Afghan media cover parliamentary elections despite extensive threats

Against all odds, the second Parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, scheduled to take place on 20 October 2018, and the relentless efforts of the candidates to secure votes have generated tremendous levels of positive energy in the cities.

The streets are filled with posters and billboards of the candidates, most of whom are youngsters, who have entered the race with the slogan “CHANGE”. Vehicles covered with colourful posters of candidates and large Afghan flags roam around the city playing loud patriotic music.

“We consider elections a celebration in Afghanistan. It is a moment to celebrate success in democracy and for Afghans to feel that the country is taking a step forward, and the media is playing a great role in injecting positive energy and oversight to the process,” says Lotfullah Najafizadah, Director of the largest news outlet in Afghanistan, Tolo News, which began their electoral coverage six months ago.

Local media play decisive role

Photo: Farooq Mangal

Despite the positive vibes, the elections, which is the third round of democratic exercise for the nascent democracy in Afghanistan, come against the backdrop of extensive insecurity as the Taliban has vowed to attack election facilities and election workers.

“The international media are not really represented in Afghanistan during the elections; it is too dangerous and therefore also very expensive to send correspondents to the warzone. Instead, they rely heavily on the local journalists,” says Susanna Inkinen, in charge of International Media Support’s Afghanistan programme.

Local journalists and media workers are very aware of the key role they play in covering the elections and work day and night to cover the process of electing representatives for the lower house of parliament.

Media outlets have dedicated a large amount of their airtime to monitor events related to the elections, introduce candidates and their agendas to the Afghan voters, and raise public awareness about the importance of participation.

Ahmad Lodeen, a Kandahar-based journalist, who works with the local newspaper Afghanistan Today, says:

“We have to cover elections very diligently because people trust media more than any other source. Now it is up to us to raise awareness of the public’s role and their responsibility to vote and convince them that it is not a fake process. It is us who can encourage them to get out and vote on the election day.”

Keeping the media safe

But covering elections in Afghanistan is neither easy nor safe. Media are directly targeted by terrorist organisations, with 2017 being the bloodiest year for Afghan media since monitoring began in 2010 with 20 murdered journalists. The prospects for 2018 are also grim with 14 journalists killed so far.

To support a more safe and professional working approach during the elections, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), established in 2009, has acted on several levels.

Photo: Homayon Nazari

Prior to the election period, AJSC has been training journalists in safety, risk management and election reporting. In addition to a media alert service, where the Committee shares updates and alerts on security issues in various groups on different social media, the Committee has also set up a monitoring unit to observe and collect data on journalists’ safety and the government’s cooperation with the media in terms of e.g. providing information. The unit is ready to act immediately to keep journalists safe and promote access to information.

“Media coverage is essential for the success of these elections, as it is the media that can promote transparency and inform the public of the manner in which the elections are conducted,” says Director of the AJSC, Najib Sharifi.

Additionally, the AJSC has provided some media outlets with body armour and helmets allowing for the reporters to be present at the polling stations, which are areas of severe threats from terrorist organisations.

“The passionate and brave coverage of elections by the journalists despite serious threats deserves applause,” says Sharifi. “Remembering all of the losses the media community has endured in the past couple of years, Afghan journalists have not shied away from proactively covering the process and at times traveling to very remote areas to inform the public,” he adds.

Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC)
The AJSC is a locally managed organisation established by International Media Support (IMS) to assist journalists in danger and support families of victimised journalists. The AJSC is the first of its kind established in Afghanistan with its inclusion of press unions, media representatives and civil society organisations. The committee is in charge of a 24-hour hotline, a safety support emergency fund and advocacy work on safety in all 34 provinces.
In connection with the Parliamentary elections, AJSC has furthermore conducted a nation-wide survey to determine the safety vulnerability of media outlets and identify the safety related needs of the media. The assessment has made an important contribution towards enhancing safety of the media and journalists during the Parliamentary elections and the Presidential elections, which is set to take place in April 2019.

Learn more about IMS’ work in Afghanistan.