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“Journalists must be protected”

AT-JALALABAD: While media should continue to play a crucial role in democracy and freedom of expression, Afghan journalists must be protected, participants said in televised discussions following earlier observances of World Press Freedom Day in Nangarhar and Kunar.

During the debates, facilitated by UNAMA’s Jalalabad regional office and hosted by local media outlets Zala TV and Sharq TV, members from the provincial chapters of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee discussed with other guests the links between journalist safety, media freedom and access to information.

The participants in each of the debates called on the government and anti-governmental elements to respect freedom of speech and to protect all journalists, female and male, so they can continue to draw public attention to the issues faced by communities across the country.

“Recent incidents may seriously affect the presence of female journalists across Afghanistan,” said Malala Maiwandi, a newscaster based in Jalalabad, speaking about media being targeted in recent attacks and about the importance of all journalists being protected.

Shirshah Hamdard, a representative from the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee chapter in Jalalabad, brought up the issue of responsible reporting. “It is the responsibility of media to overcome obstacles in producing programmes that are aimed at raising awareness about important issues, such as government transparency and accountability,” he said.

The panellists in Jalalabad and Kunar discussed these and many other challenges faced by journalists in Afghanistan’s east, with insecurity ranking at the top of the list. They together agreed that the best way to form the groundwork for better access to information and increased transparency is to maintain trust among communities, civil society groups and local officials.

“There is no question that a free, uncensored and unhindered press is essential in any society,” said Ataullah Khugyanai, a spokesperson for Nangarhar’s governor. “We are committed to take any step to ensure freedom of speech and to protect journalists.”

In 2014, Afghanistan’s Parliament approved ‘access to information’ legislation, and the President signed it into law that year. The law follows the internationally accepted principle of maximum disclosure of information, with limitations on access to information restricted to situations where disclosure poses legitimate harm to public or private interests.

In Afghanistan’s eastern region, UNAMA has been working to support freedom of speech, and to leverage the power of local media to build support for government transparency and access to information. In the interest of furthering discussion, the Mission’s regional office has been working with local partners to provide platforms for public debate on issues vital to local communities.

The recent TV debates were broadcast in Asadabad and Jalalabad, reaching an audience estimated at one million people living in and around the capital cities. In the four eastern provinces, there are more than 30 independent radio and television outlets.

UNAMA is mandated to support the Afghan government and the people of Afghanistan as a political mission that provides ‘good offices’ among other key services. ‘Good offices’ are diplomatic steps UN takes publicly and in private, drawing on its independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.

UNAMA also promotes coherent development support by the international community; assists the process of peace and reconciliation; monitors and promotes human rights and the protection of civilians in armed conflict; promotes good governance; and encourages regional cooperation.

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