Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Although conditions for Afghanistan's media have improved markedly since the fall of the repressive Taliban regime in late 2001, journalists remained subject to a range of legal and political pressures in 2003. A press law adopted in February 2002 guarantees the right to freedom of expression but also contains a number of broadly worded restrictions on licensing and foreign ownership, as well as insult laws that could be subject to abuse. In June 2003, two editors of the Kabul-based newspaper Aftab were arrested briefly and charged with blasphemy, and in July the fatwa (religious edict) department of the Supreme Court recommended that they be sentenced to death; the case was pending at year's end. Authorities have granted more than 200 licenses to private publications and have begun licensing a number of private radio stations and cable television operators. However, cable television services were banned by the conservative chief justice of the Supreme Court in January; they resumed only in April after the government drew up a broadcasting code and a list of authorized stations and permissible content. National and local governments continue to own or control several dozen newspapers and almost all of the electronic media. On the other hand, access to the Internet and to international radio broadcasts, on which many Afghans rely for information, is largely unrestricted. Media diversity remains most pronounced in Kabul, as some regional warlords have refused to allow independent media outlets to operate in the areas under their control. During 2003, a number of journalists were harassed or violently attacked by security services, government ministers, military leaders, and others in positions of power as a result of their reporting. Zahur Afghan, the editor of the Erada daily, received numerous death threats in April after publishing an article that was critical of the education ministry, and another prominent journalist who spoke out against local warlords was attacked and stabbed by an unidentified assailant later that month. In Herat, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was beaten, jailed, and then expelled from the region by security forces loyal to local governor and strongman Ismail Khan. As a result, many journalists practice self-censorship or avoid writing about sensitive issues such as Islam, national unity, or crimes committed by specific warlords. In the country's underdeveloped economic environment, the majority of media outlets remain dependent on the state, political parties, or international donors for financial support.