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)
Afghanistan's media continue to operate in a fragile setting, although some improvements were seen during the year, particularly in the legal environment for the press. Article 34 of the new constitution, passed in January 2004, provides for freedom of the press and of expression. An amended version of the 2002 Press Law, which was signed by President Hamid Karzai in April, prohibits censorship and recognizes the right of citizens to obtain information from the government. However, it retains broad restrictions on content that is "contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects" and "matters leading to dishonoring and defaming individuals." The legislation also establishes a government-appointed commission with the power to decide if journalists who contravene the law should face court prosecutions or fines.
Journalists continue to be threatened or harassed by government ministers, the intelligence service, militias, and others in positions of power as a result of their reporting. Many practice self-censorship or avoid writing about sensitive issues such as Islam, national unity, or crimes committed by specific warlords. The two employees of the Kabul-based newspaper Aftab who were charged with blasphemy in 2003 fled the country and remain abroad, while the newspaper itself has not resumed publishing. Authorities in Herat temporarily interfered with the operations of an independent women's community radio station in June. In September, U.S. military personnel seized a BBC reporter from his house and took him to Bagram air base, where he was interrogated for 24 hours before being released with an apology.
Although registration requirements remain in place, authorities have granted more than 250 licenses to independent publications, and several dozen private radio stations and eight television stations are now broadcasting. National and local governments continue to own or control several dozen newspapers and almost all of the electronic media, and reporting at these news outlets is generally balanced. Nevertheless, a November 2004 report by the International Crisis Group noted that state-run media outlets covered President Karzai's campaign for the October presidential election more extensively than those of other candidates. Media diversity and freedom is markedly higher in Kabul, and some warlords or political factions do not allow independent media in the areas under their control. However, pressures on journalists in Herat eased considerably following the ouster of Governor Ismail Khan in September. Access to the Internet and to international radio broadcasts, on which many Afghans rely for information, remains largely unrestricted. 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.