Published on 13 Jun 2012 at 10:57
Afghan journalists and freedom of speech advocates warn that the new draft Mass Media Law (MML) introduced by the Ministry of Information and Culture (MoIC) is a step to curb freedom of expression in Afghanistan. They claim that new amendments to the MML unnecessarily burden the media monitoring process with extra controls, which will stifle media as an agent of free speech and information. The MoIC denies such allegations saying that positive amendments to the MML ensure better development of media outlets’ activities.
The MML, composed of 11 chapters and 54 articles, was approved by the Afghan National Assembly in 2009. Recently, the MoIC drafted a new MML and published it in governmental newspapers for nearly two weeks in order to solicit the inputs and views of journalists and other groups. The new draft law is expanded to include 15 chapters and 110 articles.
“Any relevant entity can suggest justifiable amendments in order to better develop or reform laws. But, the MoIC has brought unnecessary changes to the MML,” said Waheedullah Tawhidi, head of Media Watch at Nai Supporting Open Media Organization. “These changes curb the open broadcast of information and offer opportunities to extremist groups in the government [to control media activity].”
Khpulwak Safi, head of Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association (AIJA) says changes brought to the draft MML are not useful. “Compared to the former MML, no positive changes have been brought to the new draft MML,” he said. “However, those provisions of the MML that required modification remain unchanged.”
Delawar Nazirzai, Advisor at the MoIC points to some positive changes in the draft MML. “National Radio Television of Afghanistan (RTA) as well as Bakhtar New Agency (BNA) are no longer controlled by the MoIC,” he said.
But, journalists are not satisfied and criticize the draft amendments. Specifically, they question the formation and authority of the Media High Council (MHC). The new draft MML proposes to establish a MHC to monitor all mass media activities across the country with the authority to develop media policy.
The 13 member MHC would be composed of:
Tawhidi: “When a council is intentionally formed and chaired by government officials to determine policy for media outlets, it will interfere and impose its own ideas.”
- Chairperson from the Minister of Information and Culture
- Deputy Minister of Justice
- Deputy Minister of Information and Technology
- One religious cleric
- Two members from the lower house of the National Assembly
- Two senators from the upper house of the National Assembly
- Representative of the Supreme Court
- Two journalism experts
- Two representatives from civil society organizations
Afghan journalists call the MHC, which is chaired by the Minister of Information and Culture, a ‘governmental council’. They warn that MHC’s intervention in media outlets’ activities deters the free flow of information through media broadcasting.
In addition to the MHC, the draft MML would position the Mass Media Commission (MMC) to make decisions about the activities of media outlets operating across the country.
The MMC was established in 2007 as an advisory commission to assist media development. But, Tawhidi believes that allowing the MMC to introduce media policy, to be applied to all media outlets, is an unnecessary expansion of the Commission’s mandate to intervene in media activities. “Any media outlet determines its policy and program content based on its goals and objectives,” he said. “When a council is intentionally formed and chaired by government officials to determine policy for media outlets, it will interfere and impose its own ideas.”
Under its current structure, the MMC includes two journalists, two representatives from civil society organizations, and a lawyer; as well as an expert in information and technology and one financial expert. The MMC reviews the suggestions and demands made by media outlets and independent journalists before they are sent to the MoIC, which may make regulatory decisions based on these inputs. Also, the Commission gives advice on issuing media licenses and appropriate media content.
Safi: “An astonishing number of government officials are involved in media monitoring activities, including the MHC, MMC and MVIC. This raises concerns that some limitations would be imposed on media outlets’ activities once this new draft MML is passed.”
Based on the provisions of the draft MML, the MMC’s mandate will be expanded to review the financial affairs and reports submitted to the MHC and monitor all mass media activities, including the content of broadcast programs.
The third commission responsible for monitoring media activities is the Media Violation Investigation Commission (MVIC). Many journalists believe that the decisions made by MVIC on media violations have raised concerns that the Commission is not unbiased, but intentionally issues decisions to further restrict freedom of speech.
The MVIC is comprised of nine members, including the Deputy Minister of Information and Culture, as well as representatives from Ministry of Justice, Afghanistan’s Science Academy, Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), academia, Afghan Lawyers Association, Defense Lawyers Association, Journalists Association and Cinema Association.
“An astonishing number of government officials are involved in media monitoring activities, including the MHC, MMC and MVIC. This raises concerns that some limitations would be imposed on media outlets’ activities once this new draft MML is passed,” Safi said.
Article 85, paragraph one of the new draft MML highlights prohibited broadcasting: “All programs against principles of Islam.” Similarly, paragraph six reads: “all programs against national security and national interests are prohibited.”
Journalists argue that these provisions of the MML are ‘vague’ and demand clarification. They believe that the provisions, if approved, will allow for anyone’s loose interpretation of acceptable and unacceptable media content.
“Different interpretations from those provisions would create an opportunity to impose influence on media outlets’ activities,” Safi added. “All provisions on prohibited programs – whether about principles of Islam, security or national interests – are ‘vague’ and need clarification. Anyone can interpret these provisions based on his or her understanding to impose pressure on media outlets.”
According to Safi, the new draft MML must clarify what qualifies as prohibited content. Otherwise, he says if the law is approved, there are too many opportunities for those looking the quell freedom of speech in Afghanistan.
- Peace talks on tap between Taliban, Afghanistan - CBS News
- 4 Americans killed at US base in Afghanistan; Taliban claim responsibility - Fortune
- US, Taliban to meet in Qatar for 'key milestone' toward ending Afghanistan war - NBCNews.com (blog)
- 4 US troops killed at Afghanistan air base - CBS News
- US Military Deaths in Afghanistan - New York Times
- Afghanistan peace talks: no surrender behind the Taliban's white flowers - The Guardian
- Is Peace and Stability Possible in Afghanistan ? - PBS NewsHour
- US to join direct peace talks in Qatar with Taliban over Afghanistan's future - The Guardian
- Taliban agree to peace talks with US over Afghanistan – full statement - The Guardian
- After Gunfire, Politicians in Afghanistan Trade Accusations - New York Times