Journalists killed in 2018
Journalists killed in 2018

Moments after Afghan journalist Samim Faramarz wrapped up his live report on the latest suicide attack in Kabul, a car bomb exploded just metres away, killing him and his cameraman Ramiz Ahmadi.

Their colleagues at Tolo News choked back tears as they reported the deaths live on air ─ cracking open a divisive debate on how Afghan journalists should operate in such a dangerous environment.

The deaths of Faramarz and Ahmadi on September 5 took the number of journalists and media workers killed in Afghanistan this year to 14, making the country the deadliest in the world for the media.

Among the dead were 13 journalists ─ the highest number killed in Afghanistan in a single year since the start of the war.

The losses have devastated the tight-knit community that faces the real prospect of tragedy every time they go to work.

"When we leave our homes we don't know whether we will go back alive," said 1TV reporter Hamid Haidary, who keeps a photo shrine of fallen journalists on a shelf above his desk.

Haidary had gone to the scene of the explosion that killed Faramarz and Ahmadi, but returned to his office minutes before the second bomb detonated.

In the Tolo News office in Kabul, reporters work beside photo tributes to two colleagues killed in a suicide attack in September. ─ AFP
In the Tolo News office in Kabul, reporters work beside photo tributes to two colleagues killed in a suicide attack in September. ─ AFP

"It is already too much for us," agreed Lotfullah Najafizada, director of Tolo, which is Afghanistan's largest private broadcaster.

As security in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, the fear and anxiety is ever-present, he added.

"It is not just about the blast site, it is going to a province, it is coming to the office or being in the office — they all are attached to risks and it is difficult sometimes to minimise all of them to zero."

Sixty journalists and media workers have been killed in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime and enabled independent media to blossom in its wake — an average of around three a year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Afghan media support group NAI gave an even higher toll of 95.

But the departure of NATO combat troops at the end of 2014 marked a turning point, RSF figures show: 39 journalists and media workers — over half of the total — have been killed since then as a resurgent Taliban and the newly emerged Islamic State group terrorise the country.

Media outlets have already scaled back coverage on the battlefield. But until this year, suicide attacks in urban centres remained a staple for newsrooms.

A double bomb attack in the Afghan capital on April 30 changed that.

Nine journalists, including Agence France-Presse chief photographer Shah Marai, were killed in the twin blasts — the most lethal attack on the media since the fall of the Taliban.

Read: Tragedy in Kabul

Less than three months later AFP driver Mohammad Akhtar was killed in another suicide attack on his way to work, followed in September by Faramarz and Ahmadi.

The deaths are forcing outlets to ask themselves hard questions about how they work, especially as the country braces for more violence ahead of parliamentary elections in October.

Whose fault?

Much of the blame for the journalist deaths has been heaped on the Afghan government and its beleaguered security forces for failing to protect them.

But media outlets also have been criticised for repeatedly putting their staff in danger.

"Losing journalists in similar events one after another and not learning from the mistakes is bad management both on the part of the media organisations and the government," said Sayed Ikram Afzali, executive director of Afghan advocacy group Integrity Watch.

Militants make headlines for killing civilians, security forces and first responders, including journalists.

But a total ban on covering suicide attacks "would be disrespecting the fallen", said BBC bureau chief Shoaib Sharifi.

The British broadcaster goes to great lengths to minimise the risks. "We literally evaluate and monitor every step outside the office," he said.

Related: ‘68 journalists, media workers killed in 2017’

For now Afghan broadcaster 1TV, which has had several people killed or wounded in this year's bombings, will continue to go to the scene of suicide attacks, said head of news and current affairs Abdullah Khenjani.

"I think people deserve to know what is happening in their country," he added.

But they no longer rush to be the first at the scene, and wearing flak jackets and helmets is mandatory.

The New York Times' "default position is 'don't go' unless [...] we agree there is some exceptional reason why you should," bureau chief Rod Nordland said.

"In most cases we're saying there is no exceptional reason."

The newspaper instead goes to hospitals or the homes of victims' families to show the human suffering caused by such attacks, as it continues to seek ways of telling the story even without going to the scene.

AFP has adopted a similar policy.

"The risk now of going to a bomb site, of getting hit by a second bomb [...] outweighs the journalistic value in doing that," Nordland said.

Opinion

A state of chaos

A state of chaos

The establishment’s increasingly intrusive role has further diminished the credibility of the political dispensation.

Editorial

Bulldozed bill
Updated 22 May, 2024

Bulldozed bill

Where once the party was championing the people and their voices, it is now devising new means to silence them.
Out of the abyss
22 May, 2024

Out of the abyss

ENFORCED disappearances remain a persistent blight on fundamental human rights in the country. Recent exchanges...
Holding Israel accountable
22 May, 2024

Holding Israel accountable

ALTHOUGH the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor wants arrest warrants to be issued for Israel’s prime...
Iranian tragedy
Updated 21 May, 2024

Iranian tragedy

Due to Iran’s regional and geopolitical influence, the world will be watching the power transition carefully.
Circular debt woes
21 May, 2024

Circular debt woes

THE alleged corruption and ineptitude of the country’s power bureaucracy is proving very costly. New official data...
Reproductive health
21 May, 2024

Reproductive health

IT is naïve to imagine that reproductive healthcare counts in Pakistan, where women from low-income groups and ...