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Afghanistan bans violence coverage during Presidential poll, tells journalists to avoid attack sites

Afghanistan bans violence coverage during Presidential poll, tells journalists to avoid attack sites
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai casts his vote in the presidential election in Kabul August 20, 2009. Streets were mainly quiet and tense early on Thursday as Afghans awoke and headed to the polls for an anxiously awaited presidential election that Taliban fighters have vowed to disrupt with attacks.

The Afghanistan government has imposed a media blackout on election-related violence during Thursday's presidential polls.

Afghanistan's National Security Council released a statement through the Foreign Ministry Tuesday and official spokesmen contacted news bureaus by telephone to discourage reporting on violent incidents from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, according to local and international news reports.

Taliban militant attacks have escalated with the approach of the ballot. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, who is running for a second term, said information about militants targeting voters would have a negative effect on turnout, the reports said. The Interior Ministry issued a second decree the same day that asked journalists to stay away from attack sites, according to Reuters.

"Censoring press coverage on election day goes directly against the spirit of the democratic process Afghanistan is seeking to uphold," said Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "If violence occurs it's the media's job to report it. These orders should be revoked immediately and journalists must be allowed to work freely on polling day."

“Issued by Hamid Karzai’s government on the eve of democratic elections, this ban is very inopportune even if the possibilities of enforcing it are very limited,” Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) said. “It not only violates media freedom but also the fundamental right of Afghan citizens to know what is going on in their country. Worse still, this censorship attempt threatens the entire democratic process and increases the danger that Taliban attacks represent for the population.”

It continued, “Journalists already say they are harassed by the security forces when their try to cover violent incidents, but now we could see journalists being kept away from voting stations because they could be the target of terrorist attacks. This runs counter to the principal of electoral transparency.”

The English translation of the Foreign Ministry's statement—geared toward the international media—was couched as a request, reports said. Yet the Dari original local journalists received "makes clear that it is seriously forbidden to report and publish photographs on violence and to predict that there will be attacks," the Pajhwok Afghan News agency said in a statement posted today on its website. It was unclear how the prohibition would be enforced.

Local journalists widely condemned the directives, according to local and international reports. Taliban spokesmen frequently warn of strikes and claim responsibility for attacks through the media. Yet some commentators fear journalists may exaggerate Taliban assaults to attract viewers, news reports said.

In separate developments, police beat several reporters at the scenes of a suicide bombing on Tuesday and during a confrontation with gunmen in a Kabul bank on Wednesday; at least one photographer's camera was broken, according to international news reports. Reuters said police briefly detained two journalists from Afghanistan's private Tolo TV station on Wednesday.

Date posted: August 20, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 293