Cultural support and female treatment teams, with the support of U.S. special operation forces, work closely together to bring health education to women in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan. Photo: Staff Sgt. Kaily Brown, Media Operations Centre
Although communication rights have improved in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was overthrown in 2001, media are still subject to geopolitical and socio-cultural conditions that set up barriers to freedom of expression, writes Mina Saboor in the in the latest issue of Media Development.
“Reporters sans Frontières’ 2015 World Press Freedom Index ranks Afghanistan #122 out of 180 countries, increasing its rank by 6 from the 2014 results. But, taking into account the political context of the country, freedom of expression in practice has actually been in decline since 2013,” Saboor writes.
Political barriers result from a “unique political structure formed by a president and a chief executive officer of Afghanistan and the continued presence of the Taliban at different levels of power,” she notes. This structure has increased competition among various leaders and factions to influence and gain public support. Influential power holders push their personal political agendas onto media personnel, thus restricting the practice of free, democratic, and protected media in Afghanistan.
In a political environment such as Afghanistan’s, media practitioners must work above and beyond the call of duty in order to fulfill their professional obligations. To understand the political barriers, one must consider four main thresholds for media professionals: manoeuvring through powerful entities in Afghan society, juggling conflicting ideological directions among political and religious leaders, situating their work in obscure legal frameworks and protecting themselves from security threats.
Nai, a media training and advocacy organization also affiliated with the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, reports a 64% increase in violence against journalists in Afghanistan between 2013 and 2014. However, the government is slow to respond to the issue and to ensure the protection of journalists’ rights. “On the one hand this leads to negligence and a culture of crime and impunity for media dictators and on the other to self-censorship among journalists,” Saboor explains.
In addition, despite the Mass Media Law of Afghanistan, enacted in accordance with Article 34 of the Constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant of Human Rights, the tenets and provisions of religious ideology hold sway over state laws.
“The country’s current socio-cultural environment bears no resemblance to earlier times. For instance, in 1921 Kabul published a women’s magazine, Irshad-e Naswan, focusing on violence and other social and political issues related to women. In contrast, today’s cultural and social conservatism contributes to limiting freedom of expression for women and minority groups in Afghanistan,” she writes.
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