Marking the second anniversary of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, IFEX spoke to the Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) about press freedom and the safety of journalists in the country, and steps the organisation is taking to safeguard access to information.
From regressive media policies and attacks on journalists to the censorship of media outlets and control of media spaces, the Taliban’s control has raised significant fears and uncertainties for media professionals, with dire implications for both journalism and human rights in the country.
How has the tightening grip on civic participation and the flow of information impacted media outlets and journalists’ ability to maintain impartial reporting, and what information challenges are journalists facing?
Overall, the gradual closure of civic space in Afghanistan has had a chilling effect on the media and severely impacted the ability of journalists to report freely and independently.
There is limited access to information, especially from Taliban government sources. Investigative journalism becomes more challenging as journalists face obstacles in collecting reliable information, conducting interviews, or accessing official documents. Media outlets face the threat of closure, and journalists imprisonment for not conforming to new restrictions, including a ban on music, mixed gender workplaces, women journalists’ uncovering their faces during work, or criticism of Taliban governance or policies.
As oppressive conditions and threats have increased, journalists are facing severe consequences for reporting on sensitive topics or criticising the Taliban authorities. They have encountered intimidation and harassment, including imprisonment, surveillance, threats to their families, or direct pressure to modify their reporting. This hasled to self-censorship, a reluctance to cover certain issues, and pressure to align their reporting with the views of the authorities to safeguard their own safety or the survival of their outlets.
What strategies are journalists using to counter Taliban media restrictions and the limited infrastructure for accurate reporting?
While navigating these challenges is extremely difficult, journalists have shown resilience and resourcefulness in their efforts to continue 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 organisations and journalists to help ensure their stories reach a global audience.
To navigate the media restrictions, journalists have also adjusted their reporting style, using more cautious language and adopting subtle forms of criticism or indirect storytelling to convey important information while avoiding overt confrontation with the authorities. Some journalists have chosen to continue reporting clandestinely by operating underground or from exile.
It is important to note that the risks faced by Afghan journalists remain incredibly high, and these adaptations do not completely eliminate the challenges they face. Journalists continue to work under severe constraints and face significant dangers in their pursuit of reporting the truth in Afghanistan.
How is AFJC addressing gender-based challenges experienced by women journalists?
We advocate and lobby for gender equality and women’s rights in the media, as well as engaging with local authorities.
AFJC plans to provide training and capacity-building programs specifically designed for women journalists, including digital literacy, safety, and leadership.
Facilitating networks and mentorship opportunities for women journalists is also crucial. AFJC established a WhatsApp group where experienced women journalists can mentor and support aspiring or early-career journalists in a safe space for sharing experiences, discussing challenges, and seeking guidance.
Research has helped us identify specific challenges, risks and threats women journalists in Afghanistan face. AFJC is developing safety measures that include physical and digital security training, legal support for harassment or violence, and creating emergency response protocols.
To ensure women’s issues and perspectives are adequately represented in news coverage, AFJC is also encouraging media outlets to prioritise gender-inclusive reporting, training media workers on the importance of diversity and gender-aware reporting.
Looking ahead, what role can international collaboration and support play in safeguarding journalism in Afghanistan?
This kind of collaboration is critical in providing training and resources to journalists in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, while ensuring their safety. Some activities that can be employed include assessing the needs of journalists to help tailor training and resources, collaboratively developing practical safety protocols and guidelines, as well as providing physical safety and training on digital security to help protect journalists’ online presence, communication channels, and sources.
Lastly, collaboration between local and international legal organisations is critical to providing Afghan journalists with legal support, as is securing funding from international donors to ensure sustainable support for independent media organisations in our country.