ISOJ panelists present on the state of journalism in Afghanistan, Mexico, Israel and Ghana

Opening the second day of the 25th International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ), four journalists shared the current state of journalism in their countries in the first part of the panel “Global roundup: Lightning presentations about the state of journalism around the world.” They are all fellows of journalism programs based at universities in the U.S.

They were introduced by Dawn Garcia, director of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University.

“We believe that the power of journalism fellowships help reinvent journalism and build a cohort of diverse journalism leaders around the world, and that is so sorely needed,” she said.


Faisal Karimi, JSK fellow at Stanford, opened the panel. He is the founder and director of the Afghanistan Institute for Research and Media Studies, which includes the multimedia platforms  Kaashi Media and the Afghanistan Women’s News Agency, which covers women’s issues in the country. Karimi began by telling how he and other journalists and their families had to leave Afghanistan out of fear for their lives after the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist movement, regained control of the country in 2021 following the U.S. military’s withdrawal.

They rebuilt their newsroom in exile and returned to covering the plight of Afghan women on the ground. The Taliban have imposed a series of restrictions on women, particularly journalists, prohibiting their involvement with international media outlets or those operating in exile, Karimi said. Despite the risks, there are at least 15 women journalists working clandestinely in the country for the agency led by Karimi, covering “women voices and women’s challenges in this critical time,” he said.

With the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan, “the once free and vibrant media landscape collapsed overnight,” Karimi said. Hundreds of journalists had to leave the country and more than half of the news media ended their activities. Almost 400 cases of attacks on journalists have been recorded in the country since 2021.

Due to the control and censorship exercised by the authorities, “there’s no longer free and independent media in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime,” he said. Journalists in the country report clandestinely and among their strategies are the development of secret support and content distribution networks, resilience, adaptability and self-censorship.

Journalism in exile is a new approach for Afghan journalists, Karimi said. He called on international organizations to support Afghan journalists and media in exile and continue working for press freedom and the safety of journalists.

“Journalism in Afghanistan is facing uncertainties and still we have hope for positive change,” he said.


Ángel Nakamura, Mexican multimedia journalist and fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, presented his research project “The dangers of doing journalism in Tamaulipas.” The state is the second deadliest in Mexico for journalists. Between 2000 and 2023: 16 journalists were murdered in Tamaulipas, and 162 throughout Mexico in the same period, he said.

Journalists in Tamaulipas face risks when covering crime, corruption and local stories due to the influence of drug trafficking and organized crime. With a history of violence dating back to the 1930s, with the emergence of the Gulf Cartel, the region has become increasingly dangerous, especially for journalists.

The scenario of threats to professionals includes abductions, beatings and even car bomb attacks against media outlets, which leads to self-censorship and the decline of investigative journalism. Local and national authorities are “often slow” to respond to threats and attacks, Nakamura said.

“They fail to apply best practices to evidence gathering and they appear to prioritize presenting suspects as soon as possible rather than conducting a thorough investigation,” he said.

“Nakamura interviewed 15 journalists in Tamaulipas to find out what strategies they employ to face danger when reporting. They reported self-censorship, self-care and resilience. They resort to press releases from authorities and report only official information for fear of carrying out their own investigations. They also work in collaboration with other media: “if somebody has an exclusive story, he would rather call somebody else from the competition and say ‘hey, do you want to work with me on this, because I don't feel safe enough to do this story [alone],” Nakamura said.

Many media outlets stopped publishing reports on violence and other topics that could be dangerous, and many journalists left the profession. Others abandoned local journalism and started working for national or international media.

“We don't want to leave our state and our city. The narcos should not win and take control of the state,” an editor told Nakamura. “It's going to take a lot of creativity, sacrifice and commitment to keep doing our job.”


Efrat Lachter, Israeli journalist at Channel 12 News and Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan, presented her reading of the current state of journalism in Israel. She has worked as a war correspondent for ten years and, before coming to the U.S., she spent nine months covering popular protests against the judicial reform proposed by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the country's prime minister.

On Oct.7, 2023, Hamas attacked several points in southern Israel, murdered around 1,200 people and took 253 hostages, of which around 130 remain in captivity.

“Israeli media proved to be crucial to the public that day,” Lachter said. “When nothing functioned right; the Army, the police, everything was dysfunctioning, the only thing that was giving people information about what was going on was actually the media.”

Six months later, “Israeli media and society are still on October 7th,” she said. The trauma remains, and today the Israeli media has addressed the hostages that remain with Hamas and the government's failures that led to the attack.

“What you're not going to hear a lot about [in Israeli media] is what's happening in Gaza,” Lachter said. Israeli bombings and attacks on Palestinian territory have already left 33,000 people dead and 75,000 injured, according to the UN. “Some of it has to do with military censorship; a lot of it has to do with self-censorship. People are still so traumatized, it's hard for them to talk about what's happening across our border.”

The fact that journalists can only enter Gaza accompanying the Israeli Army means that there is a lot of propaganda in the coverage. Because of this, people in Israel doubt information coming from the ground, she said.

Lachter said the Israeli attack on a World Central Kitchen (WCK) humanitarian convoy, which killed seven people, caused society in Israel to start asking more questions.

“This week I saw a story [in Israeli media] interviewing people from within Gaza, explaining their situation there, so I hope this trend is changing this situation. Meanwhile, we still have protests in Israel: thousands of people taking the streets against the right-wing government. I don't know if that's something that ever happened in other countries during a war, people saying ‘we have to change our leadership right now’. But this is what's happening today and the journalists are covering that very bravely,” Lachter said.


Manasseh Azure Awuni is founder and editor-in-chief of The Fourth Estate, the Media Foundation for West Africa's investigative journalism project in Ghana, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He spoke of the deterioration of press freedom in his country, which he was forced to leave in 2019 due to death threats he received for his investigations into government corruption.

Evidence of the escalation of attacks on press freedom in Ghana is the country's classification in the world press freedom ranking of the organization Reporters Without Borders. Ghana fell from 30th position in 2021 to 62nd in 2023, the country's lowest position in the rankings to date, Awuni pointed out.

Conditions for journalism in the country have deteriorated because “strong men and women hold sway over weak institutions,” and institutions that should protect journalists end up acting against them, Awuni said.

Police, for example, harass journalists using Ghanaian law that punishes “fake news” but do not deal with people who attack journalists, he said.

“All the times I have been threatened and reported to the police, nothing ever came out as a result,” he said.

Meanwhile, Awuni continues doing his work, now in exile. He said that in recent years his investigations into corruption cases have resulted in the dismissals and arrests of government officials and the cancellation of million-dollar public contracts.

“The powerful in society hate these works, but the people appreciate it. And journalists want to be respected for this kind of work. So why would journalists in Ghana shy away from the kind of journalism they admire? ‘It’s too dangerous’ they often say, and they are right,” he said.

Without journalism that investigates the powerful, democracy in Ghana is likely to deteriorate further, Awuni said. “

“The noose around the neck of press freedom is getting tighter and tighter every passing day,” he said.

Translated by Teresa Mioli
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