The rise of independent media in Afghanistan has been one of the country’s biggest achievements, but there are troubling signs for its future. A growing number of attacks on journalists and the international community’s continued silence on the issue are drawing concern.
Naqibullah, a shopkeeper on so-called electronic street in Kabul, sells TVs and DVD players
“Over the past 10 years under the Karzai government, I would say 85 percent of people are using TVs, DVDs, radio and other devices if they can access them. People are so interested in watching the news and other programs on TV,” Naqibullah said.
The country now boasts 75 TV channels, 175 radio stations, and hundreds of newspapers and magazines.
Yet, behind the headlines lies another story.
Since January there have been 36 cases of violence against journalists, a 40 percent increase over last year.
Footage from Takhar province shows a police officer just after he smashed a journalist’s car. The officer told a television cameraman he was acting on orders from the local chief of police who for a year has been repeatedly accused of assaulting and threatening journalists.
The abusive police chief was fired in May. Although journalists have criticized the dismissal as being a year late, Sadiq Siddiqi, the interior ministry’s spokesman, says the government is very supportive of free media “…and we will support, fully support that, and that is the policy of the Afghan government, but unfortunately in some areas there are some individuals who do not understand that reality and that policy, and cannot implement that policy,” Siddiqi said.
The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, however, claims the government is the main perpetrator of violence against journalists.
Committee spokesman Najib Sharifi says the international community’s failure to speak out on the issue has given government officials the idea their behavior is acceptable.
“A strong and adamant position from the international community about the concepts would create the perception in the mind of the Afghan government workers and non-state players who are usually behind the acts of violence against reporters. It creates the perception that the international community is serious about this issue,” Sharifi said.
In a country like Afghanistan, where victims of violence can be killed for telling their stories, so can the journalists who assist them.
1TV’s show “Mask” seeks out women who have been abused and invites them on the show to tell their stories. Islamic scholars and clerics listen and respond to the victims’ tales.
“Mask” producer Sorosh Azami has been targeted twice by the families of the victims who appeared on the show.
“Two weeks ago a husband beat his wife. Her hand and nose were broken so she called me for help, her husband went to jail and a divorce is in the process. I am supporting and handling this prosecution and the family issues. Who will support this woman if I don’t? This is my job,” Azami said.
In an already tense reporting environment, and with presidential elections less than a year away, media rights groups fear the number of violent acts against journalists will only increase.