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Editorial: Anti-media provisions in the pipeline

The ups and downs that Afghan media has gone through and the progress it has made over the years is noteworthy and something to be proud of.  It’s because media is the only potent force to keep the government and its affairs in check. However, recent reports suggest that the government has set out on amending the Mass Media Law in a bid to curtail the freedom of expression. The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, a watchdog representing Afghan media, confirms the government has recently drafted a new media law that has been approved by the Cabinet and will probably be sent to the parliament to complete the legislative process. The catch with the new provisions in the bill is that it’s said to be more restrictive and ambiguous than the current medial law, as well as draconian and unconstitutional. “In general, in this plan, cases of publishing banned content have increased; the independence of regulatory bodies has been prescribed limited; extensive, restrictive and unnecessary powers have been granted to government oversight bodies; and censorship is imposed before and after publication,” said the committee. At a time when peace seems around the corner and preservation of democratic rules and gains should be the top priority, seeking to find ways to curtail media and silence voices of dissent reflect badly on the government. Media is deemed as the fourth pillar of a state and it’s a force that further contributes to democratization. The Afghan media have paid a high price for defending the right to information and keeping people abreast of news – especially in a high-risk conflict zone like Afghanistan and in the current fight against COVID-19’s infodemic, inter alia. The most disturbing of provisions is the handover of the authority to cancel media licenses over to regulatory bodies instead of courts, in addition to taking away some of the rights and privileges of the media and journalists in the draft law. The irony of the situation is that the Afghan government only recently joined the global campaign for media freedom, pledging to remove legal barriers to freedom of expression and media. But the government is seemingly engaged in duplicity and tokenism, as it continued behind the scenes to create barriers – instead of removing – to media. As it is, the proposed provisions have ignited a flurry of criticism from the media community and this process should continue in unison to compel the government to retract this unreasonable undertaking – which is still in the pipeline – of amending laws to the detriment of media. The independence of the media and the free flow of information in Afghanistan are something that should be extolled and promoted, and not silenced.

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