IFEX Report: confronting media challenges amid Taliban control in Afghanistan

KABUL (Khaama Press): On the second anniversary of the Taliban’s control in Afghanistan, IFEX spoke to the Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) about the state of press freedom and journalist safety in the country. They discussed the measures the organization implements to protect access to information in these challenging times.

IFEX, formerly the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, is a global network of 124 independent NGOs working across levels to protect and promote freedom of expression as a fundamental human right.

How has increased control over civic participation and information flow affected media outlets and journalists’ impartial reporting? What are the main information challenges journalists currently encounter?

The closing of civic space in Afghanistan has significantly impacted journalism. Journalists now need help to report freely due to limited information access, especially from the Taliban government. Investigative journalism needs help gathering reliable information, conducting interviews, and accessing official documents. Media outlets risk closure, while journalists could be imprisoned for defying new restrictions, like criticizing Taliban policies or violating their rules, such as the music ban, mixed-gender workplaces, and specific attire guidelines.

Under heightened oppressive conditions, journalists face serious consequences for covering sensitive topics or criticizing the Taliban. They experience intimidation, imprisonment, surveillance, threats to families, and pressure to alter their reporting. This has resulted in self-censorship, avoidance of certain subjects, and adapting reporting to align with authorities’ views to ensure personal safety and outlet survival.

What strategies are journalists using to counter Taliban media restrictions and the limited infrastructure for accurate reporting?

 Amidst immense difficulty, journalists demonstrate resilience and ingenuity in pursuing their reporting.

“They have increasingly turned to digital platforms to disseminate news and information, adopted secure communication tools and encryption technologies to protect their sources, and formed networks and collaborations with international media organizations and journalists to help ensure their stories reach a global audience,” the report said.

The document added, “To navigate the media restrictions, journalists have adjusted their reporting style, using more cautious language and adopting subtle criticism or indirect storytelling to convey important information while avoiding overt confrontation with the authorities. Some journalists have continued reporting clandestinely by operating underground or from exile.”

Afghan journalists grapple with high risks despite adaptations. They persist under constraints, facing dangers in reporting the truth in Afghanistan.

How is AFJC addressing gender-based challenges experienced by women journalists?

In response to the posed question, AFJC said: “We advocate and lobby for gender equality and women’s rights in the media, as well as engaging with local authorities.”

Meanwhile, it continued, “AFJC plans to provide training and capacity-building programs specifically designed for women journalists, including digital literacy, safety, and leadership.”

AFJC plays a pivotal role in empowering women journalists. Through a WhatsApp group, experienced women mentors guide aspiring journalists, ensuring a secure platform for sharing, discussing challenges, and seeking advice. The organization addresses risks by offering safety training, legal aid, and emergency protocols. Additionally, AFJC promotes gender-inclusive reporting for better representation, the report said.

Looking ahead: what role can international collaboration and support play in safeguarding journalism in Afghanistan?

AFJC emphasized the role of international support in the country and said collaboration is vital, offering training and resources to Afghan journalists under Taliban rule while prioritizing safety. It involves needs assessment, safety protocols, and digital security training.

The report concluded that collaboration between local and international legal organizations is vital for offering Afghan journalists legal assistance. It is equally important to secure funding from international donors to ensure lasting support for independent media entities within our country.