The state of the press in Afghanistan: the country where journalists die the most

In the first two months of 2019, the Afghan Media Community lost three of its members in two successive incidents. Javid Noori, a radio journalist, was executed by the Taliban on January 5, 2019 in the western province of Farah. The second attack targeted the premises of a radio station in the northeast of the country and caused the deaths of two journalists, Shafiq Aria and Rahimullah Rahmani. On the heels of 2018, the year 2019 in Afghanistan is already announced as one of the most deadly for practicing journalists.

In 2018, Reporters Without Borders ranked Afghanistan as the worst country in the world for journalists, with the assassination of 15 news professionals in one year. The NGO Nai SOMA -Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan- recorded in 2019 a number of violent acts committed against the press in the country, from the killing of these three journalists, to the armed attacks against editorial staff, including radio stations in the provinces and Taliban threats against two journalists in the south of the country, as well as the incessant insults that all professionals deal with every day.

An Afghan policy for the diversity of the press

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the media law passed by the Afghan Parliament in its wake, media growth has been exponential.

Afghanistan is the birthplace of more than 500 newspapers, 76 TV channels, nearly 150 radio stations and numerous news agencies. There is momentum towards plurality, thanks to the success of the government, but journalists today pay a high price.

Omnipresent insecurity

Working as a journalist in war-torn Afghanistan is not easy and security is a major issue for all professionals in the country.

According to the Ministry of Defense, there are about 20 regional and international terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, the result of a 40-year war that has hit the population and journalists hard. The number of acts of violence against the profession have been steadily increasing since 2014 and since the withdrawal of foreign troops.

196 cases of violence were recorded in 2018 by Nai SOMA, including killings, beatings, violent injuries, insults, repeated arrests, kidnapping, attacks on editors and reduction of news sources.

A double bombing on the streets of Kabul on April 30, 2018 resulted in the death of nine journalists, including Sha Marai Fezi, an AFP correspondent photographer, and six reporters from Radio Free Europe and Tolo News, making it the worst attack in the world against the press since 2009.

Who is behind the violence against journalists?

Committees for the protection of journalists emphasize the responsibility of the Afghan government for the ongoing insecurity of journalists in the field.

Insurgent groups

The Taliban and ISIS, directly involved in crimes against humanity, are primarily responsible for attacking news professionals in Afghanistan, targeting journalists in order to silence the country’s press.

The April 2018 bombing of nine journalists and the assassination of seven members of the TOLO TV team in Kabul in 2016 are just some examples of the violence of these Taliban groups against the profession of journalism.

The attack perpetrated in November 2017 on the building of the TV channel Shamshad TV is an illustration of the war carried out by ISIS.

Afghan officials, security forces and militants

Afghan journalists and reporters who publish investigations and articles that are critical of the government also face threats and violence from the representatives of the Afghan public authorities.

According to the NAI SOMA, the government and its officials are responsible for about 62 cases of violence against press professionals.

The last obstacle to freedom of the press in the country: the barons of war and their permanent intimidation against any author of articles harmful to their business.

Self-censorship

Many media professionals have practiced self-censorship as a pledge of survival; The government and other perpetrators of journalists’ rights violations play a key role in increasing the pressure on the shoulders of “those who wish to speak,” and maintain the vicious circle of self-censorship.

The imbalance between security and self-censorship of the journalist is particularly noticeable in the treatment of subjects related to drugs, the activities of terrorist groups and other types of illegal traffic.

© Helmand Media office

The precarity of Afghan journalists

While the perception of their profession can appear rather positive to Afghan journalists thanks to the types of contracts that are satisfactory for many of them (according to the internal reports) and clearly defined compensation, many abuses and a certain precariousness have been deplored by many professionals.

The pressure exercised by the press bosses on their employees is commonplace and feeds on the legal vagueness that covers many contracts. Legal remedies are very often prevented, a situation that makes it even more difficult for journalists to work calmly. Many journalists and reporters based in Afghanistan have faced unfair dismissals from their bosses.

Financial dependence of the Afghan media

Independence of the media in Afghanistan is made impossible by the dependency that binds them to aid from abroad, which come from certain national opposition parties or are even instrumentalized by foreign powers.

The « donor » often matches their funding with an agenda of topics to be addressed by the recipient newspaper, thus serving their own interests over those of the general public. Media outlets with financial difficulties must dismiss their teams or are forced to close their editorial staff.

The exile of journalists

According to the NAI SOMA more than 300 journalists fled Afghanistan for Europe in 2015 following the violence on the ground. There are departures of media professionals in groups of 15 or 20 accompanied by their families.

The violence of exile adds to all of the violence that has come before. In 2016, photojournalist Feroz Muzafar and his family were killed off the coast of Turkey with one last hope of reaching Europe, adding to the total number of Afghan journalists who have died for their jobs.