through mobile phones.
The Taliban frequently uses WhatsApp to post statements in Afghanistan while IS militants favor Telegram.
 


What We Are Reading Today: Debating War and Peace by Jonathan Mermin

Updated 15 October 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Debating War and Peace by Jonathan Mermin

  • Mermin shows that if there is no debate over US policy in Washington, there is no debate in the news
  • The author constructs a new framework for thinking about press-government relations

The First Amendment ideal of an independent press allows American journalists to present critical perspectives on government policies and actions; but are the media independent of government in practice? Here Jonathan Mermin demonstrates that when it comes to military intervention, journalists over the past two decades have let the government itself set the terms and boundaries of foreign policy debate in the news.

Analyzing newspaper and television reporting of US intervention in Grenada and Panama, the bombing of Libya, the Gulf War, and US actions in Somalia and Haiti, he shows that if there is no debate over US policy in Washington, there is no debate in the news. 

Journalists often criticize the execution of US policy, but fail to offer critical analysis of the policy itself if actors inside the government have not challenged it. Mermin ultimately offers concrete evidence of outside-Washington perspectives that could have been reported in specific cases, and explains how the press could increase its independence of Washington in reporting foreign policy news. 

The author constructs a new framework for thinking about press-government relations, based on the observation that bipartisan support for US intervention is often best interpreted as a political phenomenon, not as evidence of the wisdom of US policy. Journalists should remember that domestic political factors often influence foreign policy debate. The media, Mermin argues, should not see a Washington consensus as justification for downplaying critical perspectives.