Taliban’s new guidelines for Afghan Journalists create concerns for press freedom

According to the government media office, they include orders against publishing topics in dispute with Islam or offending national personalities and direct journalists to present news reports.

Worries grow at the developing restrictions the Taliban government has set on the news media in Afghanistan after officials declared a new structure of rules for journalists that critics say open the door for censorship and oppression.

Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi, interim director of the Government Media and Information Center and a Taliban spokesperson, revealed 11 commands for journalists this week. Afghanistan’s once lively media industry has fallen since the Taliban took control last month. Many Afghan journalists left the country, fearing suppression and brutality from the organisation. Dozens more are still hiding and seeking a way out of Afghanistan.

According to local media, more than 100 local media companies and radio stations around the country have ceased functioning, have been shut down, seized by the Taliban, or driven out of business for lack of funding. Some of the most notable publications have had to discontinue print operations and now publish online during the country’s sharp economic downturn.

A US-based press freedom group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, has centred on the emergency response to support Afghan reporters and track brutality against journalists by the Taliban. “Journalists are just frightened,” said Steven Butler to NYT, who runs the organisation’s Asia program. He said the organisation had been getting hundreds of emails from journalists asking for help.

In early September, the Taliban gathered demonstrators and journalists reporting protests against the new government in Kabul, reducing them to abuse in congested jails, according to journalists who witnessed. Photos revealed the backs of two detained journalists covered with wounds and gashes from being beaten with cables, provoking an international objection.

Several Afghan journalists and media workers interviewed by The New York Times earlier this month detailed living with a sense of anxiety and self-censorship while grappling with presenting news despite the Taliban delivering little information.

The new rules declared by the Taliban have done little to soothe the agitation of media members and advocates for journalists. Another press freedom group, Reporters Without Borders, termed the rules “spine-chilling” in a statement on Thursday and cautioned that although some of them, such as calls for honesty and balance, might seem fair, as a whole, the rules were “extremely dangerous because they open the way to censorship and persecution.”

In its statement, the group noted that while some conditions were similar to the contents in Afghanistan’s national media law, the Taliban had abandoned any mention of complying with international criteria and press freedom organisations.

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