On international Day, Afghan journalists, activists call for more security and access to information

3 May 2013

On international Day, Afghan journalists, activists call for more security and access to information

KABUL - In a series of television and radio round-table discussions, organized by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in coordination with local media partners on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day across the country, media experts and officials called for more security for journalists, their increased access to information and job security.

Speaking at one of such round-tables in the capital, Kabul, which was recorded on 30 May, Danish Karokhel, the director of the country’s biggest news wire service ‘Pajhwok Afghan News,’ said, “Afghan journalists are not only facing violence and intimidation, but they are equally concerned about their job security.”

Another speaker, Seddiqullah Tauhidi, the head of a leading Afghan media watchdog called ‘NAI – Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan,’ said although Afghanistan has relatively better legal framework than its neighbours, its lack of implementation is putting the lives of journalists in danger.

While raising the issue of safety of journalists, both speakers said those committing violence against journalists should be brought to justice. Mr. Karokhel claimed that 30 incidents of violence against journalists were committed in last month alone. They also hailed the newly formed journalists federation that can work for the benefit of all journalists and make their voices louder.

According to NAI, 34 journalists including 12 foreigners have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. Many cases are yet to be resolved despite calls from national and international rights groups.

Farzana Wahidy, one of Afghanistan’s few women photographers, shoots New Year's celebrations at the magnificent Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif, in Afghanistan's north. Photo: Fardin Waezi / UNAMA

The World Press Freedom Day (3 May) was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993. The Day is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, assess the state of press freedom throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

The theme of this year's international Day is “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”.

In his message, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this year’s theme highlights the need for action to upholding the right of journalists to carry out their vital work. Over the past decade, more than 600 journalists have been killed – at least 120 in the past year alone, he said adding that hundreds more have been detained.

“The dangers are not only physical: from cyber-attacks to bullying, the powerful are deploying numerous tools to try to stop the media from shedding light on misrule and misdeeds,” said Mr. Ban. “These are individual tragedies; collectively, they are an assault on the right of all people to the truth. I am especially concerned that so many of the perpetrators escape any form of punishment.”

Afghanistan’s budding media industry has seen significant progress in the past 11 years, with over 800 newspapers, 175 radio stations and about 80 television channels.

Although Afghanistan registered significant progress in defending rights of journalists and promoting freedom of the press in 2012, according to the World Press Freedom Index of a global media rights watchdog, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF), violence against journalists in Afghanistan did not disappear completely and “the Government neglected to tackle the issue of impunity.”

Afghan Journalists in the scene of an armed attack in the capital, Kabul, in 18 January 2010. Taliban militants struck the heart of the Afghan government in Kabul, prompting fierce gun battles after a suicide bomber blew himself up near the presidential palace. Photo: Fardin Waezi / UNAMA

Ahead of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, an Afghan journalists union honoured two journalists on 2 May with this year’s Ajmal Naqshbandi Media Award, named after a journalist killed in 2007 by the Taliban in southern Helmand province.

Also speaking in the Kabul round-table, Jala Noorani from the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture said the government was committed to defend rights of journalists. “We always support journalists, we always have conveyed problems of journalists to the concerned ministries and other government departments, and we have worked to develop capacity of journalists,” said Mr. Noorani.

Other speakers including Fahimd Dashty, the Executive Director of Afghan National Journalists Union (ANJU), said the work of journalists should not be controlled by a complaints commission led by the Ministry of Information and Culture. They also urged for an immediate enactment of a media law which is under discussion at various levels.

“Until the mass media law is implemented, coordination between different media outlets, journalists unions and the government will not be strengthened,” said Mr. Dashty.

A parliamentarian, Shenkay Karokhil, and a Kabul University professor, Hashem Esmatulahi, called for greater coordination between Afghan media outlets to defend their rights.

A meat seller in Kabul reading newspaper. Photo: Fardin Waezi / UNAMA

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, UNAMA facilitated eight round-tables and debates where journalists, activists and government officials echoed the concerns raised in the Kabul round-table. Journalists highlighted lack of access to official information while calling for more security.

In western Herat province, Aria Rofian, the provincial director of information and culture, said in view of increasing number incidents targeting journalists, the government is mulling the formation of a committee comprising police and intelligence officials to bring the perpetrators to justice.

A civil society activist and journalist, Nazeer Raha, said journalists should unite to fight for their rights. “If journalists support each other and react to violence against them as a guild, it would reduce the pressure and also persuade the government authorities to work more in support of media,” said Mr. Raha.

Speaking at a round-table in southern Kandahar province, Abdul Sami Ghairatmal of the Nai media support organization said two things could improve the situation of freedom of the press in the province.

A UNAMA-facilitated television debate on on freedom of the press in western Herat province. Photo: Fraidoon Poya / UNAMA

“We still need to go a long way in order to have a sustainable and more professional media environment in Kandahar,” said Mr. Ghairatmal. “The second point is that most media correspondents would like to do good reporting. However, they still face intimidation from the government, anti-government elements and powerful mafia, restricting their progress. If these two points are addressed, I am sure we can further progress in ensuring a most reliable, transparent and sustainable media environment.”

Speaking in a similar round-table in south-eastern Khost province, media expert Amir Shah Kargar said media could play a vital role by being the bridge between the government and the people.

Shabir Ahmad, an independent journalist, alleged that lack of access to information, officials’ “harsh behavior” towards journalists and censorship of news are the major challenges for the Khost-based journalists.

In eastern Kunar province, journalist Maluk Raghun said press freedom is a window to development. Hailing the growth of media in the province, Mr. Raghun, who also served as the director of the local RTA, said, “It is a very clear sign of development, as we had only one radio and TV in the past.” The province now has five radio stations, two television stations, one cable operator and some newspapers and magazines.

A participant of a UNAMA-facilitated round-table on freedom of the press in north-eastern Baghlan province asking a question to panelists. Photo: Shamsuddin Hamedi / UNAMA

Shawali Salarzai of the Wakht News Agency said although the number of media outlets has increased, journalists’ level of professionalism should also increase at the same time. “Unfortunately, many of our journalists are not professional enough. The reporters should know the significance of their work,” said Mr. Salarzai.

Speaking at a round-table in Pul-i-Khumri, the capital of north-eastern Baghlan province, Sher Muhammad Jahesh, the head the Baghlan Tanweer Media Group, said security and lack of effective law enforcement have been the major challenges facing the media in the province.

In central Bamyan and Dai Kundi provinces, speakers highlighted “lack of cooperation” from government departments, insecurity, intimidation and lack of support in capacity building of journalists have been the major challenges.

“The local authorities do not give us importance; they do not give us important and timely information for our reporting,” said Mohammad Raja, the Manager of Radio Dai Kundi.

In Bamyan, Aziz Frahmand, a reporter with Jamhoor News, also said the government departments should help the media get “the right information” to the people.

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