Update 6 August:
The UK will offer special visas to Afghans that worked with British media organisations after a cross-industry plea co-ordinated by the Times and the Guardian.
The Afghan relocations and assistance policy will consider on a case-by-case basis people whose lives may be at risk because of their association with UK media organisations.
In a letter seen by Press Gazette, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “We recognise the bravery of Afghan journalists and those that have worked tirelessly to support them in the pursuit of media freedom and the defence of human rights. The vibrant Afghan media is one of the greatest successes in Afghanistan in the last 19 years, and it should be celebrated and protected.
“Your letter highlighted the threat faced by Afghan staff who have worked for your media organisations in Afghanistan, in particular the risk of reprisals they face from the Taliban from their association with the UK.
“We believe that journalists must not face threats, injuries or death from simply doing their job of reporting on the truth.”
Michelle Stanistreet, National Union of Journalists general secretary, said: “The media industry united to press the government to offer a safe haven for journalist refugees who are fleeing for their lives.
“We welcome the Government’s comments made today and wait to see further details of the scheme, which must be implemented as swiftly as possible.”
Original story 4 August:
Boris Johnson has been urged to introduce a special visa programme for Afghans who worked with UK media outlets amid growing fears of a “brutal Taliban reprisal” against them.
A coalition of British media organisations urged the Prime Minister to act quickly and follow in the footsteps of the US as Afghan journalists face “acute and worsening” threats.
The journalist groups estimated the action would affect only a few dozen Afghans, including their families, but said “their work in illuminating the realities of Afghanistan to the British public has carried an exponential impact”.
Some 21 newsbrands from 11 UK-based media organisations co-signed an open letter sent to Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Wednesday.
They said: “If left behind, those Afghan journalists and media employees who have played such a vital role informing the British public by working for British media will be left at the risk of persecution, of physical harm, incarceration, torture, or death.”
Newspapers to have signed the letter include the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Sun, Sun on Sunday, Times and Sunday Times, Financial Times, the Guardian and Observer, the i, and the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.
Other news outlets to have signed include ITN (which produces ITV News, Channel 4 News and 5 News), Sky News, The Independent, The Economist, and Tortoise Media.
The National Union of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the Frontline Club also added their support.
Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddique was killed aged 38 last month while covering a clash between Afghan security forces, with whom he had been embedded for several days, and Taliban fighters near a border crossing with Pakistan.
The Pulitzer Prize winner had been wearing a press vest. His body was reportedly mutilated in Taliban custody.
Last year Afghan journalist Elyas Dayee, who had worked with local and international media, was killed in a car bombing aged 34. The Taliban reportedly boasted of it as an “achievement” on social media.
The open letter to the PM said: “These attacks, and Taliban closure of media outlets in areas they control, have led human rights and press freedom organisations to raise the alarm about the safety of journalists in Afghanistan.
“They list journalists among civilians most at risk of Taliban persecution and attacks for their work to build a better Afghanistan.
“With that in mind, we write to you to highlight the urgent need for a special Afghan visa programme for Afghan staff who have worked for the British media so that they and their families can leave Afghanistan and find safety in the United Kingdom.”
Earlier this week Joe Biden’s administration said the US would welcome thousands of Afghans whose connections with the US put them in danger, including those who worked with US-based media outlets.
A report by the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, chaired by Lord Neuberger and Amal Clooney, said in November that states should introduce an emergency visa for journalists and their immediate families at risk in their home country.
The UK Government previously agreed to provide sanctuary for Afghan translators who worked with the armed forces in what the Daily Mail described as a victory for its Betrayal of the Brave campaign which won Campaign of the Year at the British Journalism Awards in 2018.
“The Afghans who worked for UK media outlets have also been critical to our national understanding of what British men and women fought for Afghanistan, and the conduct of our allies in the Afghan government,” Thursday’s letter said.
At least 93 journalists were killed in Afghanistan between 1990 and the end of 2020, according to figures from the International Federation of Journalists.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating quickly and it is time for the authorities here to step up and offer support and assistance to those who are threatened.”
The Times, which was the main organiser of the letter along with the Guardian, said in a leader that “time is running out” and warned of “immense” damage to Britain’s reputation without action that would make it harder to recruit local help in future.
“These journalists are an essential intermediary in the flow of information,” the newspaper wrote. “Their efforts exemplify the distinction between the evidence-based reporting of western news organisations and the disinformation spread by the propaganda outlets of autocratic states such as Russia, China and Iran.”
The BBC is a notable omission from the letter, which is signed by the UK’s other main news producers ITN and Sky News.
Press Gazette understands the BBC is exploring practical steps that can be put in place to assist staff in Afghanistan but this does not currently include moving them to the UK.
Picture: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis
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