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Editorial: Media with clipped wings

On May 3, journalists across the globe commemorate the World Press Freedom Day with the hope that one day their respective governments would hear their voice and pay heed to their problems. They are optimistic that one day their rights will be protected and respected. Rights of media-persons are suppressed even in developed countries. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey are no exception. It is a herculean job for a journalist to get visa of these countries due to several and severe restrictions. Journalists are the casualties of militancy and politics in Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and several other countries. The list of countries where journalists are working in insecure environment is lengthy.

However, journalism is a challenging career in Afghanistan. Writ of the government is weak. Most of state institutions provide information to only favorite media outlets. Likewise, militant groups see newsmen and women as spies. Recent threat of the Taliban to over 18 independent media organizations is a clear indicator that local journalists are facing a difficult situation to carry out their professional duties in the country. Most of the time they hear and read official statements about media freedom but they do not witness change in their work environment.

On Tuesday, the National Unity Government (NUG) leaders promised to take steps to ensure media freedom and protect rights of journalists. However, the local journalists have lost trust over the state machinery because their rights are violated on daily basis. The authorities had imposed unannounced restrictions on media because many spokespersons, in the ministries and provinces, do not provide information when approached by news reporters. It is not less than a challenge even to connect with the spokesmen; though, they would be available on social media.

Similarly, opportunity for embedded journalism is only for those who are in the good books of the authorities. If a media organization criticizes the government for its wrong polices then that outlet cannot avail such opportunities.

The spokesmen and women love to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms but do not interact with local journalists. Unfortunately, even the prominent politicians in the country love to talk to foreign media. The craze for better coverage and television screen has clipped wings of the local media organizations.  As we celebrate the World Press Freedom Day, the government must ensure that rights of Afghan journalists are operating without hindrance and are respected.

Therefore, the government shall direct the spokespersons and chiefs of all state-run departments to facilitate journalists for easy access to public information. If the leaders do not pay heed then the day is not far when the government will find itself in troubled waters to counter propaganda of the armed groups. In this media war, the truth will prevail over the false if the government ensured media freedom and protected rights of journalists.

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