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New IFJ report assesses press freedom

(IFJ/IFEX) - June 7, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association (AIJA), announce the release of a new report which outlines the challenges for journalists and press freedom in Afghanistan since the lead-up to the country's elections in 2009 and 2010.

The report, Journalism in Times of War: Press Freedom in Afghanistan 2008-2011, was prepared with the support of the European Union (EU) and documents how journalism in Afghanistan continues to be scarred by seemingly endless conflict, despite making rapid strides in a changing environment.

Among the most significant achievements of journalists in Afghanistan is that they have put in place a nascent media rights monitoring network, with the most serious instances of media rights violations reported to a world audience, the report says. This has been accomplished with the invaluable support of the international donor community.

"Journalism in Afghanistan has moved forward significantly over the past decade, compressing into a short period a learning experience that has taken much longer in other countries with less difficult legal and political environments," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"Yet Journalism in Times of War stresses that threats remain in the culture of violence in the country, which could undermine the gains registered so far."

"Media sustainability, too, may not be achieved for long, failing the continuing commitment of the international donor community."

A mapping of media rights violations in Afghanistan since 2008 seems to suggest a decline in the hazards that journalists face. But the decline in physical hazards, though of some consequence, does not yet mean that journalism is able to function in a congenial environment.

Threats from non-state armed groups remain a constant danger. And state agencies are often known to respond adversely to legitimate critical commentary in the media, commonly putting the liberty of journalists at risk.

For all the years since the fall of the Taliban Islamic regime, independent media in Afghanistan expanded and diversified, though without a coherent regulatory framework or governance structure.

Afghanistan's mass media law was formally granted presidential assent in July 2009. Yet there was a delay of two months in publishing the full text of the Act and there have been disagreements ever since on the mode of its implementation.

In this regulatory vacuum, various political interest groups, members of parliament and leaders of non-state militias have begun their own media operations.

Professionalism is also impeded by the incursion of ethnic and partisan calculations into the functioning of the media. Independent media, in the strict sense, have very slender chances of survival because of the lack of advertising support. The many media outlets that have established a credible niche for their professional reporting and content remain dependent on donor agencies. The more partisan media can count on subventions from political groups, though this does little to enhance the credibility of the media as an institution.

Journalism in Times of War is the second report prepared by the IFJ with the AIJA, following publication of Growth Under Adversity, released in 2008.

The Dari and Pashto versions of the report will be available in late June.

To read the English version of the report, click here

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