March 18, 2015
Kabul: Violence against journalists in Afghanistan has increased by 29 percent in 1393 Afghan year (March21, 2014-March20, 2015), cautioning that such trends could continue and have a major impact on the freedom of the press in Afghanistan if they go unchecked.
The Presidential and Provincial Councils’ Elections, withdrawal of majority of foreign troops from Afghanistan, increase in insecurity and attacks of armed opposition groups made the year 1393 (2014-15) a challenging year for Afghan Media community.
According to Afghanistan Journalists Centre’s record, violations against journalists and media activists show 29 increase in comparison to the previous year. In 1393 at least 103 violation incidents against journalists have been recorded, while in 1392 the record was down to 80 incidents.
In 1393, six journalists and media activists died, five of whom including two women were killed, and only one died because of serious injuries in a suicide attack.
The information shared by the government sources to date indicates that one of these journalists was killed by the Taliban, and one cameraman died in a Taliban suicide attack. The irresponsible armed groups are accused of killing three journalists and one police officer is accused of killing one journalist.
According to AfJC report in 1393, a total of 16 journalists and media activists have been injured in fighting or explosion sites, 17 have been detained for up to 48 hours, and four have served several week long imprisonment terms.
This year, a total of 40 incidents of physical violations particularly beating, 13 incidents of verbal assault and insult, and seven incidents of threats mostly by the security forces and government authorities have been recorded across Afghanistan.
This Year’s Challenges and Problems for Journalists and Media:
-The continuation of impunity for murder and violations against journalists and media activists in the country.
The AfJC database record show that from 1373 to 1393 a total of 48 journalists, writers and news media personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan, of whom 30 have been targeted and killed and 18 died either in fights or in explosions. The perpetrators of these killings have been exempt from punishment with exception of two cases that are under investigation. The court’s final verdict on these two cases is yet to be issued.
-Discontinuation of a number of media and limitation of media activities particularly in remote provinces due to shortage of financial support of international sources and decrease in income from commercial advertisements.
- Violations, threats and pressure of some government authorities, local officials and local powerful people up on journalists and media organizations, and lack of legal actions against these cases by the related government departments.
-Unawareness or lack of consideration of a number of investigators and judges from the Afghan Media Law, in most cases, has caused media personnel to be persecuted or even sent to prison prior to referral to legal departments and determination of their media violations.
-Widespread insecurity, lack of financial resources due to shortage of foreign aid, decrease in commercial advertisement and low salary of journalists are other challenges to name a few.
-Continuation of power islands and mafia influence of powerbrokers in various political, economic and social affairs caused the self-censorship of journalists
- Weak application of investigative journalism, shortage of internal media’s productive activities and their reliance on breaking news and reproduction of foreign media reports.
-The controversial amendment of Media Law by the Afghan parliament, specifically the establishment of media complaint observation commission and authorizing Minister of Information and Culture as the head of media violations investigation.
-Lack of balance in official communications of government authorities with Afghan and foreign media, despite the issuance of Access to Information Law.
It has been observed in several cases the authorities has passed important and newsworthy information to foreign media, but was restrained from the Afghan media.
In addition, the recent National Security Council’s decision increased the limitations in accessing the information. Based on this decision, only the Interior Ministry’s Press Office can express opinions about security issues. However, the low capacity and limited facilities of this office and the widespread of security issues not only this decision will fail to work, but will also narrow down the journalists need to information.
Assessing the current situation and taking in consideration the bad economic state of free media, limited number of these media may continue to maintain their independence and not collapse. While the serious concern remains that in such situation the partisan, ideological and propaganda media dependent on regional countries might progress.
Lack of Job Security and Health Insurance:
Despite the quantitative growth of media organization in the recent years, journalists and media personnel, specifically in Afghan media do not have job security. Few media organizations can be found to have signed standardized contract and paid suitable salary to its employees.
The AfJC findings indicate that a number of media managers pressurize their journalists and all employees to work in a way that is against journalistic standards and is unprofessional. And if the journalists resist against such biased demand of their managers, they will be fired from the job and in light of such severe rules cannot seek job for long time.
Most of the national media still do not have medical insurance. While facing medical problems, some media employees do not even have the money for their treatment.
Achievements and Progress:
With the establishment of National Unity Government, its leaders announced that they are committed to promote and empower press freedom and freedom of speech, and unlike some neighboring countries that they will never stop the independent news coverage of Afghanistan and the world. They claimed to have a better understanding of journalism as a profession in comparison to previous government officials.
The President’s orders in allowing the entrance to the expelled New York Times reporter and the release of Najibullah Mosafir, an Afghan photo journalist, who was imprisoned by unjust verdict, are the indication of understanding of new government authorities.
-Passing the Access to Information Law by the president
Despite the flaws, this law officially recognizes the citizen’s right, particularly the journalists’ right to access the information. It is seen as an important step towards government departments’ transparency and responsiveness to people.
Expectations from Government and International Community:
It is expected from the Afghan Government to establish Media Fund in cooperation with international donors, and do not let the independent free media to collapse.
The Afghan Government should end the impunity from punishment to perpetrators of violations and crimes against journalists and media activists. The Government, in accordance with the Afghan Constitution, should support the journalists and media on their professional work.
Additionally, the Government should amend the Afghan Media Law and the Access to Information Act as proposed by the journalists, and it should renew its commitment in issuing these laws.
The Government should introduce a knowledgeable and experienced minister for the ministry of information and culture. In addition to believing in freedom of speech and press freedom the minister should be committed in promoting and empowering these values.
The Afghan should not repeat the bad experience of nominating unqualified ministers like the previous years. The former minister of information and culture for the past five years violated the Afghan Media Law by establishing an illegal and unqualified commission of media complaints.
International community is also expected to continue the flow of its aid to free and young Afghan media as much as needed. The international community should protect this important achievement against any harm