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UN official: media liberty helps ensure good governance

4 May 2014 – As part of an observance of World Press Freedom Day today, a senior United Nations official in Afghanistan said that journalism provides a platform for informed discussion across a wide range of development issues – from environmental challenges and scientific progress to gender equality, youth engagement and peacebuilding.

“Only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate and criticize policies and actions can good governance exist,” the Director of the Afghanistan office of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Paolo Fontani, added in a message delivered on his behalf to the observance held in the capital, Kabul, today.

World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every year on 3 May in the wake of a proclamation of the UN General Assembly in December 1993, and following a recommendation from the UNESCO General Conference. The focus this year is on three inter-related themes: the media’s importance in development; the safety of journalists and the rule of law; and the sustainability and integrity of journalism.

The Kabul event was organized by an Afghan media watchdog group, Nai- Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan. Those attending included members of parliament, Afghan Government officials, members of civil society and journalists.

In his message, the UNESCO official said that Afghan media workers proved their talent, dedication and hard work by their coverage of the country’s ongoing election period and the campaigns of the presidential candidates in a manner which helped make for informed decision-making by the public, while also putting their own lives in danger.

“Afghans proved that they are not only providing news and coverage but playing a key role in decision-making and development of this country,” said Mr. Fontani.

He also hailed the recent naming of a street in the centre of Kabul - to ‘Freedom of Expression’ by the Ministry of Information, Culture and Kabul Municipality and Nai - as symbolizing “the importance that the government and civil society attribute to free media for the development of a democratic Afghanistan.”

In his comments to the observance, Nai’s director, Sidiqullah Tawhidi, said that increased insecurity has taken a toll on freedom of speech in the country.

Over the past 12 months, he noted, there had been a total of 78 cases of violence against journalists, with 50 of these involving Afghan security forces, eight involving the Taliban, five involving international security forces and 15 involving unidentified people. The 78 cases include six journalists who were killed, four who were wounded and 35 physically assaulted.

Mr. Tawhidi highlighted that the country’s draft ‘Access to Information Law’ was approved by the Afghan Cabinet and is currently in the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of Afghan Parliament for approval, after which it would “hopefully help improve the state of the freedom of expression in the country.”

Over the past decade, the Afghan media sector has faced some highs and lows. During the Taliban regime’s rule, it was restricted to just one radio broadcaster and a limited number of newspaper and magazines. Since 2001, the sector has grown tremendously, with more than 12,000 media workers currently working throughout the country.

The Executive Director of Nai, Mujeeb Khilwatgar, told the gathering that 90 television channels are currently registered with the Ministry of Information and Culture, with more than 50 of them broadcasting, along with 172 radio stations and broadcasters, and around 300 newspapers and magazines currently in print or online.

“The presence of such a huge number of media institutions, hundreds of journalist, tens of educational classes, relevant legislation and the active performance of the media are the biggest achievements during last 13 years in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Khilwatgar.

At the end of today’s event, several Afghan journalists were given awards and certificates by Nai for their reporting on political and social issues.
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