Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July 2014, 15:15 GMT

Freedom of the Press 2008 - Afghanistan

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 29 April 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - Afghanistan, 29 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4871f5e71a.html [accessed 31 July 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: 30 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 20 (of 30)
Total Score: 71 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

As the media environment has continued to grow and diversify, journalists faced rising threats in 2007, mostly in the form of physical attacks and intimidation. Article 34 of the new constitution, passed in January 2004, provides for freedom of the press and of expression. A revised 2005 Press Law 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. Amendments to the media law proposed in May 2007 could give authorities greater control over content and include vague prohibitions on defamation; these were opposed by local journalists and the proposal had been withdrawn by the government by year's end.

Media outlets are occasionally fined or given warnings for broadcasting "un-Islamic" material or offending local culture. Cases of journalists and others being arrested on blasphemy charges have had a chilling effect on press freedom, with an accompanying rise in self-censorship. Many avoid writing about sensitive issues such as Islam, national unity, or crimes committed by specific warlords. In 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. The concept received support from other government officials, providing an indication to some observers that an atmosphere of official support for press freedom has diminished in the years following Taliban rule.

A growing number of journalists were threatened or harassed by government ministers, politicians, police and security services, U.S. forces, and others in positions of power as a result of their reporting, while others have been arrested and detained. Kamran Mir Hazar, editor of a popular online news website, was detained several times during the year by national security forces following several critical stories. Staff of the outspoken Tolo network have been particularly targeted. In an April 2007 incident, Tolo's main offices were raided by dozens of police officers, who detained seven staff and took them to be questioned at the Attorney General's office regarding a news report that he had complained about; a similar case occurred in August, leading some commentators to point to a trend of growing official intolerance for critical news reports and abuse of government power to suppress the media. 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. 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.

Journalists were also increasingly targeted by insurgents in 2007. In a horrific case, the Taliban kidnapped Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, along with his Afghan driver and his fixer and interpreter Ajmal Naqshbandi on March 6. The driver was immediately beheaded, while Mastrogiacomo was released two weeks later after a deal was struck involving the release of five Taliban fighters. However, when authorities refused to accede to further Taliban demands, Naqshbandi was also killed. A prominent female radio journalist, Zakia Zaki, was murdered by unknown gunmen in June, while a female TV presenter was killed in the same week. Others went into hiding as a result of threats from extremists or narcotraffickers. In addition, radio stations faced attacks from insurgents intended to destroy their equipment and limiting their ability to broadcast. However, Reza Khan, sentenced to death for the murder of four journalists in 2001, was executed in October.

Although registration requirements remain in place, authorities have granted more than 400 publication licenses, and over 60 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, including Radio Television Afghanistan. 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. In October, journalism student Sayed Perwiz Kambaksh was arrested for distributing information he downloaded from the Internet regarding the role of women in Islamic societies; the case was ongoing at year's end.

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