Afghan backs away from attacks coverage ban

KABUL: The Afghan government has bowed to pressure from news organisations and watered down a blanket ban on live television coverage of militant attacks, a government spokesman said Saturday.

Rather than a total blackout on live broadcasts of violence that regularly blights the capital and other cities, the government has told broadcasters not to show the faces of security personnel or "disturbing" images.

The government issued the ban earlier this month following one of the deadliest attacks in Kabul, which killed 16 people including foreigners in a well-coordinated militant suicide and gun assault on guesthouses.

Officials said live television coverage of attacks could alert militants to police action against their operatives on the ground.

The ban applied to domestic and international news organisations.

Afghanistan's constitution guarantees freedom of speech and domestic critics said the ban amounted to censorship.

The uproar prompted the government to consult with Afghan media representatives, news associations and senior officials, President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omar, told reporters.

The meeting resulted in a resolution "that guarantees media freedom... and it guarantees that nobody is kept away from attaining information," he said.

Under the resolution, a copy of which was seen by AFP, "TV channels should not broadcast disturbing photos of an attack" -- an apparent reference to graphic pictures of the dead or injured.

It also bans broadcasters from showing Afghan security forces responding to a militant attack "while the operation is in progress in order to prevent disclosure of operational tactics".

"Journalists should act professionally while preparing reports which cover terrorist attacks," the resolution says.

As Afghanistan's domestic media become more sophisticated, live television coverage of militant attacks -- which happen in the capital every few weeks -- is starting to match that of the more developed Western media.

During the most recent attack, some Afghan channels broadcast live from on-the-ground reporters and from helicopters hovering above the scene.

Coverage of the 2008 Mumbai attacks by India's many highly-competitive television stations was blamed for alerting the groups orchestrating the incident to the response tactics of the security forces.

Critics say coverage plays a part in encouraging the attacks in the first place, though others say it helps prevent deaths by alerting the public to the danger.