Media freedom, access to information debated at UN-backed event in Kandahar

28 Aug 2017

Media freedom, access to information debated at UN-backed event in Kandahar

KANDAHAR - Participants at a UN-backed forum underscored the importance of media freedom and access to information as essential tools that can help foster peace and uphold human rights in Afghanistan’s southern region.

Organized by the Kandahar regional office of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the event brought together journalists from Zabul, Helmand and Kandahar to discuss security, access to information and other pressing issues.

“Access to information and the protection of journalists are challenging areas for media in the south,” said Javed Ahmad Lodin, head of Kandahar’s Media Centre, a nonprofit advocacy group. Mr Lodin noted that journalists are finding it difficult to get access to information as a result of several factors affecting their work, including security threats.

Afghanistan has an Access to Information Law in place, guaranteeing every Afghan citizen the right to access information held by public institutions, including budget allocations and expenditures. But according to Mr Lodin, many citizens and government officials in the southern region are either not aware of the law or aren’t adhering to its precepts. Requests for information from public authorities are difficult and sometimes dangerous undertakings, he explained.

Media watchdogs have tracked and documented how journalists in Afghanistan, including in the southern region, have been targeted with both threats and violence in their pursuit to inform the public. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Afghanistan is among the 10 deadliest countries in the world to be a journalist, with 21 journalists killed in the first half of 2017.

At the event, journalists talked about these issues, with some explaining how they have filed numerous complaints to the provincial governor against those officials they say are continually interfering with their requests and denying them access to the information they seek.

Participants unanimously called for efforts to ensure the free flow of accurate information between government, media and citizens in the interest of building mutual trust, protecting human rights and fostering peace and stability in the restive region.

The event was part of a series of UN-backed meetings and radio broadcasts in Kandahar and Helmand, all of which are designed to raise public awareness about media freedom and access to information.

In 2015, UNESCO adopted a resolution declaring 28 September as the International Day for the Universal Access to Information. Universal access to information is bound up with the right to seek and receive information, which is an integral part of the right to freedom of expression.

UNAMA has been working with media not only in the country’s south, but also in other parts of Afghanistan, to build support for Afghan-led peace and reconciliation efforts. Since 2015, UNAMA has supported journalists’ forums to provide media workers an opportunity to network, share their experiences, and most importantly bring communities together through accurate news and reporting.

UNAMA is mandated to support the Afghan Government and the people of Afghanistan as a political mission that provides 'good offices' among other key services. 'Good offices' are diplomatic steps that the UN takes publicly and in private, drawing on its independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.

UNAMA also promotes coherent development support by the international community; assists the process of peace and reconciliation; monitors and promotes human rights and the protection of civilians in armed conflict; promotes good governance; and encourages regional cooperation.