Afghan officials clamp down on the press
Government agencies are intimidating and arresting journalists. The crackdown marks the decline of a hard-won, post-Taliban-era achievement: press freedom.
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The office of Mr. Karzai and the National Directorate of Security – the agency behind many of the recent arrests – were not available for comment.Skip to next paragraph
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A short-lived media boom
The Afghan media industry had boomed after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Media freedom was unprecedented in the country's history and widely hailed as one of the most important civil achievements in the post-Taliban era. Today, there are close to 770 newspapers and magazines across the country, according to Barakzai of the Union of Journalists.
But now, some question the independence of Afghan media outlets. "Eighty to 90 percent of newspapers are supported by ex-mujahideen commanders and other strongmen who are very politically minded," says Barakzai. "If the news director writes something these politicians don't like, he will lose his job."
The Afghan government maintains that it respects freedom of speech and that journalists are only arrested or forced out of jobs when they violate the media code of conduct. "There are some circles [in the government] that would like to restrict media freedoms, but also some journalists who violate the principles of their profession," says Afghan Vice President Karim Khalili.
Abdul Wakhil Omari, a senior official at the Afghan Supreme Court, adds, "Of course it would be best if journalists weren't arrested, but they shouldn't overstep their bounds, either."
National security versus press freedom
Some officials argue that these bounds are crossed when critical reporting weakens the central government and strengthens the Taliban. They point out that given present security conditions reporters also have an obligation to protect the national interest.
"The media does not reflect the achievements of the government," Sadeq Mudaber, the deputy director of general policy, told reporters in November. "Although the media law guarantees freedom of press, the national interests of the country should be a priority over anything else."
United Nations spokesman Aleem Siddique points out that the deteriorating security situation and resulting decline of public support for official policies is affecting the government's capacity to deal with criticism.
Sediqullah Tauhidi, manager of the Nai Center, adds: "The government stance towards media is much different than last year ... because it has grown weaker and lost support. As it grows weaker, it will feel the need to lash out against critical press coverage."
Off the airwaves
Television personality Fayaz, meanwhile, has gone into hiding, citing fears for his life. "My family called me and told me that some mysterious armed men were lurking outside my house," he says. "I'm under risk and I can't continue airing my program. There are a lot of powerful interests against me. If this is how they treat the media, I want to leave Afghanistan and not come back."