The Taliban's Directives: Implications for Media Freedom and Access to Information in Afghanistan

September 28, 2023

Kabul- The Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) announced today, on the occasion of the International Day of Access to Information, that the Taliban has issued a series of at least 17 directives over the past two years, which have resulted in severe restrictions on media work and an unprecedented setback in access to information in Afghanistan.

In recognition of the importance of universal access to information, UNESCO passed a resolution on November 17, 2015, designating September 28 as the International Day of Universal Access to Information. This designation highlights the two crucial aspects of universal access to information, both of which should be carefully considered. Firstly, the right to access information must be clearly established by laws, as without proper legal provisions, access will inevitably be limited. Secondly, it is crucial to ensure practical access to information for people, particularly in today's world where new information and communication technologies have significantly enhanced accessibility.

While Afghanistan has acknowledged the right to access information through the passage of the country's information access law in 2019 during the Republican regime, there is a concerning disregard for this law. Since the downfall of the republic in August 2021, the Taliban has issued several  directives which contradicted former media laws, and further advanced proposed amendments to the laws governing Media Law and Access to Information. While these directives were not issued through the standard legal procedures, they undeniably form the basis of the Taliban government's policy towards the media and journalists.

These directives cover a wide array of matters concerning the media, including, but not limited to, the prohibition of women's employment in national radio and television, the banning of news coverage related to demonstrations and civil protests, the imposition of constraints on news preparation, publication, reporting, and content production, the requirement for the Taliban to be referred to as the government of Afghanistan, the prohibition of music publications, the compulsory veiling of female reporters, the ban on the presence of women in theatrical plays and media entertainment programs, the segregation of women and men in the media, prohibiting women from interviewing men and vice versa.

Furthermore, the media faces restrictions in conducting interviews with opponents and critics of the Taliban, banning the broadcasting of international television programs in Afghanistan, prohibiting the airing of commercial announcements with political, security, and social content without coordination from the responsible authorities, prohibiting criticism of Taliban officials, banning the filming and video interviews and, the publication of women's voices in the media(in Helmand province), and banning collaboration with "Exiled Media".

 The implementation of these extensive and often ambiguous guidelines has had profound implications for both the quantity and quality of media work and content production. The severe restrictions on access to information and the increase in self-censorship have been significant consequences of these directives. Moreover, officials of the Taliban rarely grant interviews to the media, and official spokespersons are often inaccessible to reporters or simply refuse to address substantial and probing questions. While these directives prohibit certain actions by journalists and the media, they do not outline the consequences of non-compliance. However, the Afghanistan Journalists Center’s investigation and analysis reveal that journalists who have disregarded these orders have faced threats or imprisonment, and media organizations have been subject to punitive measures, including temporary or permanent bans.

The findings of AFJC regarding these directives and the seriousness with which the Taliban has implemented them suggest that the proposed amendments to media laws are likely to go beyond the "minor changes" previously announced.