“Don’t just report on journalists – help us!”
Journalists in Afghanistan face intimidation, threats and harassment on a daily basis. Media support organisations need to do more to help journalists stay safe.
By Malik Faisal Moonzajer
“Journalists in Afghanistan encounter a number of threats … Media support organisations should be more proactive” (www.schmidtaps.com)
How can news organisations truly protect their staff?
Many media support organisations hope that reporting threats and attacks [on journalists] will help the journalists stay safe. Sometimes this is not enough. Although employees in these outfits work hard, I have spoken to some journalists who are not satisfied with organisations who only look for statistics to post on their websites.
Journalists in Afghanistan encounter a number of threats.
Some report on sensitive issues, particularly those involving tradition and specific cultural values, with the hope that they will ‘get famous’. This idea is ingrained in society. But reporting on sensitive issues can lead to threatening phone calls, being followed and other forms of harassment. Even the journalists who want to report on corruption to bring change rather than fame are at risk.
A number of journalists are not professionally accredited and may not have completed academic journalism courses. This too can lead to threats, if they do not know about journalism ethics or how to write a balanced story. When they face serious problems, some unions can not do anything to protect them. When a journalist is killed, some organisations just shout out in the media and publish a few newsletters, and then the case is forgotten. I know of cases of journalists killed in Afghanistan which are still unsolved.
In every province in Afghanistan, journalists’ unions try to support media workers when they are confronted with problems. But there are some unions who are not trained to deal with attacks deal with attacks. In Takhar, one union fell silent every time a journalist came to them for help. Similar situations have been reported in Jawzjan, Faryab and Mazar-e-Sharif.
I have spoken with a number of journalists who have chosen not to share their problems with these unions for fear that sensitive information will be shared with other organisations indiscriminately. If this information is shared and falls into the wrong hands, we could face higher levels of threats than before and could really be attacked. One BBC reporter refused to share details of an attack with me because he had experienced other media support organisations who had handled his story insensitively.
Organisations that are aimed to support journalists shouldn’t only look for statistics and reports. It seems that many websites contains statistics and information on the number of journalists killed, attacked and threatened. They seem to show the statistics as a kind of success, a thing to look forward to increasing. Instead, these committees should concentrate on other, more proactive ways to solve the problems, and reassure their donors that they are doing their best to protect the journalists.
Many journalists and media managers from Badakhshan, Kunduz, Samangan,Takhar, Faryab, Jawzjan, Sar-e-Pul and Mazar-e-Sharif, said they were satisfied with the work of a number of international journalist support organisations who offer direct, tangible support. Atiqullah Nazary, a manager for Takhar Semay Mehr TV, said he was thankful for the work of an international support organisation who helped him after he had been targeted for uncovering corruption in the Takhar province: microphones and cameras were broken after he’d tried to record the bribery. In a second incident the station manager was threatened by supporters of a member of parliament after broadcasting their agenda on television. After the support and pressure by the group, the governor of the Takhar province apologised and praised the television station. After uncovering the corruption, the local people have shared a number of similar matters with the TV station and the manager says local people have been given hope.
It is advisable for international media support organisations to introduce alternatives for journalists and media outlets to help and support them, because local journalists continue to be at risk. If this happens there might be progress, like the changes brought in Takhar.
Malik Faisal Moonzajer is a coordinator for the Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee (AJSC) and is a chairman of the Afghan Journalists’ Committee. He has worked across the media in Afghanistan since 2003, with media outfits including Anya TV English, Jahan Naw and Bayan Naw newspapers, Radio Rabia Balkhi, International Media Support (IMS) and Journalism in Crisis Coalition (JICC)