Dear prime minister and foreign secretary,
We are a coalition of British media organisations who have led the reporting from Afghanistan over the past 20 years, providing the British and international public with vital, in-depth coverage over the course of the United Kingdom’s involvement there. Our reporting has been heavily reliant on the loyalty and commitment of the Afghan journalists, translators and support staff who have worked with us throughout this period. They were committed to the vision, shared by the British government and its Nato allies, of a free media as a vital part of a stable, peaceful democracy.
But today fighting is worsening nationwide and the Kabul government has already lost control of more than half the country. After the withdrawal of the final British and Nato units, there are very real fears of brutal Taliban reprisal against those who worked for British media organisations. In recent years the Taliban have masterminded a campaign of targeted killings against reporters. Prominent victims include Helmand-based reporter Elyas Dayee, who was a vital contributor to much of the UK and international coverage from the province where Britain focused its military effort. He was murdered last year. Pultizer Prize-winning Indian press photographer, Danish Siddiqui, was killed in Afghanistan and his body mutilated in Taliban custody last month.
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. Britain has recognised the vital role of Afghans who served as translators for our armed forces, and the unique dangers they face because of their service, through the creation of a visa programme for them. The Afghans who worked for UK media outlets have also been critical to our national understanding of what British men and women fought for in Afghanistan, and the conduct of our allies in the Afghan government.
The numbers concerned are small, perhaps a few dozen people including family members, yet their work in illuminating the realities of Afghanistan to the British public has carried an exponential impact. There is an urgent need to act quickly, as the threat to their lives is already acute and worsening. 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.
The Biden administration this week recognised the threat to journalists and media staff with US links, giving them access to its refugee programme for Afghans. We hope that a British government committed to democracy, which recognises the important role of a free press, will recall their help in their time of need and vulnerability and offer similar sanctuary.
We note that the November 2020 report of the Independent Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, chaired by Lord Neuberger and set up at the request of the government, recommends a visa programme for journalists at risk in their home state.
Thank you for your consideration in this important matter.
The Daily Express
ITN (independent news provider for ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5)
Mail on Sunday
Reporters Without Borders UK
The Frontline Club
The Sunday Telegraph
The Sun/The Sun on Sunday
The Sunday Mirror
The Sunday Times
Brexit red tape
What a retrograde step Brexit is proving to be. The latest downside being the risk of disruption to supply chains due to the government’s failure to devise a suitable replacement to the EU’s safety standards system (‘Brexit red tape hits UK manufacturing of goods from cars to fridges’, Wednesday).
It’s one calamity after another, Particularly the threat to the unity of the UK with, for example, Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit making it necessary for a customs border in the sea between Ireland and Britain. Altogether it feels like we are – drawing on a Spike Milligan rhyme – being led backwards across the Irish Sea without an end in sight, let alone for Christmas.
I am a great fan of eating cream, crushed meringue and fruit – be that strawberries or raspberries. Nothing could be finer to finish off a summer meal. Can your readers suggest a name for this delightful dessert? I have heard people refer to it as “Eton Mess” but surely no one would name a sweet after the fiasco at No 10?
Learn to lose with dignity
Watching the Olympic Games for the past week I have become aware of the predisposition to cry, and celebrate excessively, throughout the age range of competitors. While not detracting from the great occasion and effort by the competitors I do feel that some have not been mentally conditioned to accept failure in reaching their goal.
Some of the competitors are children so failure is extremely upsetting and it is difficult to stay composed. However, seasoned professionals ought to be conditioned to handle not achieving their goal with more aplomb. While I fully understand that winning is everything in competition, trainers and coaches ought to take care to prepare, especially the younger competitors, to accept failure with dignity and winning with compassion for those they beat.
But nevertheless, the competitors at the 2020 Olympics are a fantastic reflection of what dedication and effort brings when applied to sport.