Afghan government curtails reporting on insurgent attacks

New York, March 2, 2010—The Afghan government should allow full coverage of terrorist attacks, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today, following reports that intelligence officials had privately issued a ban on live coverage to news outlets on Monday.

Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) spokesman Said Ansari told media managers not to report live from the scene of a terrorist attack anywhere in Afghanistan in a series of individual meetings held Monday, saying the order was for the protection of journalists, local journalists told CPJ by e-mail. Reuters, The Associated Press, and other international media outlets also received the instructions in meetings, according to international reports published today. Ansari said noncompliant media outlets would be subject to unspecified punitive measures, according to AP. 

President Hamid Karzai’s office denied the ban today, AP reported. The agency quoted Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar as saying that government ministries were formulating guidelines, not restrictions, for journalists reporting live from the scene of insurgent violence. Live reports encourage and inform insurgents and leave journalists vulnerable in unstable reporting conditions, Omar told journalists.

“It is for news organizations to determine whether it is safe for their staff to report,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “It is for news organizations to determine whether it is safe for their staff to report. The Afghan authorities should allow reporters to work freely and clarify whether it is considering restrictions on broadcast coverage. ”

Afghan officials have repeatedly tried to control press coverage of anti-government activity, according to CPJ research. Police beat and detained journalists in August 2009, enforcing Foreign and Interior ministry gag orders on news of election violence officials said would discourage voter turnout.

Monday’s meetings followed a series of violent attacks in central Kabul on Friday that killed at least 19 people, according to international media reports. Ansari called in managers from several Afghan media outlets—including the BBC, Tolo, Al-Jazeera, Pajhwok Afghan News, and Waqd News Agency—for what he characterized as a “friendly meeting,” a local journalist who participated told CPJ. The journalist asked not to be identified because they had been ordered not to make the meeting public. 

The NDS issued similar guidelines to reporters in off-the-record meetings in 2006, instructing them how to report on antigovernment attacks. Karzai’s office denied accusations of restricting press freedom, but asked the media to comply with the NDS and “refrain from glorifying terrorism or giving terrorists a platform.”