- ZAN TV was founded as a symbol of defiance in Afghanistan, where women’s freedoms were long curbed.
- But it stopped broadcasting after the Taliban retook control of the country in mid-August.
- Insider spoke to its founder and another reporter, who fear for their colleagues but vow to go on.
Hamid Samar founded Afghanistan’s first all-female news channel in 2017, after his mother said there should be a TV station run by and for women.
He hoped ZAN TV would empower women, and the staff saw it as a symbol of a changing Afghanistan.
It rose to have a peak of 72 staff, training female journalists while covering the news and women’s issues. Men worked there too, but all the presenters and reporters were female.
When the Taliban seized the country in mid-August, the station paused its work, and Samar fled the country, fearing the group’s long and violent opposition to women in public life. At that point, ZAN TV had about 30 staff, some of whom already based outside the country.
The Taliban have said they would protect women, but the last time they were in power they severely limited women’s rights and movements, and punished rule breakers with beatings and death.
After the Taliban takeover, ZAN TV stopped broadcasting on satellite, though some staff in Kabul and outside Afghanistan continued to post infrequently on social media, Samar said.
Samar worries for his colleagues still in Afghanistan, but is determined to help them continue their work.
‘Nobody thought that there would be TV stations just run by women’
Insider also spoke to Fariah Saidi, who has worked for ZAN TV from Canada since 2017, directing the channel’s programs and presenting political shows.
She said she was inspired to join ZAN TV because “the media is always a male-dominant space, not just in Afghanistan but around the world.”
ZAN TV, by contrast, is “for women and it’s run by women, and the aim is to empower Afghan women around the world,” she said.
That empowerment was to be achieved in two ways: Covering women’s issues, but also showing women in roles that people were not used to seeing.
She said she believed the power of TV could change people’s mindsets and “normalize a lot of things about women that are taboo in certain societies.”
ZAN TV was launched 16 years after the Taliban were last toppled from power — the group controlled Afghanistan from the late 1990s to 2001. Saidi said the launch showed how much the country has changed.
“Nobody thought that there would be TV stations just run by women,” Saidi said. “It was a different idea … It was a big thing for society.”
She said she could see how ZAN TV was managing to help women’s empowerment — at least until the Taliban seized power of the country.
Fleeing Afghanistan with just the clothes on his back
Samar told Insider that the Taliban’s rapid takeover prompted him to flee in a hurry.
He said he left Kabul days after the Taliban seized the city — he doesn’t remember the exact day — with his family on a US military jet. He was brought to Qatar, then Germany, and eventually Wisconsin.
“I was just able to take the shoes and clothes that I was wearing,” he said.
He said he deleted everything from his phone in case he was searched by the Taliban during the escape.
He said he was grateful to be in the US, but sad to leave: “I feel really good to be here. Of course, if was not easy to leave your country.” But the most important thing, he said, was “the safety of my kids and family.”
But Samar knows some of his staff — from the female journalists to the men who worked behind the cameras — are still there, and are at risk.
‘In a blink of an eye, their world was upside down’
Saidi said she is still talking to ZAN TV’s female reporters who are stuck in Afghanistan. Her parents are both from Afghanistan, but she was raised outside the country.
“Anyone that I talk to has a sense of heartbreaking loss,” she said. She said that one colleague described being “physically safe, but mentally not safe.”
Saidi said: “My heart goes out to all the girls who worked there. I’ve known this for a very long time the troubles that they went through to be able to get a job, to be able to work on all of this — and in a blink of an eye, their world was upside down. So, for most of them, their life is in danger and their family’s life in danger.”
Of Samar’s escape, Saidi said: “His life was in danger. His family, his kids’ lives were in danger.”
She said ZAN TV’s leadership was still trying to figure out how employees on the ground can be protected: “Everyone is like, at the very moment, let’s make sure everyone is safe and they’re surviving and they’re alive.”
Samar said that around ten of his local staff had left Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, but around 20 others were still there.
He said some stayed because they did not want to leave their families behind, and that ZAN TV was “trying our best to keep them safe.”
Saidi said many the employees “feel guilty” for putting their families in danger.
“But I let them know it’s not their fault. Once we make sure they’re safe, we will continue our fight for Afghan women.”
Vows to make ZAN TV stronger than before
Samar said he wants ZAN TV to continue, and even grow, despite the Taliban.
“Zan TV is not a project that should just end. People who worked on it want to continue ZAN TV more strongly than what we were in the past,” he said.
He hopes the channel’s female staff in Afghanistan can keep working on it: “Of course they want to continue their work.”
Saidi said she wasn’t sure what would happen next, but hopes the work continues: “For me, I think it’s a completely different story compared to the girls who were born and raised in Afghanistan.”
She said that, compared to them, “I don’t have a lot to lose. Physically, I am not in a place where most of these girls are. But when I think, do I want to give up? I don’t want to give up.”
She said she won’t stop her work, whether ZAN TV can continue or not: “I personally will not give up my work for women … if it’s on TV or any other platform. My work for women in Afghanistan will continue.”
“Back in 1996, the first time the Taliban took over, I was only one year old. I wasn’t even living in Afghanistan at that time. I was obviously not able to do anything at that time.”
“Now it’s like history repeating itself. But I’m 25 now … And if there’s something I can do, I will continue with that.”