Friday June 21, 2019
Home Lead Story Afghans Fear ...

Afghans Fear End of Press Freedom

Afghanistan is the world's deadliest place for journalists

0
//
Afghans, Press Freedom
While in power, the Taliban raged against traditional forms of mass communication. VOA

Beneath the gaze of the TV cameras a woman begins speaking, at first softly but with growing passion as she faces the “Butcher of Kabul” across a crowded auditorium and asks if he wants to apologise for alleged war crimes.

Without missing a beat, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ruthless former warlord blamed for rocket attacks which reduced much of the Afghan capital to rubble in the 1990s, declined to do so.

The dramatic moment during a recent televised news debate highlights how far media freedom has come in Afghanistan, where — for now — traumatised civilians can stand and at least try to hold powerful men to account, live on camera.

“Years ago, these kind of questions could get you killed, but now people can challenge the most dangerous people in mainstream and social media,” Mustafa Rahimi, a university student, said after watching the debate.

Afghans, Press Freedom
The dramatic moment during a recent televised news debate highlights how far media freedom has come in Afghanistan. VOA

But today, even as hundreds of media outlets proliferate across Afghanistan, consumers and journalists alike worry a potential peace deal between the Taliban and the US could sound the death knell for a golden age of press freedom.

“We are concerned about a total or a partial ban on media,” Sediqullah Khaliq, the director of Hewad TV and radio in Kandahar — the birthplace of Taliban — told AFP.

“There is fear that we may go back to a media blackout or having a state-controlled press.”

While in power, the Taliban raged against traditional forms of mass communication and entertainment, banning television, movies and allowing only Islamist programming or propaganda to be broadcast on the only radio station, Voice of Sharia.

Also Read- Kenya Upholds Laws that Criminalize Same-Sex Relations

Anyone caught watching TV faced punishmentand risked having their television set smashed and then displayed from a lamppost.

Almost all electronic products were outlawed as un-Islamic. For a while, trees in Kabul fluttered with the magnetic ribbon tape from destroyed cassettes.
Photographs of living things were illegal, and ownership of a video player could lead to a public lashing.

Afghanistan is the world’s deadliest place for journalists, who face many risks covering the conflict and who have sometimes been targeted for doing their job.

Afghans, Press Freedom
Consumers and journalists alike worry a potential peace deal between the Taliban and the US could sound the death knell for a golden age of press freedom. VOA

Nine journalists, including AFP Kabul’s chief photographer Shah Marai, were killed in an Islamic State attack in April 2018.

Media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that 2018 was the deadliest year on record for journalists in Afghanistan, with at least 15 media workers killed while working.

Despite the risks, hundreds of media organizations have blossomed since 2001, and today there are more than 100 television channels, 284 radio stations and just over 400 newspapers and magazines, according to a government report.

With one of the world’s lowest literacy rates, television and radio play a huge role in Afghan culture, and Afghans have grown accustomed to outlets holding their politicians to account.

Also Read- Last US Slave ship Known to Transport African Captives Found in Alabama Bayou

Warlords, politicians, Taliban sympathisers and government officials are openly challenged in televised debates, radio programmes and on social media.

“We now play live music, women call in and share their problems on the radio. But even if the Taliban allow radios, I don’t think they would like our programs,” said Mera Hamdam, a presenter at Zama private radio in Kandahar. “There is huge concern that we will lose all our achievements,” he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said if they return to power, the insurgents would follow an Islamic interpretation of freedom of expression.

“We won’t allow propaganda, insults and humiliation to people in society and religious values. We will allow those who work for the betterment of the society,” he told AFP.

Afghans, Press Freedom
FILE – An Afghan shopkeeper, right, listens to Islamic State radio at his shop in Jalalabad. VOA

A sixth round of talks between the US and the Taliban wrapped up last week in Doha, with apparently little progress being made on several key issues.

The two foes have for months been trying to hammer out a deal that could see foreign forces leave Afghanistan in return for a ceasefire, talks between Kabul and the Taliban, and a guarantee the country will not be used as a safe haven for terror groups.

But observers worry that in a rush to quit Afghanistan after nearly 18 gruelling years of war, America might not push for safeguards of protections many Afghans now take for granted, including media freedoms and improved rights for women and other marginalised people.

“Freedom of expression as a protective value should be incorporated into any document resulting from peace talks,” NAI, a leading media support agency, said in a statement.

Also Read- Last US Slave ship Known to Transport African Captives Found in Alabama Bayou

Rahimi, the university student, said he worried about Afghanistan going back to “the dark era”. (VOA)

Next Story

Southeast Asian Governments ‘Celebrate’ World Press Freedom Day

According to an open letter to Facebook from 10 free expression and human rights organizations in Vietnam, the social networking behemoth has been blocking access to content on the request of the Vietnamese government.

0
Press
United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye speaks to the media about the situation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Turkey, in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. " The space for critical voices, academics, journalists, lawyers and others in civil society has been under threat," Kaye said.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici). RFA

Governments and state media in Southeast Asia touted improving media liberty on World Press Freedom Day Friday, but critics were swift to point out limits on expression and the jailing of many journalists across the region.

UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye said in a statement that celebration alone to mark the day would be an insufficient way to observe a day created by the UN General Assembly in 1993 to assess the state of press freedom worldwide, defend the media from attacks on independence and pay tribute to journalists who have died in the line of duty.

“Autocrats and demagogues too often denigrate the press, with dire consequences for safety, for democracy, and for the public’s right to know,” Kaye said in the statement.

“Today more than ever, we need not just generic celebrations, but concrete steps to improve press freedom worldwide,” he said.

The UN statement highlighted the case of two Reuters reporters in Myanmar, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who last month were denied their final appeals and must serve the remainder of their seven-year-sentences.

They were arrested in December 2017 while pursuing a story about the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims during a brutal military-led crackdown in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Authorities detained them shortly after two policemen with whom they had dinner in Yangon handed them state documents related to the atrocities, in what was widely viewed as a police setup.

The statement indicated that press freedom in many parts of Asia is severely lacking, including in China where “basic rights to seek, receive and impart information hardly exist.”

The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.”

Cambodia

UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, currently in the midst of an 11-day visit to the country, posted her thoughts about the state of press freedom under Hun Sen’s regime.

“I am concerned that Cambodia has slipped further one point to 143 over the last year, after falling 10 points from 132 the previous year in the Reporters without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedoms Index,” she wrote.

news
If we need to speak out or want to know what’s going on, we use Facebook. We can’t’ rely on state TV, radio or newspapers because it’s too slow, inaccurate and restricted,” said the citizen. Pixabay

She also gave advice to Cambodia’s government on ways to improve.

“I encourage the Government to provide the space for a free media, both offline and online, including through the adoption and implementation of the draft Law on Access to Information,” she wrote.

“I also repeat my encouragement to lift the charges against the two former RFA journalists,” she added, referring to Uon Chhin and Yeang Socheameta, who were arrested in November 2017 on suspicion of continuing to provide news about Cambodia to RFA after the U.S.-funded media outlet closed its office in Cambodia that September.

Cambodia’s fall one spot in the RSF index to 143, was matched by those of neighbor Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar, which each fell one step. In a year-on-year comparison for 2018, Laos fell one spot from 170 to 171, Vietnam fell one spot from 175 to 176, and Myanmar fell one spot from 137 to 138.

Meas Sophoan, a spokesman for the country’s Ministry of Information told RFA’s Khmer Service that Information Minister Khieu Kanharith held a press conference to mark the day where he said that press freedom is getting better each day within the kingdom.

The spokesman added that broadcast and print media are on the rise, and the country is showing how it respects human rights and press freedom, offering the press conference itself as an indication that press freedom is important to the regime.

But Long Kimmaryta, a journalist for a bilingual newspaper in Phnom Penh disagreed, saying that reporters and the press must now self-censor, after the government arrested reporters.

She said writing criticism about the government is risky in the current climate.

“If we were to write positive stories about the government, then sources within the government are happier to talk to us,” she said, adding that journalists in Cambodia can only write stories if they feel their safety isn’t threatened.

Laos

Meanwhile in neighboring Laos, the deputy editor of the government-published Vientiane Times told RFA’s Lao Service, “I think we have all kinds of freedoms because we have media laws guaranteeing those freedoms, including the freedom to write news and freedom of expression.”

“We want to improve and upgrade our reporters’ knowledge and skills and we also need to diversify the way we [source] content for our news stories,” said Deputy Editor Phonekeo Vorlakoun.

“Of course, as reporters, we want to respond to the needs of our people,” he said.

The deputy editor’s comments were contradicted by a local reporter stationed in Sanamxay district, Attapeu province who is covering the lasting damage caused by last year’s disaster at a nearby dam which claimed the lives of hundreds and has been described as Laos’ worst flooding in decades.

“All news stories, even those on technical matters, must be approved by the leadership of the district and the province before we can publish anything,” said the reporter.

An official of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism agreed with the reporter saying, “The government will never force us to do anything, or order us how to do this or that, but if they say we can’t publish the story, we can’t publish it.”

A citizen of Vientiane gave insight on how the people gain access to reliable news in the country.

“If we need to speak out or want to know what’s going on, we use Facebook. We can’t’ rely on state TV, radio or newspapers because it’s too slow, inaccurate and restricted,” said the citizen.

Facebook
The letter said that Vietnam’s 64 million Facebook users use Facebook as their primary news source, citing the absence of independent media within the country. VOA

Facebook in Vietnam

But Facebook has also been the target of criticism, particularly for bowing to the whims of governments looking to restrict the public’s access to information, such as in Vietnam.

According to an open letter to Facebook from 10 free expression and human rights organizations in Vietnam, the social networking behemoth has been blocking access to content on the request of the Vietnamese government.

The letter said that Vietnam’s 64 million Facebook users use Facebook as their primary news source, citing the absence of independent media within the country.

“On January 1, a restrictive “cybersecurity” law went into effect in Vietnam but the desire of Vietnamese to stay connected and build community has not changed,” said the rights groups in the letter, signed by Reporters Without Borders, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, Viet Tan and other groups.

“The Vietnamese government may want foreign companies to set up local data servers, censor content, and turn over private user data — but it’s up to Facebook to ultimately decide whether it will uphold human rights or not,” they said.

The letter cited Facebook as saying that blocked content was based on “local legal restrictions,” but urged the company and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg to not become “complicit in the human rights violations of authoritarian governments such as Vietnam’s.”

Also Read: Country House: First Winner Disqualified For Interference in The Kentucky Derby Race’s 145-Year History

Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur,  “States must move beyond words, beyond resolutions and take immediate and sustainable action to ensure safety of journalists, the independence of the media, the plurality of voices.”

“That is the challenge of the coming year: translating celebration into action, stigmatizing and penalizing those that attack journalism, and devoting resources to the great project of media freedom.” (RFA)