Afghanistan rowed back on Saturday from a total ban on media broadcasts of disturbing images from insurgent attacks or live pictures of security operations.

The new rules for media were agreed over the past week after an outcry over restrictions imposed on March 1 by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) spy agency that threatened to arrest journalists who film attacks.

The NDS had imposed the ban on international as well as local media, saying the images emboldened the militants and allowed them to gain tactical information. The move outraged Afghan media and rights groups who said the public would be deprived of vital security information.

The president's chief spokesman, Waheed Omer, said the new guidelines, hammered out over three days of meetings between officials and media representatives, would guarantee freedom from censorship while addressing government concerns about safety.

There was a resolution ... which guarantees media freedom, with guarantees that nobody is censored, nobody is kept away from obtaining the information, Omer told a news conference.

In the meantime, some of our concerns have also been addressed.

However, Afghan journalists' groups said they remained suspicious of the motives behind the new guidelines, which they believed could be used to cover up government failings.

We think by this move the government is trying to hide its inabilities and shortcomings in dealing with Taliban attacks, Rahimullah Samandar, head of the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association, said.

The resolution is based on an existing article of Afghan Media Law which bans broadcasting disturbing images of an attack. The law does not define disturbing.

The resolution says media are not allowed to broadcast images of Afghan security forces while an operation is under way, to avoid disclosing operational tactics. There appears to be no ban on filming the security forces, provided the images are not broadcast while the attack is in progress.


Taliban fighters have staged ever bolder attacks over the past year, including commando raids inside the capital and other cities.

Last month, suicide bombers struck hotels and battled police in downtown Kabul for two hours. Sixteen people were killed, including Indian government officials and an Italian diplomat.

Vivid images were broadcast worldwide as fighting continued.

Days later, NDS officials summoned journalists into the spy agency's headquarters to inform them that filming such incidents would be barred. U.S. officials expressed concern over the ban.

Since the hardline-Islamist Taliban was overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, Afghanistan has seen dozens of newspapers and television channels spring up.

The country has fairly relaxed media freedom laws compared to some of its Central Asian and Middle Eastern neighbors but insecurity has made it more dangerous for journalists to work.

Last year, three journalists -- two Afghans and a Canadian -- were killed in Afghanistan, and a British reporter died in January. Several have been kidnapped and many have reported intimidation by both the Taliban and government forces.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Michael Roddy)