Afghanistan calls for media blackout ahead of election…Posted: August 19, 2009
Offical say that reporting of violence would create a climate of fear and keep voters away…
Afghanistan has ordered all journalists not to report incidents of violence during tomorrow’s presidential election amid fears that such coverage will deter people from voting.
Two decrees were issued, one from the foreign ministry banning all broadcasts of information about violence while polls were open, and the other from the interior ministry requiring reporters to keep away from the scene of any attacks.
Although the English version of the foreign ministry’s decree spoke of a “request”, the version in Dari, one of Afghanistan’s official languages, said reporting on violence during the election would be “strictly forbidden”.
“We have taken this decision in the national interest of Afghanistan in order to encourage people and raise their morale to come out and vote,” Siamak Herawi, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, told Reuters.
“This decision will control the negative impact of the media. If something happens, this will prevent them from exaggerating it, so that people will not be frightened to come out and vote.”
It was unclear how the government intended to enforce the ban and Rachel Reid, the Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch, said freedom of expression is enshrined in the Afghan constitution. The head of the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association (AIJA) said the decrees would not stop Afghan and foreign journalists from providing information to the public during the crucial election period.
“It shows the weakness of the government and we condemn such moves to deprive people from accessing news,” Rahimullah Samander said.
Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt the election and authorities fear reports of violence on election day could intimidate those wanting to vote and damage the credibility of any result.
A suicide car bomber killed eight people and wounded more than 50 in Kabul yesterday, one of several attacks countrywide. Dozens of journalists were on the scene within minutes of the blast. The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, has called on Afghans to boycott the vote and one commander has reportedly warned villagers in the south where the Taliban are strongest that voters found with indelible ink would have their fingers cut off.
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said the surge in violence from the Taliban reflected a deliberate campaign to intimidate voters ahead of the election. Clinton told reporters at the state department yesterday that the Taliban hope their attacks will create a climate of fear that will keep people away from the ballot boxes.