Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says a list of rules that the Taliban-led government is requiring Afghan journalists to follow opens the way to “censorship and persecution,” adding to growing international concerns about press freedoms in Afghanistan.
RSF warned in a report that the 11 rules to which journalists must comply are, in reality, “extremely dangerous” because they are vaguely worded and liable to be used to persecute journalists.
“Decreed without any consultation with journalists, these new rules are spine chilling because of the coercive use that can be made of them, and they bode ill for the future of journalistic independence and pluralism in Afghanistan,” the Paris-based media freedom watchdog’s Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement on September 22.
The rules “leave room for oppressive interpretation, instead of providing a protective framework allowing journalists, including women, to go back to work in acceptable conditions,” he added.
Since seizing power in mid-August the Taliban has said that media will remain "free and independent," provided journalists work according to "Islamic principles," are fair, and serve "national interests."
The first three rules forbid journalists to broadcast or publish stories that are “contrary to Islam,” “insult national figures,” or violate “privacy.”
But the militants have also told female journalists at state broadcasters to stop coming into work, conducted door-to-door searches for reporters, and made changes to programming.
RSF said “there is no indication as to who determines, or on what basis it is determined, that a comment or a report is contrary to Islam or disrespectful to a national figure,” meaning that these rules can be misused or interpreted arbitrarily, it said.
The watchdog raised similar concerns over three other rules requiring journalists to “not try to distort news content,” “respect journalistic principles,” and “ensure that their reporting is balanced.”
According to RSF, the danger of a return to news control and censorship is enhanced by four other rules.
“Matters that have not been confirmed by officials at the time of broadcasting or publication should be treated with care,” one of them states.
According to another rule, media outlets must “prepare detailed reports in coordination with the GMIC,” without giving information about the nature of such reports.
The rule requiring media outlets to “adhere to the principle of neutrality in what they disseminate” and to “only publish the truth” further exposes journalists to arbitrary reprisals, RSF said.
Afghanistan was ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in the group’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index published in April.