Future of Afghanistan’s media in the balance, says UN

On World Press Freedom Day, the United Nations expressed serious concern for the future of Afghanistan’s media, stating that journalists are forced to work in a climate of intimidation and fear amid increased restrictions by the Taliban.

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 has documented numerous instances of human rights violations against journalists and media workers by the Taliban 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.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva, said World Press Freedom Day was a moment to show solidarity with the 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.”

Although the Taliban has established a national Media Violations Commission to liaise with journalists, its lack of independence and scant effectiveness need to be addressed, the UN stated.

The legal framework for the media also remains unclear, and journalists are forced to navigate unclear and often arbitrary boundaries of reporting against an ever-present threat of repression and closure.

Afghanistan stood at 156 (out of 180 countries) in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a drop from its place at 122 in 2020.

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.”

World Press Freedom Day is an opportunity to celebrate the determination and courage of journalists in Afghanistan and around the world who continue to report with independence and impartiality despite risks to their personal safety.

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.