Freedom of press threatened, say Afghan activists

KABUL - An amendment on media supervision, voted by the Afghan parliament, has raised concerns over the status of the freedom of the press in the country.

The parliament lower house voted Wednesday in favor of an amendment in the Mass Media Law allowing the minister of information and culture to be the head of the national assembly’s media monitoring committee.

Opposing this move, Nai, an independent organization promoting freedom of the press in Afghanistan voiced its concerns.

"According to international norms regarding freedom of speech, the monitoring institutions should be separate from the governmental influences," Abdul Mujib Khalvatgar, the head of Nai, said in a hurriedly-called press conference in Kabul on Thursday.

Fearing a state monopoly over the flow of information, he added that the countries where the freedom of speech is respected have such monitoring institutions working independently.

"The latest move by the lower house of the parliament goes against the Afghan constitution," he claimed.

He added the Ministry of Information and Culture would never approve of critical and hard-hitting media organizations to work with liberty should its minister get his hands on the powerful media monitoring committee.

Those who voted for the amendment argue that they want the one to chair the committee to eventually be held accountable to the house.

Khalvatgar called on President Ashraf Ghani’s him to abide by his inaugural speech and safeguard this fourth estate in the larger interest of the country. The parliament is off for a month and a half but the president has the authority to nullify the amendments approved by the house.

Independent private media is relatively a new phenomenon in this landlocked country that has been marred by violence for the last four decades.

Thanks to a relative peace and intensive funding, around 300 small, medium and large-size media organizations are currently operating in the country.

According to the Ministry of Information and Culture, some 35 TV stations and 62 radio stations are currently operational in the capital and there are 54 stations and 160 radio channels in other provinces.

This does not come without a cost. Eight journalists were killed in Afghanistan in 2014, making it the deadliest year for the media since 2001, when the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban.

More than 40 journalists have been killed since then, according to Nai.

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency