New media directives aimed at restricting local coverage of Afghanistan’s security situation have been described as “outrageous” by a press monitoring group on Wednesday, calling the ban harassment of independent media.
“This means that the media cannot talk about the reality of what is going on in Afghanistan – the killings, car bombs and military operations,” Vincent Brossel, head of Reporter Sans Frontiers’ (RSF) Asia Pacific desk, told IRIN from Paris.
There is still some confusion in the Afghan capital Kabul about who took the decision on the restrictions, Brossel said, but noted they could be a result of a meeting Afghan President Hamid Karzai held with security advisors in late May. The meeting followed riots in the capital that were sparked by a road accident involving a US military vehicle. The disturbances left eight people dead.
A list of banned subjects – including the activities of foreign troops - was distributed to editors on Sunday. But a spokesman for President Karzai said that the restrictions were not government policy, but simply directives from the government’s security organs to provide more balanced reporting of the national security situation.
“Media freedom is assured by the constitution and we respect press freedom and freedom of speech, yet the media should respect national security and report on things within the frame of the law and the constitution,” Karim Rahimi told IRIN from Kabul.
But according to Brossel, the media couldn’t be blamed for the security problems in the war-ravaged country. “The media, like the Afghan Daily and Kilid [Afghan newspaper], are pro-peace. They just report the reality, but it seems like the government wants to avoid this reporting.”
The new instructions ordered media outlets not to publish interviews and reports which are critical of the US-led coalition forces and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Journalists have also been told not to interview or film Taliban insurgents or publish reports and interviews that are against the government’s foreign policy.
NATO has some 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan – largely maintaining security in the capital - while the US-led coalition has over 20,000 troops battling Taliban insurgents who are back after having been driven from power in late 2001.
“What needs to be understood is that press freedom is not only [to report on] nice things and pro-government [matters]. The government can’t and shouldn’t avoid [the fact] that car bombs and killings are being reported on,” the RSF chief said.