KABUL -- Officials and media observers in Afghanistan are expressing concern that a number of media outlets -- most notably the Russian news website Sputnik -- are spreading lies and exaggerations in an attempt to sow chaos in their country.
"Most of the reports published by Sputnik are far from the truth and are filled with exaggerations," said Mohammad Saber Momand, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture.
"The activity of such media has only one outcome, which is creating chaos in a nation's public opinion," he told Salaam Times.
Sputnik publishes Dari-language content for Afghan readers. Russia also operates a shortwave radio station, Voice of Russia, that broadcasts in multiple languages, including Pashtu and Dari.
"Fortunately, the younger generation of Afghans, who have open minds, are aware of the nature of the work of such media," Momand said. "Nowadays when an incident occurs, everyone follows the developments from several media outlets."
"When we have several sources to pursue the news, the media [outlets] with more precision will automatically stand out [from the others]," he said.
"The Ministry of Information and Culture has plans to publicise the potential dangers of such media outlets," he said. "Implementation of that [policy] will leave media outlets like Sputnik with no audience in Afghanistan."
Afghans resist Russian rumour mongering
"It must be mentioned that in their presentation of news, media outlets like Sputnik ignore the core principles of journalism, which are precision and accuracy," said Abdul Muijb Khalwatgar, executive director of NAI, a non-profit organisation advocating for free media in Afghanistan.
"Fortunately, the number of such [rumour-spreading media outlets] is minimal, and they are mostly online," he told Salaam Times.
Sputnik was founded on the basis of the Russian government's aggressive campaign to spread lies and misinformation, Khalwatgar said. "Such acts, however, do not have a place in journalism."
"Based on its policy, this website does not propagate information in accordance with the principles of journalism," he said. "In other words ... it is mainly spreading rumours."
Luckily, Afghans are resistant to rumour mongering, according to Khalwatgar.
"Afghans have a clear and realistic vision," he said. "The audiences of Sputnik, who mostly live in cities, can differentiate between media outlets that exaggerate and those that present the truth."
"The Afghan government, media, civil society activists and university professors are all responsible for providing information to the public, as well as to those who are considered Sputnik's audiences," Khalwatgar said. "Public awareness can prevent the emergence of anarchism in collective thought."
Mojtaba Akrami, 24, a Kabul-based Afghan journalist who spends much of his time publishing news on social media pages, said he encounters many media websites that are "not based on the principles of journalism".
"Sputnik is a rumour-spreading website, one that the Afghan youth will never believe," he told Salaam Times.
Sputnik seeks 'to create anxiety'
Farhad Sediqi, a lawmaker in the Wolesi Jirga (lower chamber of parliament) representing Kabul, condemned the actions of Sputnik and other disreputable media outlets.
"Sputnik ... always publishes on the basis of mere lies," he told Salaam Times. "This website is sponsored by Russia to spread rumours and fabrications in order to create anxiety."
"As a representative of the people, I condemn the Russian media outlet Sputnik," he said. "The Afghan government should stop its activities through diplomatic channels and should develop a clear strategy to [regulate] the work of foreign media outlets inside Afghanistan."
"Any media that work against the fundamental basics of journalism should be investigated," Mohammad Hashim Alokozay, a member of the Meshrano Jirga (upper house of parliament) representing Helmand, told Salaam Times.
"The principle of being balanced is considered a standard in [the media industry]," he said. "Nevertheless, the public must be informed that Sputnik publishes distortions and that they should never believe it. I personally do not go to this website to acquire information."