Jan 11, 2014
KABUL: The Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) has registered 84 cases of violence against media freedom during 2013 across the war-torn country, raising serious concerns about the safety of media representatives ahead of April presidential vote and the international troops pullout.
AFJC documented these cases including murder, injuries, physical and verbal abuse, death threats and closure of media outlets from January to December 2013. Government officials and security forces, Taliban and illegal armed groups were among the perpetrators of media violations.
These attacks violate the journalists’ right to life, undermine the public’s right to know and create an environment of self-censorship, especially in insecure southern and eastern provinces.
During this period, two cases of murder, four of injuries, four detentions, one conviction, closure of two radio stations and an armed attack on another, as well as 72 incidents of threats, insult and beatings were reported.
In general, 18cases involved governmental officials, 16 unidentified individuals, 11 National Directorate of Security (intelligence) personnel, 11 Taliban, 9 policemen, 8 security guards, 6 irresponsible gunmen, 4 media outlet owners and 1 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers.
AFJC’s findings show violence against reporters is increasing amid fears that illegal armed groups will intensify attacks on media in future.
Besides the shrinking number of outlets, sabotaging the media law by the Ministry of Information and Culture, unknown status of the draft Access to information law and non-existence of job and health insurance bill are among the serious problems faced by Afghan journalists.
The current Afghan Media Law was passed in 2002 and was revised following an increase in media organizations. It was approved by the Afghan Parliament in 2007. The Media Law was revised for the third time in 2009 and was finally approved and published in 54 articles in the same year.
But since then the Minister of Information and Culture, Saiyed Makhdom Rahin has ignored implementation of the law and due to what he calls the Law isn't proper and needs further discussion, has asked the parliament for amendments on article 42, 43 and 44.
These articles are about creation of Media Commission; its duties and authorities to Review request for establishing new media, monitor the activities of mass media, reviewing of violation against media, budget review and monitoring National Radio TV’s financial, administration and broadcasting are the main duties of the commission.
The law has resent to the parliament to amend it according to the recommendations of the information and culture minister, but no progress has so far been made in this regard.
Fate of law about access to information is unknown and is yet to be sent to the parliament for ratification.
Media representatives had several meetings with government officials and they reached an agreement regarding some of the differences they had. They also sent a draft in this regard to the cabinet, but it is yet to look at the draft and send it to the parliament for approval.
Keeping in mind the upcoming elections, reporters are seriously in need of law to have access to information, and if the government sources keep avoiding sharing information with media people, there is need to punish them.
If the law is not ratified, the journalists will face serious problems ahead of upcoming April poll and withdrawal of international soldiers from Afghanistan. The cabinet has not approved the regulation about employment of journalists, which also covers rights of journalists and their employer.
The media people are being employed without work and health insurances. Owners of media outlets sometimes interfere in professional activities of reporters, which is against the law and they also irresponsibly fire the reporters whenever they want.
According to article 34 of constitution, freedom of expression shall be inviolable. Every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with provisions of the constitution.
Every Afghan shall have the right, according to provisions of law, to print and publish on subjects without prior submission to state authorities.
Directives related to the press, radio, and television as well as publications and other mass media shall be regulated by law.
The article 50 of the constitution insists that the citizens of Afghanistan shall have the right of access to information from state departments in accordance with the provisions of the law. This right shall have no limit except when harming rights of others as well as public security.
Meanwhile, most media outlets in Afghanistan have been reliant on foreign aid, which will be facing financial challenges after 2014 when there is a shortage of international assistance.
While culture of impunity has continued in 2013 and most of the cases had not been investigated seriously, a good development happened at the end of the year and president Hamed Karzai announce that all cases against media outlets referred to the Attorney General Office (AGO),will be closed.
AFJC welcome the decision, but at the same time is deeply concerned about the situation of media outlets, their future and the challenges and threats facing them, calling on the Afghan government to step up efforts to strengthen media organizations, and protect freedom of speech as well as sustaining free media in the country.