Freedom of Press in Afghanistan?
AP via The Frontier Post, May 5, 2002
By NIKO PRICE, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP, May 4) - With more than 100 newspapers and a new law decreeing freedom of the press, Afghanistan's news media have come a long way in the five months since the Taliban were driven from power.
But even as they celebrated World Press Freedom Day on Friday, journalists complained of threats and censorship from the interim government, and many wondered whether Afghanistan, where literacy is estimated as low as 20 percent, can sustain its mushrooming press.
Under Taliban rule, which ended late last year, there were only a few newspapers all controlled by the government. The Taliban banned television and sent female journalists home.
"For five years, they weren't even allowed to listen to the radio," said Hamida Usman, deputy director of Malalai, a women's magazine. "Now everyone is thirsty to read a newspaper."
The government is publishing 35 newspapers, mostly weeklies, according to Abdul Hamid Mobarez, deputy minister of information and culture. He has received applications for 73 private newspapers, but conceded there might be more.
Alexandre Plichon, coordinator of the non-governmental Afghan Media and Culture Center, estimated Kabul alone has 140 newspapers "too many," he said.
"Most of these publications will be dead within three months," he said.
Plichon said the main problem is money. Afghanistan's largest newspaper, Kabul Weekly, sells for about 8 cents, but printing costs alone are 69 cents a copy. The rest, for now, is paid by media aid groups.
KABUL, Dec 20: The publisher of a private Afghan weekly was taken into custody after publishing a cartoon critical of President Hamid Karzai, the detained man's family said on Friday.
Abdul Ghafur Aiteqad, who puts out the weekly newspaper Farda, was taken into custody on Thursday at his office by two judicial officials "who explained that it was over his cartoon of Karzai", his brother Mohammad Haroun said.
The authorities who took Aiteqad away did not have any armed guards and said they came on orders of Defence Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Haroun said. The publisher was being interrogated at the prosecutor's office, his brother said.
The offending cartoon showed Karzai playing an organ and singing, "Reconstruction, reconstruction, reconstruction," as his finance minister accompanied him on drums.
The cartoon showed foreigners dancing around the Afghan duo waving dollars, as the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, announced on the microphone: "Soon we'll have another ceremony at the World Bank to borrow some money - but with interest." -AFP
DAWN, Dec.21, 2002
Some journalists complain of censorship.
The government passed a law in February decreeing freedom of the press. While the law, mostly borrowed from a 1964 constitution, is in many ways progressive, one clause bans coverage of "subjects that could offend Islam," "subjects that could dishonor the people" or "subjects that could weaken the army of Afghanistan."
"The operative word here is `could,'" said Rohan Jayasekera, the Kabul representative for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting.
He cited one magazine whose application for a license was rejected because it listed religion among its topics of interest.
Still, Mobarez, from the Ministry of Information and Culture, said there is no censorship.
"Our journalists are all free. We don't censor. We don't control," he said.
Breshna Nazari, deputy editor of Kabul Weekly, strongly disagrees. In its April 25 issue, his newspaper published an article about Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the deputy defense minister, proposing a government with greater regional autonomy.
Nazari said Mobarez told him that if he publishes another such story, the government will shut down his newspaper. Mobarez confirmed he reprimanded Nazari.
"They have the right to write about any idea. The exception is the integrity of Afghanistan, the security of Afghanistan and the independence of Afghanistan. We can't tolerate that," Mobarez said.
The government also intervened after a reporter from Kabul Television asked about a border dispute during a news conference with interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Karzai cut off journalist Mohammed Kabir Omarzai before he could finish his question.
The following day, Omarzai said, Information Minister Raheen Makhdoom called him, asking: "Who allowed you to ask that kind of question?"
"I answered, `The freedom of press law.' He said, `This freedom is not for you,' and he hung up," Omarzai said.
The minister was traveling on Friday, and Mobarez said only that he doubted the minister would have spoken like that. Mobarez added, however, that "this wasn't so good a question. It created some trouble."
Omarzai said he was pulled from covering a trip by Karzai to Turkey, and has since received only poor assignments.
"There is no freedom of the press in Afghanistan. I am the example," he said. The government news media continue to dominate the press. Bakhtar, the government wire service, also writes the scripts for government television and radio news.
The agency and 80 percent of its journalists worked throughout the Taliban years, and it has been slower than the independent news media in moving toward independent journalism.
"Now I think we are free not completely, but in some stage," said Khaleel Menawee, Bakhtar's deputy director. "Sometimes we are forced to publish news which in fact is not news. If we don't publish that news, maybe we are dismissed from our posts."
Other agency problems include no working computers, no long-distance phones, only one car for 100 journalists. Most reporters' desks are empty.
Asked how he works, Najibullah, 41, reached into a drawer and pulled out a browning jumble of what appeared to be calculator paper.
"We don't have any equipment, not even a typewriter," said Najibullah, who goes by one name. "We write the news by hand."
Excerpts from report of Reporters Without Border on the situation of press in Afghanistan
Reporters Sans Frontières, Nov.13, 2002
The situation of press freedom is still fraught in certain provinces such as Herat, where governors and warlords control almost all the news media and sometimes use force to muzzle journalists who criticize their power. The central government seems for the most part unable to stop these abuses, which have rarely been denounced by the United Nations.
"The provincial radio and television stations have been completely taken over by the governors," said Allan Geere of the press training organisation IWPR. "The content is very poor, just propaganda or local information. Itıs really Radio Governor." The journalists are under the thumb of the local authorities and cannot imagine working in an independent fashion.
In Faisabad, capital of the northeastern province of Badakshan, the local television and radio stations and the local newspaper are all housed in the same government building. "The governor has direct control over the content of reports and the journalists are not allowed to put out reports from abroad," said a foreign journalist who recently visited Badakshan. In a report published in November, Human Rights Watch said the local television station in the western city of Herat censored all reports and video footage, especially footage of unveiled women, contrary to Governor Ismael Khanıs instructions. An entertainment programme was taken off after its third edition because, according to one of its presenters, "young girls recited poems that were sometimes satirical."
The independent print media are hardly any better off. Takhassos, a weekly published in the large western city of Herat by the Choura association of professionals, has been the target of repeated intimidation by the authorities since its creation. For example in May, at the time of the elections of the Loya Jirga traditional assembly, editor Rafiq Shaheer was detained and mistreated by members of the governorıs Amniat (security services). Governor Khan denied that there have been any attacks or intimidation of the journalists who produce Takhassos, which published an article on the use of the taxes levied by the governor. Since then, the weekly has significantly modified its editorial line and criticism is now virtually absent.
Since setting up in the Panshir valley north of Kabul, those in charge of Radio Solh (Radio Peace) have been the target of threats and intimidation from local commanders, especially Rasoul Sayef. One of the stationıs directors, Zakia Zaki, a woman, was threatened with death at the time of the stationıs installation in the city of Jebel-e-Sharat. Since then, the stationıs women reporters have been unable to work freely in the city. The local chiefs of Jamiat-e-Islami (a member of the Northern Alliance) have forbidden them to interview other women in the street.
Journalists in the eastern city of Jalalabad told Reporters Without Borders they got threats from mujahideen commanders. "Here we donıt have the press freedom President Karzai talks about in Kabul," said Muhammad Zubair, head of programming at the Jalalabad TV and radio station. At Mazar-i-Sharif, where there local warlords confront one another, at least 22 privately-owned publications have already been launched. But at Kandahar, privately-owned publications are rare.
But the government still keeps a close watch on Afghan or Pakistani journalists working for the foreign media. In the weeks following the liberation of Kabul, Pakistanis recruited as drivers or fixers by foreign journalists were questioned and told to leave Afghanistan under threat of reprisals. The foreign ministry also opposed the presence in Kabul of correspondents of newspapers published in Pakistan. Danesh Karokhel, for example, was refused authorisation to be the permanent correspondent in Kabul for the Peshawar-based Pashto-language daily Wahadat.
At the time of the Loya Jirga in May, Reuters correspondent Sayed Salahuddin reported that Marshal Fahim, the defence minister, had threatened the husband of the only woman candidate for president. The next day, a member of Fahimıs staff came and gave the journalist a warning. "Nothing happened to me, but at the time I was afraid of what might follow the threats," Salahuddin told Reporters Without Borders. In the weeks following the Loya Jirga, he was summoned by foreign ministry officials and criticised for his "biased coverage" of the Loya Jirga and the situation in Afghanistan. And the ministryıs spokesman refused to speak to him for nearly two months.
Gul Rahim Naaymand, a stringer with the Voice of Americaıs Pashto service in the northern city of Kunduz, was detained for a day by the military on 23 July. Officers took all his tape recordings in order to listen to them. He was released after Voice of America staff in Kabul intervened.
Islam, ethnic tension, the crimes of the warlords, national unity and the figure of Shah Massoud are all subjects that journalists approach with the utmost caution. In mid-September, the Kabul public prosecutor closed the weekly Nawa-i-Abadi for having allegedly "insulted Islam." The newspaper had translated and published Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconiıs recent comments on Islamıs supposed inferiority.
In early October 2002, an Afghan cameraman known as Najib was kidnapped, beaten and left for dead in Mazar-i-Sharif, after he had helped a British reporter, Jamie Doran, make a documentary called "Massacre in Mazar" about the death of thousands of Taliban soldiers at the hands of Gen. Dostom and US forces. The cameraman was hidden by friends and then he and his family sent to live in England.
Doran said Dostomıs men had gone about systematically eliminating anyone who had witnessed the massacres. "Iıve just learned that two such people were killed by them and that others are in danger. This is what happens when you investigate the doings of warlords and their American patrons," he told Reporters Without Borders.
US army authorities have also tried to prevent journalists investigating the death of more than 50 Afghans in the bombing of a marriage in southern Afghanistan. Television crews, especially Associated Press Television News, were denied access to the zone until 4 July so that no reports could be put out during the US independence day festivities.
HRW: Sharp Rise in Press Attacks in Afghanistan Afghanistan's troubled start to democracy
h t t p : / / w w w . r a w a . o r g