Jack Pagano, a retired U. S. Army lieutenant colonel, and the COO of Shamshad TV, an over-the air and satellite television channel in Afghanistan, has a unique perspective on television in that troubled country. “The Taliban will eventually go back to 2001 television when it was religious broadcasting and that is it,” Pagano says. “Nothing more.”
Perhaps this image says all you need to know about the television situation in Afghanistan now. A news presenter on the news desk in a suit and tie flanked by members of the Taliban holding guns. If it weren’t so shocking and tragic, it could almost be a skit on Saturday Night Live.
In the news segment, the news presenter introduces a member of the Taliban explaining that that there has been “some criticism that there is a difference between the words and the actions of the Taliban.” The interview urged Afghans “not to worry at all” and asked them to remain in the country.
Tragic, that’s how Jack Pagano describes the situation in Afghanistan since the Taliban have taken over the country.
Pagano, a retired U. S. Army lieutenant colonel, and the COO of Shamshad TV, an over-the air and satellite television channel in Afghanistan, has a unique perspective on television in Afghanistan.
Prior to being COO of Shamshad, Pagano was COO of Ariana Television and Radio (ATN), the largest private media channels in Afghanistan. He’s been working in Afghanistan television for almost 14 years.
In an April, 2018 Market Share column, Pagano said Shamshad is the No.1 Pashto TV station in that part of the world because its signal reaches the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, “the border where all the bad guys are.”
Today, Pagano is safely state-side.
Pagano, who left Afghanistan to return to the U.S. in March due to concerns about COVID and the uptick in violence, says he still has the title of COO for Shamshad TV, but is “not taking any money. The advertising has dried up which means the station is making no money. Shamshad and other radio and TV stations in Afghanistan have major revenue problems. Many journalists are owed pay four to six months back.”
Shamshad TV is still on the air, however, and the “only station that goes into the border tribal areas and Pakistan,” Pagano says.
Pagano estimates that audience to be twenty million viewers. “Right now, Shamshad is the TV king,” Pagano says.
Pagano, who has extensive experience in local television here in the states as a news director and an executive producer, had broad powers at Shamshad over sales, programming, promotion and news.
In the April, 2018 Market Share column, Pagano said: “My role is to give people information they can use to make their lives better.”
And he said in the past 20 years, “we have done great things in the world of media” in Afghanistan.
However, since the Taliban have taken over, most of the programming on Shamshad has changed. Music, entertainment, and soap opera programs are off the air.
When the Taliban took over, “they took all the women off the air,” he says.
“The Taliban will eventually go back to 2001 television when it was religious broadcasting and that is it,” Pagano says. “Nothing more, no music what so ever.”
Overall, Pagano says the city is a major mess, and in paralysis. All the banks except one are closed, and many of the city utilities aren’t functioning.
“Everyone who worked with the United States government and/or the coalition is fearful for their lives,” Pagano says.
Pagano says he’s “been nonstop 24/7 trying to get journalists out,” since the Taliban took over.
“I have many Afghan journalists I trained, mentored, and sponsored waiting in dangerous Kabul with no way out. I may have to go to Pakistan and physically get them out. It’s just horrible to wait and know the Taliban are searching houses door-to-door with revenge,” Pagano says.
The only way out is driving to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan or Pakistan through multiple checkpoints where bribes of a thousand dollars and more are needed to get through, Pagano says.
Pagano is beseeched for help, and says he has plans to get them out.
“The Taliban has negated on every single thing they have promised,” Pagano says. “It is heartbreaking. The beacon of a bright future is now but a slow flicker of light that will go dark.”
NOTE: Here’s an interview with Jack Pagano done on Aug. 19 that aired on KUSI, an independent station in San Diego.
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