The annual Free Media Pioneer Award was established by IPI in 1996 to recognize news or media organizations that have made innovations that have promoted news access or quality or benefitted journalists and the media community, thereby ensuring freer and more independent media in their country or region.This year’s recipient, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), is a countrywide safety mechanism covering all 34 Afghan provinces that monitor incidents and provides media professionals with advice and practical safety measures. AJSC has local safety trainers that work collaboratively with media houses, press clubs, unions, civil society organizations, local authorities and law enforcement.
This year’s recipient, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), is a countrywide safety mechanism covering all 34 Afghan provinces that monitor incidents and provides media professionals with advice and practical safety measures. AJSC has local safety trainers that work collaboratively with media houses, press clubs, unions, civil society organizations, local authorities and law enforcement.
Founded in 2009, AJSC made significant achievements in fostering support and solidarity to journalists and Afghanistan’s media community in the face of extreme repression, violence, and tragedy.
The stakes around its work are high: when the Taliban took over Kunduz province in 2015 and again in 2016, AJSC helped more than 160 journalists with emergency evacuation, shelter, health, and psychological counseling. Over the past eight years, AJSC has assisted in more than 400 cases of violence and intimidation targeting journalists, and it has provided training to more than 600 journalists across Afghanistan.
AJSC maintains a 24/7 hotline as well as safe houses across Afghanistan. It provides training on both journalistic skills and safety – including risk assessment and management, first aid and conflict sensitive reporting, social media and digital security – and offers traumatized journalists support from a team of trauma counselors. In keeping with its collaborative nature, AJSC also works to train police and security forces to encourage cooperation on safety.
For journalists who must flee the country or who require medical treatment not available in Afghanistan, AJSC maintains a relocation option in India, which offers long-term exiles job training or study at a local university or media house.
“Amid the severe threat to journalists in Afghanistan, the incredibly courageous work of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee embodies the belief that journalism can and must thrive even in the most hostile corners of the world,” Trionfi said. “Their defiance and determination are helping to ensure that the people of Afghanistan can realize their right to inform and be informed, and their activities offer hope and a model for other societies wracked by conflict.”
Jesper Højberg, director of International Media Support (IMS), added; “ASJC has come a very long way and I am confident that their achievements are based not only on hard work but also rooted in the fact that it is a truly Afghan-based safety mechanism – not a donor-driven safety project. ASJC works hard to bring together media, local government, law enforcement as well as civil society to protect journalists and enhance media safety. Their inclusive and collaborative work makes ASJC a model for media safety work globally.”
Notably, AJSC also fulfills a research and advocacy function, recording attacks on journalists and promoting the role of female journalists and increased safety. According to AJSC’s statistics, 2016 was the deadliest year for journalists in the history of Afghanistan, with 101 recorded cases of killings, assault, intimidation and other forms of harm.
Najib Sharifi, director of AJSC, told IPI in response to news of AJSC’s recognition as the 2017 Free Media Pioneer: “My colleagues and I are delighted to hear about this. Such a prestigious award increases our passion, commitment, and pride to our work towards protection of journalists, which is critical to preserving freedom of media and freedom of expression in Afghanistan.”