Disastrous Situation of Media in Afghanistan, MFC Suspends Afghanistan’s Membership

With the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan in August 2021, hundreds of journalists and media workers have been forced to leave the country. In the last 15 months, the Taliban have imposed extensive restrictions on freedom of speech and media. The media have been deprived of publication, broadcast, and access to free information under the rule of this group. The suffocating atmosphere and censorship have also made the free flow of information and media face serious challenges. In the latest case, the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC) has suspended Afghanistan’s membership in this organization. The institution has announced that the media freedom situation in Afghanistan is not in accordance with international commitments, and for this reason, Afghanistan is no longer considered a member of this coalition. However, a number of journalists, expressing their concern over the removal of Afghanistan’s membership from the coalition, say that the Taliban’s restrictions on journalists, media work, and the free flow of information should be removed.

On Friday, November 18, the World Coalition for Media Freedom announced the suspension of Afghanistan’s membership in this coalition. The declaration of this institution states that Afghanistan was a member of MFC, but the country’s membership will be canceled from now on. Canada and the Netherlands jointly chair this coalition.

The co-chairs of this coalition have published a statement and said: “For the Media Freedom Coalition, it is clear that the situation of media freedom in Afghanistan is unfortunately no longer in line with the world commitment.” They have emphasized that the current situation of the media in Afghanistan is one of their serious concerns and this coalition will continue to closely monitor the situation of media freedom in Afghanistan.

The institution has also said that the Taliban group has imposed serious restrictions on media freedom since taking power. According to this institution, the Taliban has endangered the security and well-being of journalists and media workers. In a statement of this coalition, it is stated that the continuation of harassment, attacks, and arrests of journalists and the exclusion of women from the media has led to the rapid loss of independence of the media and has put the lives of journalists at risk. This coalition announces the removal of Afghanistan’s membership from this group while the Taliban continues to impose additional and new restrictions on the media. This has caused a large number of journalists to leave Afghanistan and seek refuge in other countries.

Restrictions Imposed on the Media

After taking power, the Taliban group imposed numerous restrictions on the media and media workers. In the first step, the group ordered the media not to publish news, reports, and analytical materials in opposition to and against the Taliban regime, ideology, and method of governance. In addition, the Taliban ordered the media to include people from the Taliban’s intelligence and the Ministry of Information and Culture in their content group.

In order to impose restrictions on freedom of expression, this group has banned the media from publishing and broadcasting foreign movies and TV series, music, and commercial advertisements that contain images of women. The Taliban has imposed restrictions on the appearance of female journalists and presenters in visual media last year. According to this restriction, no woman should lead and run political and social programs without the hijab defined by the Taliban.

In addition to imposing restrictions on the appearance of presenters, the Taliban has defined certain roles on the way of reporting and distorted the free flow of information. The leadership of this group ordered that female announcers on television should cover their faces completely. This action of the Taliban was met with widespread domestic and foreign reactions, but it did not change the decision of the Taliban.

In order to continue imposing restrictions on the media, the group has blocked and suspended the internet domain of Hasht-e Subh Daily News and Zawia Media. An action that has been criticized by human rights organizations and organizations supporting the media and has been described as “Suppression of Freedom of Expression” in Afghanistan.

Journalists’ Reaction to the Exclusion of Afghanistan from the Media Freedom Coalition

A number of journalists in the country, in response to the suspension of Afghanistan’s membership from the Media Freedom Coalition, express their concern about the continued suppression and suffocation of the media environment in the country. In an interview with Hasht-e Subh, these journalists have said that the removal of Afghanistan from the World Coalition for Media Freedom indicates the pathetic situation of the media in this country and shows that the working environment and freedom of information in this country are serious challenges.

Mehr Azar (pseudonym) is one of the country’s journalists who fled the country to Pakistan after the fall of the country to the Taliban. Speaking to Hasht-e Subh said: “The removal of Afghanistan’s membership from the World Coalition for Media Freedom shows the severity of repression and the free flow of information, and Afghanistan cannot be a member of the assemblies where freedom, especially the freedom of the media, is defended under the rule of the Taliban.” According to this reporter, the Taliban has shown for more than a year that the group does not adhere to any of the global values ​​and continues to apply their cumbersome “medieval” restrictions.

She believes that the situation of freedom of speech in Afghanistan is “disastrous”. According to her, the Taliban has banned all free and independent media from free operation in this country, and media-related activities are similar to “secret intelligence agencies”. She emphasizes that currently the media are deprived of access to free information and collect information in the form of secret services, and this situation is a “disaster” for the Afghan media community. At the same time, she praises the work of the free media, which still acts impartially and independently, despite many pressures and threats, and emphasizes that these media organizations on the ground should be supported.

Shams (pseudonym) is one of the local reporters in the north of the country. Speaking to Hasht-e Subh said: “The information situation has been in a state of stagnation for more than a year under the rule of the Taliban. Self-censorship has reached its peak. All the news that is published is one-sided. No media can publish analytical news that should represent the real-time situation in the country. Nowhere is safe, but media have to either not report or report based on dictated agenda.

The approach of the media has changed in the last year. Currently, it is in a state of stagnation and we are witnessing the closure of the media organization one after another. Many media workers have lost their jobs and started working as manual and unskilled labor in the market. They have migrated to foreign countries and those who are still in the country are living a dire life with many problems and challenges. He calls the removal of Afghanistan’s membership from the World Coalition for Media Freedom unfortunate news and emphasizes that this news reflects the “gradual death” of the media. According to him, freedom of speech currently has no meaning in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban.

Ghulam Hussain Elham, a freelance reporter, speaking to Hasht-e Subh says: “This decision is unfortunate and sad. On the other hand, it expresses the bitter reality and the logical decision. How far we have fallen from the criteria and conditions of membership in this coalition. Currently, we do not have anything called freedom of speech and freedom of the media in Afghanistan. No journalist or media worker in the country is immune. Institutions defending the media in Afghanistan have no effect and have mostly become spectators or co-makers of decisions.

Similarly, the Afghan Journalists Center has said that since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, the media environment in the country has deteriorated significantly. According to this institution, in the past year, 245 cases of violence by the Taliban against journalists and media workers have been registered. Detention, threats and intimidation, wounding, and death of journalists are included in this recorded violence. According to the statistics provided by the respective institution, more than 130 cases of temporary detention, which resulted in violence and threats, have been registered so far.

Earlier, Reporters Without Borders announced that 219 media outlets in Afghanistan have stopped operations in the past year. According to this organization, out of 547 active media outlets in Afghanistan till 2021, only 328 media outlets have continued to operate after the Taliban seized power. An evaluation by the International Federation of Journalists and the National Union of Afghan Journalists also shows that after the Taliban took control of the country, the activities of 318 media outlets were stopped and nearly three thousand journalists lost their jobs. Most of the journalists who lost their jobs are women.

In addition, the office of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, also said that violence against journalists has increased in an unprecedented manner. Expressing concern over the increase in violence against journalists, this organization reported recording more than 200 cases of human rights violations against journalists in the past year.

The Media Freedom Coalition (MFC) is a global body who is supporting the freedom of the media and journalists. This institution was established in the month of July 2019 at the world conference on media freedom. So far more than 50 countries from six continents of the world are members of it. Afghanistan became a member of this coalition in February 2020. The former government had pledged to this coalition that it would respect freedom of expression and support media work and would not interfere in media work. But after the power fell into the control of the Taliban, the group has not been committed to respecting the freedom of expression which gradually resulted in the suspension of Afghanistan’s membership in the respective institution.

Amin Kawa-Senior Reporter and Analyst, Hasht-e Subh Daily