Afghanistan – Report 2006

The Afghan media played a crucial role in the run-up to September 2005 legislative elections, the first since the fall of the Taliban. At the same time, there was an escalation of violence and harassment towards the press throughout the country. A young reporter was killed and a score of others assaulted.

Religious conservatives, who stress the “Islamic” nature of the 2004 Constitution, attempt to silence all critical voices. In this way, editor of the magazine Haqoq-e-Zan (Women’s Rights) Ali Mohaqiq Nasab was sentenced by a court in Kabul to two years in prison after being found guilty of blasphemy at a biased trial after carrying articles condemning archaic practices such as stoning.

The Supreme Court and the Council of the Ulemas, both bastions of conservatism, are the main bodies resisting the emergence of pluralism in news and information. Throughout the year, they have campaigned against cable television, the Internet and women journalists. In March the President of the Supreme Court, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, demanded a ban on TV stations deemed anti-Islamic, particularly the privately-run terrestrial Tolo TV, winner of a 2005 Reporters Without Borders – Fondation de France press freedom award.

For their part, the Taliban, who are very active in the south-east, secretly re-launched The Voice of the Sharia, the sole radio that had been allowed to operate under their regime. Supporters of Mullah Omar and some warlords’ henchmen struck at members of the press. A young reporter was killed in a bomb attack, while the presenter of a religious programme escaped a murder attempt and several offices housing media were blown up.

Although these attacks have not forced the Afghan media to drop its forthright tone, the upsurge in violence has hampered coverage of news, particularly in some regions. Moreover, the jumpiness of the international armed forces, particularly the Americans, has made the job of foreign and Afghan reporters even more difficult.

In a country in which nearly 65 % of the population is illiterate, TV and radio have strategic importance. There are now at least 59 FM radio stations, while the written press has been weakened by constant financial problems. Many publications are financially dependant on political parties, NGOs or religious groups.