Saturday, June 20, 2009

The US Military's War Against...Journalists?

The LA Times has a disturbing story about the US offensive against journalists in Afghanistan:

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan -- Journalist Qais Azimy and a colleague spent three nights as unwelcome guests at Kabul's fortress-like National Directorate of Security headquarters this week before they were released.

Their crime? Committing journalism, apparently.

Or, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai put it, Azimy, a producer for Al Jazeera, was guilty of reporting "a story in favor of terrorism."

What happened to Azimy and another Al Jazeera producer, Hameedullah Shah, happens often to local reporters who offend top Afghan political and security officials.

The National Directorate of Security told local news media that the two journalists were "a threat to the internal security of the country."

On June 11, Al Jazeera's English-language service broadcast Azimy's report on his visit to the Taliban stronghold of Kunduz in eastern Afghanistan. It showed a Taliban commander boasting that he had hundreds of fighters under his command, along with 12 suicide bombers poised to strike. It also quoted a NATO commander in the region.

The bedrock of a free society is a free press. It's completely understandable that the Afghan government and the US military feel that certain stories will harm their efforts. But it's completely inconsistent with our values for us to be arresting people who are filing stories that may lead people to turn against our policies. Additionally, Al Jazeera is one of the finest reporting outfits not only in Central Asia, but the world. Its daring and bold reporting has raised the ire of just about everyone -- the sign of good journalism. If we're really serious about promoting democracy and human rights, we have to start by respecting organizations like Al Jazeera that want to get all sides of every story and let everyone speak who wants to, not by repressing them.

If we want to win more Afghans to our side, we might want to start by listening to them and by changing our policies if they oppose them, not by imprisoning people who file stories that are not 100% positive of our effort. That sort of behavior is more akin to an autocratic state, not a liberal democracy.