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INTRODUCTION


The People

Afghanistan (officially The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) has a population of 30.4 million of which, 99% are muslim (80% Sunni, 19% Shia) and who are made of several ethic groups namely Pashtun and Tajik groups making up 69% combined.

The two official languages are mostly widely spoken with Afghan Persian/Dari and Pashto, spoken by 50% and 35% of the population, respectively. The average life expectancy is a little over 49 years of age and has the highest infant morality rate in the world with 12.1% of births resulting in an infant death (CIA, 2012).

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Map of Afghanistan with provinces and major townships marked.

Geography

Afghanistan is a landlocked country located in South Asia, it shares borders with China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The land itself is arid to semiarid with plains in the north and southwest but mostly covered in rugged mountain (CIA, 2012).


The History

The history of Afghanistan is colourful and is dotted with wars, coups and plenty of bloodshed. Despite having held two democratic elections since 2004 with the
assistance of Allied forces, including Australia, Afghanistan is still extremely secular and is continually troubled by war and Taliban resurgence.

Since being unified and founded in 1747, the various states of Afghanistan have had twenty flags. It is believed that Afghanistan has had the most flag changes of any country in the 20th century.










20th Century Politics

The current President of Afghanistan is Hamid Karzai, who is the first democratically elected President and was re-elected for a second term in 2009.
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President Hamid Karzai


The modern building blocks of democracy in Afghanistan came after the September 11 attacks on America in 2001 which resulted in the United States and Allied forces to launch the "War on Terror".

In an attempt to capture Al-Qaeda founder and 9/11 'mastermind' Osama Bin Laden, the Allied forces entered Afghanistan with the intent to remove the Taliban-lead government who ruled over Afghanistan since 1996.
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Current Flag of Afghanistan

The Talibans rule ended in 2001, with Hamid Karzai appointed leader of the country at the International Conference on Afghanistan.

Prior to the Taliban years, there were many years of civil war and anarchy following the reclaiming of the nation from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) who invaded and ruled over the nation since 1979.


Pre-20th Century Afghanistan

The Hotaki dynasty was the first independent state of Afghans which was followed by the Durrani Empire just 38 years later. British India invaded Afghanistan in 1838 and lead to a series of Anglo-Afghan Wars.

British influence ceases to exist in 1919 when King Amanullah Khan assumes the throne of Afghanistan. In 1973, a brief democracy was formed after the royal family was overthrown but ultimately failed and resulted in the fall to Soviet Russia and the USSR in 1979.



TYPES OF MEDIA


Media consumption within Afghanistan has evolved considerably over the last decade due to the different media outlets that have been made available for accessing the news. Television, radio, print media, internet and mobile phones are the predominant methods of communication within the country. Over 75 television channels, 175 radio stations and 800 publications can be counted in the country as of September 2010. According to audience participation, the dominant mode of media is the radio, 63% of Afghans listen to the radio on a regular basis; 48% watch TV, slightly more than the number of equipped households; print media is read by only minority of 13% Afghans; only 1.5% households are connected to the internet but this percentage is gradually increasing; and mobile phone usage has reached a major portion of Afghan households with a 61% penetration rate

Television


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Most known and preferred television channels

Afghanistan’s television channels can be classified into six categories: private generalist channels, governmental outlets, language specialists, religious channels, party-backed channels and regional channels. Private generalist channels (Ariana, Tolo, Yak TV, Saba) tend to be the most watched channels due to their large coverage across Afghanistan thanks to their big budgets and commercially driven profitability. Most of these channels are the leaders in investigative journalism and entertainment, adopting a centrist stance in regard to their political tone with no affiliation with any particular party or group. Governmental outlets (e.g.Radio Television Afghanistan, ERTV) endorse programs that aim to strengthen national unity, promote a sense of civic responsibility and instill a sense of optimism. However, because of the dry format and few drama programs, audiences often perceive these channels poorly. The language specialist channels (e.g Shamshad spoken in Pashto, Lemar spoken in Pashto) position themselves to address specific audiences based on a unique languages by translating and dubbing particular programs. Religious channels (e.g Kawsar, Tamaddon, Da’wat) strive to give a good image of political Islam, with a high proportion of female presenters (of course fully respecting Islamic dress codes). Some of these channels also offer an entirely religious television line up with recitations of the Quran, interpretations, sermons, roundtables etc. These channels do not depend on advertising revenue thanks to other financial sources. Party-backed channels (e.g Noor, Negah, Rah-e-farda, Noorin) tend not to offer a lot of coverage about the international community or governmental announcements and although the journalist generally enjoy a certain freedom in their daily work the overall political orientation is obviously in accordance to that of the channels founder. Every major city has at least one regional channel (e.g Sharq, Arezo, Taban, Hewad) which is usually funded by local businessman and sometimes indirectly influenced by political figures. These are much smaller channels that have a low budgets and their programming tends to be limited to local news, interactive news or musical performances/movies.

Radio

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Typologies of radio stations in Afghanistan

Until recently, radio was the only broadcast media available to most Afghans but with the growth of television the number of radio stations has been driven upwards since almost all television channels have an associated radio network. Four categories can be identified for the radio stations in the country. This includes international outlets (e.g. BBC, VOA, Azadi, Sada-e-Azadi) which has the common characteristic of not accepting commercial advertising, instead relying fully on the taxpayers’ money from the respective countries. Interestingly these stations seem to be fostering Afghan culture more than the Afghan stations as they preferably broadcast Afghan music, interviews with Afghan artists and reports on Afghan customs and traditions. Self-sustainable national and regional radio stations (e.g. Arman, Killid, Sharq, Sol-e-Paygham) offer in-depth programs focusing on positive developments and government activities, providing a mix of classical, jazz, reggae and western pop music. Community stations (e.g. Sol-e-Paigham, Sabawoon, Rabia Balkhi) generally employ fewer than 25 staff members that are mostly local journalism students, relying on advertising revenue to cover the monthly operation cost of roughly $3000-$5000. Small-scale stations which exist at the most local of levels, transmitting in FM over a district center or a valley with a typical broadcast range of less than 20km. Many of these are military created, going on air for limited amount of hours and employ approximately five people.




Printed Press

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Preferred newspapers and magazines

Despite an incredible number of publications, outnumbering radio stations and television channels by far, print media plays a limited role in Afghanistan due to the lack of circulation, readership and impact. The over 800 print outlets in Afghanistan are classified into government, private, small party backed and magazines. Government dailies are a historical institution in Afghanistan (e.g. Anis created in1927, Hewad created in 1949,The Kabul times created in 1962) and are published in most provincial centers. They have low circulation numbers publishing issues weekly or monthly and reportedly strive to reflect neutral stance on journalism. Private newspapers (e.g. Mandegar, Hasht Sobh) generally have a limited role as they reach only a small audience and tend be of rather poor quality with only four to eight pages in length. Small, party-backed newspapers (e.g Cheragh, Wesa, Mardom, ) reflect the diversity of organized political tendencies in Afghanistan. Although these newspapers are based mostly on opinion and analysis, they generally follow some guidelines that discourage explicit attacks on particular ethnic groups, religious denominations and oppositional political parties. Magazines (e.g Killad, Morsal) are mainly published by the Killad Group and offer roughly 30-40 pages of articles written in Dari, Pashto and English, covering issues relating to current afghan politics, local and international news, sports and cinema.



Internet and Mobile Phones

Mobile phones have not yet been tapped in to in terms of media devices and are seldom used as a content exchange platform despite their growing number of sales with 61% of households have access to a mobile phone. The percentage of households connected to the internet is still quite low in Afghanistan and in most cases, a domestic internet connection is correlated with the presence of a fixed phone connection. Limited computer literacy is the main factor hindering internet usage and price also becomes an issue for people particularly at internet cafes where there is poor connections. The main websites visited by the small percentage of the population that are internet users are google and yahoo search engines. The BBC’s website is rather popular for its Farsi and Pashto services, including news. www.benawa.com is a Pashto community website popular with a few users in Nangarhar as well.



MEDIA OWNERSHIP IN AFGHANISTAN

Since 2001, as the Western World has fought against the Taliban, there has been an influx of propaganda fighting for freedom for the press and other media as well as for democracy (Afghan Review, 2012). Independent ownership and an expansion of the media platforms began to develop alongside the government-run media outlets. More than 400 new publications had been established through the post-Taliban reform period by 2008, and by 2010 there was more than 220 radio stations and 300 newpapers across the country (Howard, 2008; Freedom House, 2011). By the end of 2011, 75 global television stations were present in Afghanistan, as well as 175 FM radio stations being controlled by a range of owners, including the government, powerful political or military individuals, private owners and foreign sponsors (Page and Siddiqi, 2012). Funding for the media outlets comes from political parties, ethnic groups, the military, international sponsors and foreign government bodies (including Pakistan and Iran) fighting for influence in Afghanistan (Freedom House, 2011). A large portion of the new media is owned by foreign groups, and out of the eight major television networks, Afghanistan National Television is the only that is state-owned (Howard 2008).


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Media Ownership concentration in Afghanistan, WIA


Many television stations are owned by political figures as a way to exert their influence over society (Sahak, 2009). The former president Burhanuddin Rabbani owns Noor TV, the current vice president Karim Khalili owns Negah, senator Hajji Mohammad Mohaqeq owns Farda (Sahak, 2009). Ayna TV is owned by General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and is aired from a privately owned house (Howard, 2008). Dostum was a warlord known for his cruelty in the last 30 years, and uses his control over his television channel to promote his battles and pictures of him fighting the Taliban (Timberlake, 2009). Shamshad TV was established in 2006 by Haji Karim Fazel to prevent the Pashtuns of southern Afghanistan joining the Taliban (Page et al, 2012). It has the economic and ideological support of the government of the United States because it compliments their own personal mission against the Taliban. A foremost Shia cleric controls the channel Tamadon, using it as a means to preach, promote Islamic law and criticise Western nations (Timberlake 2009).

Privately owned television stations are more likely to be critized by religious figures as Sharia law overrules the government law in Afghanistan, and thus if defamation is found the media outlet can be forced to close (Howard, 2008).

The main mobile phone provide for the country, Afghan Wireless Communication Company, is privately owned by Ehsan Bayat, an Afghan-American who opened Afghanistan's second most popular television station, Ariana, in 2005 (Page et al, 2012).


The MOBY Group

The most popular independently-run television station in Afghanistan is Tolo TV, which is owned by the largest media group in Afghanistan, MOBY group, which itself is divided into three sections. The Australian-Afghanistan company (an example of international media partnerships) was created in 2002 with American funding and is completely Afghani owned by the Mohseni family (Timberlake, 2009). Saab Mohseni, one of the directors, claimed the group has no political association (Timberlake, 2009). As one of the largest companies in the country, it currently employs over 700 staff (BBC). More recently, the Moby group began running a satellite channel aimed at Iranians in a joing venture with Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation.

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Tolo TV logo.

The Moby Media Group

Moby Media is the section of the company that operates Tolo TV and also owns Lemar TV, Farsi1 and Arman FM.

The Moby Technology Group

Moby Technology operates technology companies Afghan ITT and 456. The 456 is a person-to-computer message service which is integrated into social service used by Tolo TV.

The Moby People Group

The MOBY Group also owns an advertising agency and an internet cafe chain which come under the banner of the Moby People Group.

State-owned Media

While most media outlets in Afghanistan are privately owned, the five main newspapers in Afghanistan are primarily state-owned (Freedomhouse 2011; Howard, 2008).

The Kabul Times

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A young boy holding The Kabul Times.

Newspaper readership is low due to a literacy rate of only 28.1%, however, The Kabul Times has survived since 1962 and throughout Afghanistan's checkered history. It is well noted that The Kabul Times often spread propaganda during the Communist years after the 1978 coup. In 2002, after the fall of the Taliban government, The Kabul Daily was in daily circulation in Afghanistan (Freedom House)



MEDIA REGULATION AND PRESS FREEDOMS


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Press Freedom Index: Afghanistan in relation to some of its closest neighbours.

The Law and Press Freedom

Freedom of the press and of expression is protected by Article 34 of the constitution and the Mass Media Law (2005) prohibits censorship to ensure citizens can access information except for content that is considered to go against “the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects.”

Dangers to Journalists

While the law protects free speech to some degree, a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (2009) says that kidnapping threats against journalists by the Taliban are the most common and in 2008 two journalists were killed with another 50 threatened.

The government also has strict laws relating to blasphemy and as a result journalists must be careful what they write.

Case Study: Sayed Perwiz Kambaksh

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Kambaksh speaking prior to his appeal.

Student and trainee Journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambaksh was arrested for "blasphemy and distribution of texts defamatory of Islam" in 2007.

In January 2008, Afghanistan's Primary Court sentenced him to death in a case that was not just by western standards; no evidence was given and Sayed was not legally represented. The judge declared that Kambaksh "insulted the prophet Mohammed. He called him a murderer and a womaniser". In October, the Appeals Court

upheld the decision but reduced his sentence to 20 years. (RFE/RL, 2009)

President Karzai had admitted that the case was proving to have negative effect on Afghanistan's international reputation and in August 2009 issued a secret pardon to Kambaksh who was almost immediately flown out of the country (The Independent, 2009).

Reports into Press Freedom

Press Freedom Index

According to the 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index, Afghanistan is currently ranked 150th.

Freedom House Report

According to the Freedom House report is considered "not free".


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Freedom House rankings of press freedom in Afghanistan, 2012




MEDIA CENSORSHIP

Media censorship is the process of editing information that may represent the governing body in a negative light, usually instigated by the government or a media outlet.

Censorship in Afghanistan during the Taliban government was “constant, harsh and violent” (Maier, 2010). Strict laws dictated the media landscape to prevent distracting from the principles of Islam, for example, television was banned under Sharia law in 1996 and all sets were destroyed systematically in 1998. In 2004, the government enforced a law that prohibits censorship, however periodicals must be registered with the Ministry of Information and Culture. Medley (2010) argues the media landscape in Afghanistan is rapidly changing with “much progress over the last nine years” but there is a lack of communication with the Afghan public.

Self-censorship

Journalists are forced to practice self-censorship to abide by social norms in Islam and four media laws approved since March 2002. However, despite censorship by the government and journalists, many international and local media organisations are training Afghanistan people to develop an independent media perspective. The lack of standards in the Afghan media is the result of journalists believing the right to a free press belongs in democratic countries and their fear of retribution.

Medley (2010) said:
“Some will be fair, balanced and accurate; others will struggle due to lack of training or because of biased, controlled programming and self-censorship.”

Internet censorship

Since the construction of the Internet, the Afghan government has attempted to reduce its spread and use. Internet use is high since the fall of the Taliban, rising 25% from 2009-2010. Werman (2010) said, “That’s not bad for a country where few even had electricity ten years ago.” In 2010, new web restrictions blocked websites that conflicted with the values of the Afghan people, those promoting terrorism or violence.

An example of the type of website censored by the Afghan government is Kabul Press. It is the “most read news and discussion website from Afghanistan” and aims to reveal corruption in the Afghan government and the discrepancies of money handling in NGOs. The website operates outside Afghanistan, however it is blocked on the Afghan Internet due to its “honest, factual coverage that promotes criticism and informed discourse…without censorship.”

A low literacy rate means that Internet usage is believed to be used by as little as 4% of the population in 2010. However, despite the low usage the Afghanistan Ministry of Communications still imposes censorship. The Government has taken a stance against websites that “promoted alcohol, gambling and pornography, as well as ones that hosted dating and social networking services.”

Due to many years of war and suppressive Taliban government in the "golden years" of the Internet has meant that the development of networks has been hampered and the internet network is very poor.

Radio censorship

Radio Kabul is the official radio station of Afghanistan, originating in the 1920s and broadcasting on and off until present day. The radio control remains with the government in power, e.g. the Taliban changed the station’s name to Shariat Ghagh in 1996, which translates to ‘Voice of Sharia’. The station was later suspended completely and relauched in November 2001 after Taliban rule had ended.



SOCIAL MEDIA IN AFGHANISTAN

Social media within Afghanistan is increasingly gaining popularity. In recent times, the use of social media through sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been used as a medium to distribute a more reliable and accessible source of information for the general public within Afghanistan. Furthermore, it has also been used by various groups such as the Taliban to promote their ideas and boast about attacks on NATO forces.

Although only about 1.2 million have access to the internet in a population of roughly 30 million, social media use is high within this group. Examining Facebook alone, there are roughly 307,000 Facebook members who regularly log on in Afghanistan. This equates to 30.75% of people with access to internet who frequently visit Facebook.

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The growth of Facebook in Afghanistan within the last 6 months


Twitter has also become a popular medium within Afghanistan, with journalists, activists, politicians and even The Taliban using it to share their views across the country, as well as across the world. As Taliban spokesman Zabihulla Mujahid said: "We know that Twitter is very popular among Westerners and we are using it to pass our message and philosophy to a different audience, including Westerners."
Twitter has become hugely popular within the journalism sector of Afghanistan as a form of providing up to date, reliable information to the public. Even if it does not reach Afghanis, people around the world still have the chance to gain insight into happenings within Afghanistan. One such journalist, Mustafa Kazemi (@combatjourno), uses Twitter to tweet stories live to the world.

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A tweet by Afghan journalist Mustafa Kazemi


Many reporters resort to Twitter due to the lack of 'freedom of press' within Afghanistan. For journalists, censorship can act as a barrier to freedom of speech. Online, there is no need to worry about censorship on sites such as Twitter and Facebook; their message can be delivered worldwide. However, as they are publishing for a potential worldwide audience, many journalists often come under threat for directly mentioning government officials or warlords via social media and often receive life threats.

Activist groups within Afghanistan have also taken to social media as a means to share their views. As Abdul Mujeeb - executive director of Afghan media advocacy group Nai - says: "Social media is a free tool to use to transfer information without the influences of the government, warlords or Talibs." "Where traditional media are weak, that is where social media steps in." Afghan advocacy group Nai has recently launched a campaign to encourage government officials, rights groups and aid organizations to implement and widen the use of social media in order to spread its popularity amongst Afghans. By giving people access to social media, a sense of hope is created that political and social freedoms would be safeguarded, particularly with new laws being introduced allowing the government to further restrict Afghan media corporations.

Free speech activists have created blogs, such as the Association of Afghan Blog Writers (AABW) to help promote blogging and online journalism in Afghanistan. According to their website the AABW are looking to recruit bloggers all over the country in order to bring changes within Afghanistan.

Despite the growing numbers of social media use in Afghanistan, internet access within the general population still proves to be a problem in reaching audiences, with only 1% of the population having access to the internet. However, those who do have access have started campaigns using sites such as Twitter and Facebook to counteract statements provided by NATO and the Taliban in order to provide an accurate insight into life within Afghanistan, no only for Afghans themselves, but for a worldwide audience.



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