Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) recorded 39 cases of threat and violence against journalists during the first half of 2015, reflecting a decline by 43% compared to the first six months of 2014 during which 63 cases were recorded. One journalist was killed and another 4 wounded in this reporting period. Similarly, 19 journalists were beaten, 2 arrested and another 13 faced threats of varying natures. The improved working relationship between journalists and the media support organizations, enhanced coordination among media support organizations, and the support pledged by the leaders of the National Unity Government for journalists and freedom of expression could count among the reasons for the decline in the trajectory of violence against journalists in this period.
Of the total 39 cases, 28 cases of threat and violence against journalists were caused by government officials making the government responsible for 72% of the cases of threat and violence against journalists. Taliban account for 12%, unidentified persons are responsible for 3% and local powerful individuals have been involved in 3% of these cases. The current rate of violence exercised by government officials is the record high in terms of percentage since AJSC began reporting three years ago.
During this reporting period, the western region of the country has witnessed the highest number of cases of threat and violence (44%) while the Kabul region has experienced the lowest number (5%).
The increased rate of violence caused by government officials is alarming. The government has the legal and moral obligation to establish safe working environment for journalists. However, this obligation seems drastically reversed in light of the fact that government workers are behind the majority of the cases of violence against journalists. Such an approach will further deepen the gap between journalists and the government thus undermining constructive cooperation between the media and the government in promoting good governance, fighting corruption and strengthening the democratic process.
The distance between the government and journalists caused by violence against journalists has widened the space for the propaganda spread by the Taliban and other anti-state groups and elements–- a trend that could prove destructive in the light of the fact that propaganda is a central tool behind the war strategy of Taliban and other insur- gent groups. Government officials should see the media sector as a partner rather than an enemy. Confrontation with the media and journalists will only result in emergence of a negative-sum scenario that is harmful to both parties.
Security forces continue to account for a remarkable portion of the cases of violence against journalists, which diminishes professional cooperation between journalists and security organizations, particularly law enforcement bodies. Security and defense bodies needs to incorporate guidelines on treating journalists in the curriculum of the security forces and inform them of the rights and duties of journalists with regards to informing the public.
The major achievements during the first six months of 2015 include endorsement of Access to Information Act, abolishment of the Media Violations and Complaints Assessment Commission, the support pledged by the president, CEO and the first vice president for media sector and freedom of expression. However, the leaders of National Unity Government have not fully delivered on their promises yet, which included taking meaningful measures to promote safer working environment for journalists, addressing the employment security of journalists and improving the relationship between the government and media sector. These are some of the matters to which both leaders of the national unity government vowed during the elections by signing a letter of commitment.
Some of the female members of media outlets experience inappropriate, and in some instances, illicit behaviors. Such behaviors, which in some cases escalate to attempts of sexual abuse, leave the female staff members of media outlets helpless and vulnerable. More frequently occurring in provinces, this kind of behavior is one of the reasons be- hind the reduction of the women’s presence in media sector. Media support organiza- tions and the government need to take this issue seriously and female media workers should also report such cases to media support agencies.
With the reduction in international aid and the ensuing economic drawdown, majority of media outlets, especially those operating in the provinces, are struggling with economic challenges. The government ought to adopt measures to reduce costs for the me- dia organizations such as decreasing electricity costs and government-related fees such as the fees pertaining to maintaining broadcast frequencies. If the government does not ease costs, many of the media outlets, particularly those operating in the provinces, will be left with no choice but to shut down.
Over the recent years, the international community’s interest in providing the much-needed financial and moral support for Afghan media and freedom of expression seems to have diminished. Given the role of media in solidification of democracy, good governance and human rights especially women’s rights, it is necessary that the inter- national community place support for media at the forefront of their strategic priorities. International community’s silence towards press freedom can embolden elements opposing freedom of expression to further suppress media and freedom of expression.