In the first six months of 2017, Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) has recorded 73 cases of violence against journalists which includes killing, beating, inflicting injury and humiliation, intimidation and detention of journalists. The numbers set the highest record in the level of violence against journalists in the first six months of the year. The data shows a 35% increase in comparison to the first six months of 2016 in which 53 similar cases had been recorded by AJSC. In this period, 10 journalists and media workers have been killed. Those killed have either been directly targeted by terrorist groups or lost their lives as a result of terrorist attacks. In the attack that was carried out by the Islamic State in Khurassan Province (ISKP) on Radio Television-Afghanistan (RTA), also known the National TV in May, four employees of the organization were killed. In the attack that was executed in March on the parliament, two employees of the Parliament TV were killed. In the big truck bomb attack that took place in the vicinity of German Embassy in Kabul, four journalists and media workers lost their lives.
The continuation and expansion of violence by terrorist groups, especially the Taliban and ISKP have been a serious cause of concern for the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee regarding the safety of journalists in the country. Over this period, threats and violence against journalists by ISKP, especially in the Eastern zone of the country, has significantly increased. In this zone, the majority of media organizations and journalists practically live under the threat of the ISKP group.
Over these six months like the preceding years, government affiliated individuals or the security forces have committed most of the violence against journalists in terms of quantity. They have been responsible for 34 instances of violence that forms 46% of all the cases involving violence. The violence carried out by the government officials is mostly committed because of revelations by journalists of illegal activities of these government affiliated individuals and institutions.
Taliban and ISKP terrorist groups come in the second rank in terms of the quantity of violence carried out against journalists. The violence committed by these groups nevertheless is far graver and bloodier in terms of intensity as the two groups are responsible for all the cases involving killings of journalists. The threat emanating from these groups is mainly due to the refusal of cooperation by media and journalists to provide coverage of the news that these groups supply to media. The ideological aversion of these groups to the concept of a free press and the important role that the press plays in informing the public is another reason for their animosity towards media and journalists.
In addition to terrorist groups and government individuals, in some cases, members of parliament, provincial council, governors, warlords and unidentified individuals have also been responsible for violent activities against journalists. In most cases, these groups have resorted to threats and intimidation against journalists and media for the revelation of their abuses.
In these six months, the Eastern zone and Kabul zone, which include provinces North of Kabul, have witnessed the most cases of violence against journalists. The Southeastern zone has witnessed the least number of cases of violence against journalists.
In this period, in addition to 10 cases of killings, 12 cases of injury, 19 cases of beatings, 18 cases of humiliation and mistreatment, 5 cases of detention, 6 cases of intimidation, and 3 cases of humiliating expulsions of journalists from their stations have been reported.
Increasing threats against media organizations and attempts by terrorist groups to control media content by way of intimidation have created serious concern regarding self-censorship and free content production by media. Terrorist groups, besides putting pressure on media agencies to publish or broadcast news related to their activities, also coerce media agencies in insecure areas into refraining from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music and voice of women.
Although the government of Afghanistan has taken a number of measures for the safety of journalists, the most important of which is the establishment of the Joint Committee for the Security and Safety of Journalists, these measures have not produced the desired outcomes because of their weak implementation. Today, the need to protect Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Press, which has been the signature achievement of the past decade and a half, is felt more than any other time.
Most of the media organizations do not dedicate the necessary attention and resources to the security and safety of their workers, especially journalists who are dispatched to front lines to provide news coverage of the war. Ensuring safety of media workers in the legal, administrative and ethical obligation of media organizations.
Journalists still have to grapple with serious intra-agency problems. Hiring and firing of media workers do not take place based on the labor law as well as the procedural bylaw on the establishment and operation of mass media organizations. A number of media organizations even lack an administrative policy as journalists and media workers are hired as if they were daily wage laborers without going through the due process of hiring; likewise, they are fired easily without justifiable grounds. Some media organizations even fail to pay the monthly salaries of their employees on regular basis.
The continuing shortcomings in access to information have also been a lingering challenge in the first half the current year as this issue has not been addressed by the government. Most government spokespersons, particularly those working in the provinces, have avoided responding and providing timely and accurate information for journalists. The lack of supply of correct figures on the part of the government has seriously eroded the credibility of the government to present correct facts and figures, especially on terrorist incidents, and has exacerbated the crisis of ‘fake news’. Clear examples of this phenomenon can be seen in the attacks that were carried out on Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital and 209 Shaheen Military Corps. This tendency of the government has led journalists to refer to unofficial sources to seek facts and figures on the number of casualties and losses. This has not only created confusion among media organizations as well the audiences, but it has also dealt a blow to the body of the government as an entity capable of supplying accurate facts and figures to the public and thus has helped the propaganda undertakings of terrorist groups.
There is no standardized and cohesive system within the government of Afghanistan to collect data. This is one of the reasons behind the inability of the government to provide information to journalists. The current regime of data collection is obsolete, non-standard or basically non-existent.
There has been a notable decrease in the number of female journalists working in media organization primarily because of increasing insecurity and the worsening threat environment. Today, there are not any female journalists and media workers in at least 10 provinces of Afghanistan, Zabul, Uruzgan, Ghor, Panjsher, Paktika, Sar-pul, Logar, Nooristan, Laghman, and Kunar. A reduced presence in media of female journalists leads to diminished coverage of matters relating to women.