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Editorial: Press freedom

May the 3rd, the World Press Freedom Day, is an opportunity to commemorate the sacrifices rendered by the media people and to stand in solidarity with journalists and all those who work to defend a free press in Afghanistan. Fortunately, our country enjoys one of the most vibrant and independent press corps in the region. While Afghans should extol and be rightly proud of the pluralistic and flourishing media that they possess, there are, however, many issues impeding this community. The first and foremost being the lack of proper investigations and prosecutions of all forms of harassment, coercion and violence against media professionals. We have had multiple reports in the past where many cases of crimes against journalists and media workers have gone unnoticed and unaddressed.  Moreover, there are now growing concerns regarding the ongoing peace negotiations with the Taliban because the insurgents are deemed to be a threat to media freedoms and freedom of expression. These alarms have recently intensified after a ‘draft charter’, supposedly associated with the Taliban, for a potential future government went viral. As the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day – Journalism without Fear or Favor – is a call to secure independent journalism, the Afghan press corps has been no less. This day serves as a reminder for the government of its duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression. The enormous contribution of media to open and healthy societies is something that has made media be considered as the fourth and effective pillar of democracy – that is, there is no other force as media to hold the state accountable. Because a free and independent media strengthens democracy, and that such independence is contingent upon ensuring the safety of its practitioners, the government must leave no stone unturned in its efforts to protect this community. This duty should be shared by other segments as well, such as the civil society, in terms of how they must play their parts in defending press freedom. Moreover, preservation of press freedom must also be the most crucial matter for debate in the peace negotiations so that Afghanistan doesn’t lose the strides and gains made over the past two decades vis-à-vis press freedom. Meanwhile, as COVID-19 pandemic and the so-called ‘infodemic’ threatened humanity, the proliferation of harmful health advice and conspiracy theories have been at its peak but lest we forget, it’s the journalists who are battling this misinformation by fact-checking – a holy battle indeed. The Afghans should take a moment and pay tribute to these warriors who brave threats to keep the people informed and the government in check. All in all, the Afghan government should make all-out efforts to safeguard journalists and along with the government, the Afghan masses and civil society should take it upon themselves to deal with those forces – including strongmen, the Taliban or whoever – that menace the media and pose a threat to infringe upon their rights.

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