Dienstag, 7. Mai 2013

State of the Afghan media

The Doha Center for Media Freedom has looked at the persisting difficulties Afghan media face as the western partly withdrawal of troops approaches. I am putting an extended version here of what they have taken over here. -------- WHAT are the core problems faced by independent media in Afghanistan? Security remains a problem, especially for journalists out of the urban centers, where attacks are numerous especially in the south and south east. Lacking transportation and protection, local correspondents often depend on governmental authorities to drive them out to remote locations for fact checking. Local media regularly face with intimidation by government authorities as well as by regional strongmen or Taliban. Gender remains an obstacle. In the provinces, sometimes there are no female reporters to go and tape a story with females. The further away from the urban centers, the less training opportunities there are for journalists. Most of the money on media is spent in Kabul while the need for independent reporting is particularly huge in remote areas. Kabul allows for women to make their own reporting, but harrassement in this as in other circumstances happens daily and with a growing tendency, as women report who fear a return of the Taliban. Afghan journalists not only complain about intimidation by Taliban but also from governmental side. There have been numerous attempts to censor reporting and in depth research on Taliban and insurgent attacks that address critical questions to state insitutions. As of today, journalist associations still fight for the adoption of a law for the free access to information, allowing them to investigate without fear of being accused of treason or acting against national interests. All theses reasons in a way logically contribute to self censorship, a phenomenon regularly occuring in Afghanistan. National or regional power brokers, more generally called warlords, very much fear the impact of critical media and reporting. In return and with growing impact from 2006 onwards, a number of them have responded by mounting their own media, easily influencing an audience very much oriented to consumer orientated entertainment with serials or game shows. In the absence of real journalistic unions, the existing organisations do not make enough of an impact and tend to work along ethincal lines. The lack of an independent judicary very much impacts on an impression of permanent pressure and threat. Despite these problems, it is fair to call the development of media in Afghanistan a success story over all since 2001. This goes by the sole number of media outlets available. Satellite dishes have become common also beyond Kabul and tv and radio programmes still grow in number, while some editors-in-chief already fear serious repercussions for 2014 with foreign donor money rapidly decreasing. The success story of media is a relative one at the same time. The independent media – still largely dependent on foreign aid – have a difficult stand in the ever more intense battle for the Afghan audience. For instance the first independent national news agency that came into existence after 2001 had to suffer serious cut backs last year and lay off a considerable number of staff, before finding a new financial achnor only recently. Still the agency is unable to live on own revenues. One reason for this is that a major portion of the advertising market now goes to TV and radio stations. With an ever growing number of Afghan households turning to entertaining serials this is where the money lies.  -------- WHAT pressures are they under from pro-government actors and armed groups? Both, pro-government actors and armed groups, fear any revelation of irregularities. This could be an issue of corruption or the use of illegal force in most cases, also human rights abuses as seen on both sides. Recently, a number of independent Afghan media is trying to stand togehter as a free consortium, publishing investigative stories at the same time on the same day, thus creating a public reality and awarness that would protect them from a blame game by the authorities or regional strongmen, making it more difficult to pick on them or intimidate media. It remains to see if this model can make its way, so far also depending on foreign aid money. -----WHAT is the correlation between the number of media outlets and the freedom of the press? The amount of Afghan TV stations growing at a dizzying speed does not automatically stand for a rise in journalistic quality nor is it necessarily a sign of a more vivid civil society, since the tv market does not follow the logic of public independent media. Different stations work with international financial support - ranking from the international military, that succeeds in keeping this an issue not much discussed, to Iran, who exerces a offensive policy towards Afghan journalists at intervals. For some businessmen at a national or local level, owning a media, tv or radio, is an important factor of prestige and power in a society that consumes more and more programmes daily. Top ranking stations like Tolo, Ariana or TV1 look pretty modern and catchy in their presentation, mixing classical international formats, with current news, regular debates that only occasionally get really into being disputed and game shows. Lack of an advertising market in the print sector and the Western military withdrawal will accelerate the economical crisis also in the media sector. We are likely to see a number of printed outlets disappear. Afghan media observers predict that a number of the newly created tv stations might soon disappear, not being able to rival in quality also in the absence of income sources. On the other hand, simple radio phone-in shows allow women to participate in the public sphere. These phone-in programmes can also be seen as a way to signal what is going wrong in the social neighborhood and thus contribute to public awareness on a local scale. As for the so called warlord media, Afghan media seem largely to be left alone with them, the inernational community having turned their eyes away from the media sector. Still Afghan journalists suffer, get kidnapped or die in the exercise of their profession.

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