Perspective: Growing threats to Afghan journalists show why press freedom matters

Journalists are our eyes and ears in places the rest of the world can’t —or won’t — go. Sometimes in places that take access, like the White House or professional locker rooms. Other times, in places that take extreme bravery, like war zones.

Since the Taliban started its takeover in Afghanistan, female journalists have, as much as possible, continued their work bringing news to the citizens of Afghanistan and the world.

However, the fate of these women, like every other in the country, remains uncertain. Taliban leaders have said that despite the new regime, women will be allowed to continue their careers and girls will have access to education through college. But according to some reports, they’ve already started to renege on those promises.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that two prominent female anchors have been taken off air since the Taliban overthrew the Afghan government in early August. One was told to stay home while decisions were made about how the station was going to move forward; the other was fired. Another has fled.

As the extremist group infiltrates media organizations, there is no telling what that will mean for employees who have been reporting on what’s happening or citizens relying on these news outlets for information. Business Insider spoke to a number of female journalists who expressed fear for their safety. One even said women in her field had been confined to their homes and threatened with death.

“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of … the press.” – The First Amendment

In the United States, the freedom of the press is protected by the First Amendment. The government can’t threaten our lives when we cover what’s happening in Congress or city hall.

Recent events have showed that keeping journalists safe anywhere is a delicate balance. In recent years, attacks on the media have skyrocketed. A recent report on U.S. press freedom noted that 438 reporters were assaulted while reporting in 2020, 91 percent during racial justice protests. Of those assaults, 80 percent were committed by police officers.

438 | Physical attacks on reporters in 2020

324 | Journalists assaulted by police during 2020 protests

Reporters Committee 2020 Free Press Report

While it is dangerous to be on the frontlines reporting anywhere, American journalists have a lot more protections than our counterparts around the world, thanks to the First Amendment.

Most days, we can show up to work without fear that the government will have taken over our newsroom and removed us from our jobs. We can ask tough questions without fear that police will drag us from our homes in the middle of the night. We can create new outlets, uplift the stories of historically marginalized communities and push back on the status quo without Congress creating laws to censor us.

In our polarized nation, a constant battle over media accuracy, bias and trustworthiness plays out online and in person. But much of that conversation leaves out how lucky we are to have a press that is vast and varied. That without our First Amendment freedom of the press, journalists like me would not be able to serve as watchdogs, holding government and other powerful forces across the globe accountable.

Watching the events unfold is a powerful reminder that our First Amendment freedoms are unique. That working in a field as common as journalism is a death sentence for many around the world. And that our freedom of the press is only protected as long as we all continue to understand its value and defend it.

Tristiaña Hinton is senior content producer for the Freedom Forum. She is also an associate producer at MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM. 

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