Recent discussions between the Taliban and the Afghan government have sparked fears for the freedom of the Afghan press.
New threat to freedom
The talks represent the changes in the Afghan regime which are expected to follow the withdrawal of international forces in 2014. The Taliban are said to not believe in the freedom of civil society or the freedom of speech, basic human rights expressed in the Afghan Constitution. Supporters of this Constitution are right to be nervous, as the very changes that threaten it, also threaten the ability to report and therefore protect it. The public cannot protest against what they do not know about.
A residual issue
Even before international withdrawal, the press’ struggle for freedom was far from a success. Yet, as internationally-funded media is expected to leave with the troops, even the small progress made seems doomed. Though the Constitution theoretically supports freedom of the press, in reality, it has never been realised. The Constitution represents the fleeting promises of individuals rather than the values to which all officials are committed. What all officials are committed to is an increasingly open question as, particularly in the important political and economic region of Herat, political clashes are rife.
Struggle of journalists
Reporting on these political clashes with any objectivity seems impossible. Without the protection of one of the potential leaders and the necessary bias this carries, a journalist faces the insurmountable problems of funding, arrest, injury and even death. Since 2001, 31 reporters have been killed. 4 of these were in 2011, a year which saw a rise in injury to journalists of 38%. Journalists join this battle armed only with low wages and without job insurance.
Obviously, the journalism produced in such a climate is biased, sensationalist and inaccurate. Corruption and Human Rights violations go unreported. The public remain unaware of the involvement of government officials in the bankruptcy of Kabul Bank, drug smuggling and land seizures. The question of international obligations to Afghanistan is clear. Having offered the public hope of freedom in exchange for occupation and war, the withdrawal of both begs the question. Why were we there in the first place?