With three days to go to Afghanistan’s presidential election, Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal to all the local media to reinforce provisions for the protection of their journalists, especially those reporting from provincial polling stations.
The dangers for journalists have increased significantly in recent weeks. The murder of Nils Horner, a Swedish reporter for Sveriges Radio, in broad daylight on 11 March and indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population show that the enemies of media freedom are bent on imposing a climate of terror and sabotaging the democratic process.
Although not targeted, the death of Afghan journalist Sardar Ahmad, anAFP correspondent, has also served as a reminder to Afghan media personnel of the climate of terror the Taliban want to create. Ahmad was killed in a Taliban attack that killed eight people, including his wife and two of his children.
“The fact that these two attacks occurred in places in the capital with a reputation for being safe can only have a dissuasive impact on media preparing to cover the election,” said Réza Moïni, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Iran-Afghanistan desk.
“This violence is partly responsible for the withdrawal of certain foreign election observer missions, making the election’s transparency more dependent on the presence of Afghan and foreign journalists.
“Nonetheless, we remain optimistic. Most of the media stepped up their efforts to provide good coverage of the election campaign and seemed determined to take the necessary preventive measures on 5 April. We reiterate our support for the media and we encourage them to continue prioritizing the safety of their reporters.”
Reporters Without Borders recommends that the Afghan media should in particular:
Remain in permanent contact with reporters or establish a system of regular communication between editors and reporters in the field.
Provide protective gear to the most exposed reporters and to media assistants (drivers, technicians and so on).
Give reporters clear instructions on what to do in the event of attacks or bombings, including staying well back from the site of a bombing to avoid exposing themselves to the possibility of a second, follow-up explosion in the same location.
Reporters Without Borders reminds journalists that:
They should react with the utmost caution to any threat, report or even rumour about an attack.
Information must be passed to their editors but they have the right to withdraw as soon as they find themselves exposed, as they are best placed to evaluate the risks they are facing.
Although their role is crucial for the success of a historic democratic process, their own safety should be their first concern.
Reporters Without Borders recently published a report entitled “Presidential election in Afghanistan: local media on the front line.” It evaluates the current state of freedom of information in Afghanistan, including the uncertainties and dangers to which the local media continue to be exposed, especially in the north.
The fruit of a fact-finding visit in September 2013, the report condemned the impunity for crimes of violence against media personnel and offered recommendations to both the current authorities and future government.
Afghanistan was ranked 128th (out of 180 countries) for the second year running in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.