Afghan journalists join UN in marking World Press Freedom Day
KABUL – Afghan journalists and media advocates joined UNAMA and UNESCO this week in marking World Press Freedom Day in Kabul, offering a platform to exchange views on the shrinking and restrictive media space in the country and the way forward.
Noting that the Afghan media sector is going through precarious and, arguably, one of the most challenging times in more than two decades, UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and UNAMA deputy head, Mette Knudsen, paid tribute to hard-working journalists for their tenacity and resilience.
“Free media is under attack. News outlets have been shut down. Journalists have lost jobs. Scores have left the country, but many remain, facing an uncertain future,” said Ms. Knudsen. “Those still working with firm commitment and dedication are living under constant fear and intimidation. Women journalists are bearing the most severe burden.”
She assured the Afghan media sector that UNAMA is firmly on the side of free and independent media in Afghanistan.
“Let me assure you that UNAMA and the broader UN family in Afghanistan stand firmly in solidarity with your clarion call for safety, professional independence and a free press,” she said. “I would like to call on the authorities in charge to ensure a conducive environment for journalists to operate and ensure their safety. Special attention and action are required to protect female media workers.”
Ms. Knudsen also called on the international community to expand support to the independent Afghan media.
In a statement read out on the occasion, UNESCO Afghanistan said it is concerned about detention of journalists and increasing restrictions on media freedom, urging all to uphold press freedom and the right of journalists to do their job without fear of arrest or intimidation.
Speaking on behalf of Afghan media community, Tolo News Director Khpalwak Sapai called for urgent support of the UN and wider international community. He also called on the de facto authorities to initiate dialogue with the media community.
“We are suggesting for a new media law because different regulations issued by the de facto authorities can't solve media issues,” he said. “We want the Ministry of Information and Culture to address these issues.”
In a joint video message to the 30 April event, independent UN special rapporteurs Richard Bennett (on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan) and Irene Khan (on freedom of opinion and expression) called on the authorities to recognize and respect a free, pluralistic and independent media, and to comply with Afghan obligations under international human rights instruments relevant to freedom of opinion and expression.
“While the press in general is grappling with the new challenges, the impact has been far worse for women media professionals,” said the UN special rapporteurs, while paying tribute to Afghan journalists for their “bravery, tenacity, and their determination” to continue reporting despite increasing challenges and risks including to their lives and livelihoods.
Marked annually on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom. It is also an occasion to evaluate press freedom globally, to defend the media from attacks on their independence, and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.