IMS’ support for Afghan journalists

IMS is continuing its efforts to support Afghan journalists in the country and to protect free press in the rapidly-changing media landscape.

Before the crisis, Afghanistan had up to 10,000 media workers, many of whom received threats due to their work. IMS has supported a system of safety, including the training and capacity building of journalists, training and logistical agreements in crises with police and military, advocacy work (eg. the Roadmap for Freedom of Expression), access to shelters and legal advice, reallocation within the country and medical support in India. A specific focus has been on ensuring the role of Afghan women media workers. Following the Taliban’s takeover of power, this work has, of course, been seriously disrupted, creating new and difficult challenges. Where once a few hundred journalists were under threat, now a majority of journalists are in some kind of need – their media outlet has closed down and they have lost their income; or they might be working but are forced to do so under pressure and self-censorship; and others are continuously being intimidated or threatened.  

In the imminent period up to the deadline set by the US military of 31 August, IMS and other media development organisations, through the so-called JID (Journalists in Distress) list and common vetting, worked to support the governments who led the evacuations and issued visas. Now the attention has shifted to those left behind. 

IMS’ mandate does not cover visas or asylum

Many journalists have tried or are still trying to leave the country and are in a very difficult situation. IMS’ mandate does not cover evacuations; the processes around visas or seeking asylum are handled by individual countries and some private initiatives. Sadly, and against IMS’ advice, only a few countries have opened their doors for Afghan media workers. For instance, the government of Denmark, where IMS is based, has only accepted a few NGO workers who have worked for Danish organisations, and no journalists.  

IMS is working to protect the gains made over two decades of building up a media sector within Afghanistan and, if possible, support journalistic coverage from outside the country. Our role is to work with media development in the long-term, and during this crisis we have asked for additional funding to cover immediate in-country needs.  

How we have used the funds 

Within the last few weeks, this funding has been used to:  

  • Ensure that shelters in Afghanistan for journalists and human right workers are still running.
  • Cover basic needs and ensure access to in-country support for journalists who are vetted by our partner AJSC (Afghan Journalists Safety Committee). 
  • Providing small payouts of money to media workers in particularly difficult situations, focusing on journalists within the country.  
  • Support key staff and partners in political discussions with donors and the international community, as well starting a dialogue with Taliban in order to – as much as possible – ensure that journalists can still work in Afghanistan.  

Relocations of journalists in Afghanistan

Our main partner, AJSC, has relocated and housed 250 individual journalists since beginning of August from different parts of the country to Kabul, Herat and Mazar, as well as relocated female journalists from different parts of the country, guaranteeing their monthly housing and living expenses.  

Hundreds of requests for support are being vetted, thus the need is exceeding the capacity, especially since many media workers are aiming to be evacuated out of Afghanistan. AJSC investigates actions for their cases – in/out of country relocation, medical relocation, financial support, trauma support – and works with the international community, ranging from media support organisations to universities and international media outlets. Another part of the work is – together with the remaining actors in Afghanistan – to put pressure on the Taliban: eg. after the fall of the previous government, AJSC assisted in securing the release of 10 journalists from the Taliban’s prison and, on a legal front, is also looking into the non-payment of salaries, which is been a problem for many media workers. 

Status of the Afghan media landscape 

The media landscape changed radically after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan. The Taliban have inflicted various sorts of pressure on the media, from physical assaults of journalists to detentions as well as putting psychological pressure on journalists and media. The Taliban announced an 11-article guideline which instructs media outlets on how to adjust their work vis-à-vis the Taliban and the government. This has led to the emergence of extensive self-censorship among media outlets and the undermining of media outlets’ ability to report in an objective manner.  

At the same time, dozens of media outlets have had to close down because of three reasons: 1. Financial collapse of the country after the Taliban takeover. 2. The Taliban’s attitude towards the media. 3. The flight of journalists from the country. This has effectively created an existential threat to media outlets and press freedom on the whole as more media outlets are forced to resort to ceasing their operations. The press freedom landscape could further shrink as the Taliban are consolidating their power in the country.  

Call for international pressure

The international community and international media need to maintain its pressure on the Taliban and demand respect for press freedom and journalists’ safety. The Taliban as yet remain reluctant to take robust and concrete action with regard to protecting press freedom.  

The international media community could also partner with Afghan media outlets in terms of reporting as well as supporting media in exile. There are certain issues that Afghan media outlets in-country cannot report because of safety concerns; they could pass these issues on to the international media. This could be a part of the solution to ensure reporting from Afghanistan while protecting safety of journalists and the media.