The latest: Afghanistan has been ranked as a low 152nd on the World Press Freedom Index of 180 countries, media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières said. The non-government organisation, also known as Reporters Without Borders, has been publishing the World Press Freedom Index since 2002.
- As per RSF, two journalists have been killed since January 1, 2023 and five media workers have been detained as of May.
- Afghanistan’s rank last year was 156 so there has been some improvement with a score of 39.75, however it is a big drop from its 2020 rank of 122nd when the Taliban was not in power. Reporters Without Borders evaluates press freedom in countries on the basis of five indicators – political, economic, legislative, social and security.
- The report stated that Taliban’s rise to power has had serious repercussions for the respect of press freedom and the safety of journalists, especially women.
- It added that the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on 15 August 2021 radically changed the media landscape.
- In the space of three months, 43% of Afghan media outlets disappeared. Of the 10,780 people working in Afghan newsrooms (8,290 men and 2,490 women) at the beginning of August, only 4,360 were still working in December (3,950 men and 410 women), or four out of ten journalists.
- Proportionally, women have been much more affected: more than four in five (84%) have lost their jobs since the arrival of the Taliban, whereas only one in two men have (52%).
- The report added that the political situation in Afghanistan was also very confusing for journalists because they receive directives from many different parts of the government, including the Minister of Culture and Information, the Istikhbarat (the Taliban intelligence agency), the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Repression of Vice, and the Government Media and Information Centre (GMIC).
- Under the Taliban, freedom of press is almost negligent as many subjects are difficult or impossible for the media to cover in Afghanistan. “Subjects related to religion, the status of women and human rights in general are off limits. Many journalists have fled abroad as a result of the Taliban takeover. Many others have been questioned or arrested by the Afghan police and the Istikhbarat,” the report stated.
- Among its neighbours, Pakistan is ranked 150th and India is ranked 161. Norway, Ireland and Denmark hold the top three spots.
- The United Nations expressed serious concern for the future of Afghanistan’s media as it stated that journalists are forced to work in climate of intimidation and fear amid increased restrictions by the Taliban authorities.
- The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance said that since August 2021, large numbers of media professionals have fled Afghanistan, and the sector has been hit by the country’s economic crisis. Large numbers of media outlets have closed, and female journalists have been disproportionately affected with additional restrictions effectively rendering them almost unable to do their job.
- UNAMA too has documented numerous instances of human rights violations against journalists and media workers by the de facto authorities over the past 18 months. “Arbitrary arrests and detentions, ill-treatment and threats have been employed as a means of suppressing freedom of expression,” it stated.
- The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Roza Otunbayeva said that World Press Freedom Day was a moment to show solidarity with the Afghan journalists still attempting to maintain independent reporting in the country.
- “Journalists are being forced to make editorial decisions based on fear, not public interest. It’s sadly part of a wider trend of declining freedom of expression and access to information,” Otunbayeva said.
- “The persistent intimidation, threats, and attacks on journalists are unacceptable. We urge the Taliban de facto authorities to guarantee the freedom and independence of the media, and the safety of journalists, women and men alike.”
- The head of UNESCO-Afghanistan, Patricia McPhillips, said, “Afghanistan is going through a critical period and the people of Afghanistan deserve accurate, up-to-date, reliable and free information. We urge the de facto authorities to uphold press freedom and let journalists share information without fear of arrest or intimidation.”
- In a statement on Wednesday, Nai said in a statement that media freedom has been a serious challenge for nearly two years. Continuing the current situation in Afghanistan could make media freedom more fragile, Nai said.
- The Afghan media support body has called on international organizations to support the media and journalists based on their commitments over the past two decades.
- Richard Bennett, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan, has said that women journalists in the country are reporting in deplorable conditions.
- “On World Press Freedom Day, I pay my respects to the Afghan media, above all the women journalists who continue to inform despite their deplorable restrictions and life-threatening risks,” Bennett wrote. He urged the Taliban to respect a “free, pluralistic, independent and inclusive” media sector.
Zoom out: World Press Freedom Day is celebrated each year on May 3. This year’s celebration takes place under the theme “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights”, as the right to freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a prerequisite and a driver for a flourishing society and the enjoyment of all other human rights.
- Meanwhile, the Afghanistan Journalists Centre also issued its own report on the occasion expressing grave concern over the increasing threat and widespread arrests of journalists. It said that it recorded 213 incidents of violence, threats and arrests of journalists in the past year (May 3, 2022, to May 3, 2023), a 64 per cent increase from the same time a year ago.