Last Updated: Friday, 29 August 2014, 14:18 GMT

Freedom of the Press - Afghanistan (2007)

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 2 May 2007
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press - Afghanistan (2007), 2 May 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/478cd4fd1a.html [accessed 30 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 21 (of 30)
Political Environment: 28 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 20 (of 30)
Total Score: 69 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

The environment for Afghanistan's fledgling media remained fragile in 2006, as journalists faced harassment, threats, and attacks during the year. Article 34 of the new constitution, passed in January 2004, provides for freedom of the press and of expression. A revised Press Law passed in December 2005 guarantees the right of citizens to obtain information and prohibits censorship. However, it retains broad restrictions on content that is "contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects" and "matters leading to dishonoring and defaming individuals." It also establishes five commissions intended to regulate media agencies and investigate complaints of misconduct; one of the commissions has the power to decide if journalists who contravene the law should face court prosecution or a fine. Critics of the law have alleged that its prohibition of "anti-Islamic" writings is overly vague and has led to considerable confusion within the journalistic community on what constitutes permissible content. During 2006, several stations were fined or given warnings for broadcasting "un-Islamic" material or offending local culture.

Although Ali Mohaqqiq Nasab, editor of the monthly women's rights magazine Haqooq-i-Zan who had been sentenced on blasphemy charges, was released from prison with a suspended sentence in December 2005, his case was considered to have had a chilling effect on press freedom, with an accompanying rise in self-censorship. Many journalists avoid writing about sensitive issues such as Islam, national unity, or crimes committed by specific warlords. In June 2006, intelligence officials at the National Security Directorate issued "guidelines" to a number of news media outlets to restrict their coverage of security issues, terrorist incidents or groups, the conduct of foreign troops, or other subjects perceived to harm the national interest or erode the people's morale. Although President Hamid Karzai initially distanced himself from the directive, other officials seem to favor more government control over the media, and at subsequent meetings with media representatives during the year, Karzai himself did indicate support for the guidelines. As a result, the initial atmosphere of official support for press freedom that emerged after the end of Taliban rule eroded slightly in 2006.

Media diversity and freedom are markedly higher in the capital, Kabul, and some warlords and provincial governors exercise authority over media in the areas under their control. A number of journalists were threatened or harassed by government ministers, politicians, police and security services, and others in positions of power as a result of their reporting. Other journalists have been arrested and detained, in one case for months. Staff of the outspoken Tolo network have been particularly targeted. Increasing violence during 2006 also took a toll on the media. In July, cameraman Abdul Qudoos was killed in a suicide bombing in Kandahar; on several occasions, reporters were assaulted when attempting to cover the news; two German freelancers were killed by unidentified gunmen in October; and an Italian journalist was kidnapped in southern Afghanistan in the same month and held for several weeks before being released. In August, gunmen set fire to a building housing an independent radio station, causing thousands of dollars' worth of damage. Reporters have also faced difficulties in covering proceedings at the newly established Parliament, with several being assaulted and many more denied access on various occasions. In general, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, official information is not readily available to members of the press.

Although registration requirements remain in place, authorities have granted more than 400 publication licenses, and over 60 private radio stations and 8 television stations are now broadcasting, providing an expanding diversity of views. National and local governments own or control several dozen newspapers and many electronic media outlets. In the country's underdeveloped economic environment, the majority of media outlets remain dependent on the state, political parties, or international donors for financial support. One prominent exception is the popular and progressive Tolo network of television and radio stations, which provides dynamic coverage and scrutiny of current events and politics in a format that has proved to be financially viable. International radio broadcasts in Dari or Pashto, such as those from the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Afghanistan, remain a key source of information for many Afghans. Access to the internet and to satellite TV dishes remains largely unrestricted, although their use is confined predominantly to Kabul and other major cities (only 1 percent of the total population was able to access the internet in 2006). The use of the internet and mobile phones continues to grow rapidly and has broadened the flow of news and other information, particularly for urban Afghans.

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