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What blows punch journalists in Afghanistan?

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By Abdullah Abed-Afghanistan continues to remain in newsrooms, making headlines due to ongoing war, explosions, high-profile attacks, beheadings, record high civilians’ death toll, sever poverty, corruption, drugs, violence against women…and so on. But amid all these misses and wretches there are some success stories- but still struggling to handle the current situation- chief among them is Afghanistan’s media sector which draw attentions.

Journalism’s history in Afghanistan dates back to 19th century when the Lithography Printing came from India to the country and in 1873 publication kicked off in Afghanistan. In aforementioned year the first periodical named Shamsulnahar (sun of the day) issued under Sayed Jamaludin Afghan –a than broad-minded personality- coincided the Emir Shir Ali Khan’s era. Shamsulnahar was released just between 40-48 issues. Latter in 1906 second periodical Sarajul Akhbar (lamp of news) came out but it was stopped just after the first issuance. The periodical was resumed by Mahmod Tarzi known as “Father of Afghanistan Journalism” in 1911. The Afghan journalism shaky tour continued year after year and ruler after ruler, till  It took a century when in 1979 Afghanistan owned first television broadcasting during Sardar Mohammad Daoud Khan presidency who put end to the monarchal system in the country through coup d’état . After another coup d’état carried out by communists toppling Sardar Daoud’s presidency and latter during Mujahidin’s functional fighting Afghan media sector continued to bear the brunt of all upheavals in the country.

When Taliban overran Kabul in 1996, media sector in Afghanistan was subjected to another heavy setback to endure. The regime; imposing strong restrictions on mass-media; banned TV, cinema, films and … By imposing extremely constrained measures, there was neither voice nor receiver. Sole regime-run radio and a tiny number of newspapers, fully and unilaterally dedicated to safeguard the interest of the regime, were operating in the country. This petty propaganda machine serving only regime’s interests, was narrating daily gains of Taliban against their armed opponents known as North Alliance. Even a number of high ranking Taliban leaders deemed the press as waste of time and distracting people from religious studies as they would prefer to read Quran rather than reading a newspaper, a then Taliban former official recalls. Regime’s crackdown on using mass media extended to the houses, no one was allowed to watch even a film with his family or listen to a music, and if someone had done so he would have been subjected to their law.  Regime treated journalism not as a profession which owns its principals and regularities, but as a tool exploiting it for their ambitious objectives. Moreover, Taliban imposed heavy restrictions on foreign journalists who were provided with a list of 21 rules. All journalists coming from overseas were obligated to obey the rules in line of duty.  Nevertheless of all aforesaid bans on media sector during the Taliban era from 1996-2001 controlling very large parts of the country, after the regime’s overthrow in 2001 the group has started imposing taxes on media outlets in some restive provinces by issuing warnings, reminders even sending them threatening letters to make them pay up, according to a report released by Reporters without Borders (RSF) in early 2018. Heads of the media outlets taxed by Taliban were critical of local authorities for their inaction to bar the group from taxing them, report added. Paying to the Taliban is plus taxes that all media outlets are already obligated by law to pay to the Afghan government. The question is that how these media organizations afford to fulfil all the expenses?

Due to decades of war and conflicts, Afghanistan is still suffering poor economy which is very tangible in all sectors, and the country is extremely dependent on aids coming from donor countries, while a remarkable reduce has also been seen in aids coming from international community during the recent years. This is why that media sector has borne heavy blows, from restricting their operations to shutting down in some cases. Afghan media sector thrived unprecedentedly following the 9/11/2001 attack, which U.S was pushed to interfere, and a new era started in Afghanistan. Dozens of TV channels, scores of radio stations and hundreds of press (dailies, weeklies, monthlies and periodicals) emerged in media sector in Afghanistan. Despite, media activities and its presence is stronger than ever but the sector has been continuing to experience a lot of ups and downs. Many believe that downs have prevailed the ups at some extent. While a large number of Afghan media outlets still continue struggling to survive, another huge number have been forced to shut, due to lack of fund.

This is not lone lack of resources mounting pressure either on Afghan media or journalists, they continue to suffer heavy losses sake of ongoing war and deliberately targeted attacks which are carried out against journalists and media organizations whether by Taliban or so called Islamic State militants. Due to record high rate of violence against journalists, Afghanistan is still termed one of the most notorious place for journalists in the world. A report released by Reporters without Borders in December 2017 ranked Afghanistan third most dangerous place in the world for journalists while now Afghanistan remains among the five most dangerous countries for working as journalist; including Syria, Ecuador, India and Mexico. The most recent and deadly attack on journalists was carried on 30 April 2018 in Kabul, 9 journalists were killed and 7 more wounded in the attack that ISIS claimed responsibility for. First explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber on a motorbike in police district 9 in Shash Darak a heavily guarded neighborhood in Kabul. The second explosion followed the first one 15 minutes later when crowds of reporters and first responders had taken to the scene. Second suicide attacker reportedly had posed himself as journalist and blew himself up among the reporters covering the scene of first explosion. On the same day but in a separate incident in southern Khost province another journalists working for BBC Pashto service was shot to death by unknown gunmen. Latter provincial governor announced that his murderers had been arrested and soon will be put to trail. Just five days before the deadliest attack on journalists in Kabul, another Afghan journalist Abdul Hanan Arghand working for Kabul News TV channel was gunned down by unknown armed men in Kandahar province on April 25.

In January 2016 a Taliban suicide bomber drove his car loaded with explosives into a minibus shifting employees of Production Company serving for Tolo TV, the country’s largest media group, from work to home. The attack took lives of seven employees all of them form extremely poor families. Taliban had warned Tolo TV on October 2015 that they would target the network, accusing it releasing falsely reporting that insurgents had raped female students during their capturing of the northern city Kundoz.

The wave of violence against journalists and media workers has not only been stopped but it keeps rising, a report released by Reporters without Borders (RSF) on 18 May 2018 indicates that 36 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan from the beginning of 2016. They have been killed in bombings and other forms of violence by the country’s two main press freedom predators, the Taliban and Islamic State (Daesh). Report added.

These are not mere numbers, 9, 36, 1, 7; every one of these journalists left behind their world full of dreams. Some of them left behind their fiancé, some of them left behind very young kids, some of them left behind the dreams they had for their future.

Access to information is another obstacle challenging journalists in Afghanistan in line of duty, often they are denied by officials for providing information. The Law of Access to Information was signed by president Ghani in 2014 while journalists term it flawed at some extent.

Notwithstanding of  all dares and ventures during the latest 17 years, journalism and media sector still remain as success story while there are many other fields that Afghanistan is hobbling in. this is why ex-president Hamid Karzai would pose it to the eyes of international community as his government’s chief of achievements. President Ghani is also very open for mounting verbally support for the media and call it as a success of new era in Afghanistan but the hell is going on against journalists and media in his presidency. So what the journalists and media outlets expect the government are enough measures to be stepped up for their safety.

The writer could be reached at Twitter: @Abdullah Abed