AT News Report
KABUL: Three May is World Press Freedom Day. This is the day when we celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, defend the media and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Media freedom and the number of media outlets in Afghanistan has seen a remarkable rise over the past 18 years. It is truly one of the undoubted successes of post-2001 Afghanistan. The press is freer here than many other countries in the region and unrecognisable from the days of Taliban rule. Brave Afghan journalists put themselves at risk to report the news and hold the powerful to account. This progress should be celebrated as a source of great strength. Freedom of expression and a free media are the lifeblood of any democracy. We the undersigned are steadfast in our commitment to defending freedom of expression and media freedom in Afghanistan.
Many people worry about the future of freedom of expression and other human rights Afghans have gained over the past 18 years. There is much uncertainty about the future. Journalists are still being threatened, attacked and killed simply for doing their job. Sadly last year Afghanistan was the most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist. Over 15 were killed.
Our countries and organisations have supported Afghanistan’s development and institution building over the past 18 years. For us media freedom is a fundamental part of a functioning democracy. In Afghanistan these rights are new but in a short time the media has grown to be one of the most trusted institutions and an example to neighbouring countries. Successive governments have shown great commitment to press freedom and the legal framework underpinning it is strong. It is clear the Afghan people value the freedom to express themselves, debate the future of their country and make their voices heard.
There is much still to be done however. Along with every civilian casualty in Afghanistan, the death of a journalist is a tragedy. Daesh-KP and the Taliban must be condemned for killing journalists. Just this week we remember the anniversary of the 30 April attacks last year in which 10 journalists lost their lives. Let us be clear, the killing of journalists is an attack on democratic values themselves.
In the face of these risks the dedication of Afghan journalists to informing the public is courageous and humbling. Their role in the future of this country is vital. They question the powerful – holding them to account, expose corruption and encourage transparency and good government. They love their country and are helping to build a strong and stable Afghanistan. Their commitment to this cause is truly inspirational. The sacrifices of those we have lost should not be in vain.
The Afghan government has taken steps to address the safety and protection needs of Afghan journalists; a joint committee with the media monitors cases of violence. We urge the government to do all in its power to protect journalists and ensure there is no impunity for attacks against them. Attacks on journalists by security forces, or militia must also be stamped out and any form of intimidation is unacceptable. Implementation of Afghanistan’s media freedom laws also requires significant and sustained effort -access to information is enshrined in law but not in practice.
Women face huge challenges as journalists, especially outside the main cities – they often face discrimination both for being women and for being journalists. Despite the advances in women’s rights and empowerment, the number of female journalists remains low. We pay tribute to those trailblazing women news anchors and reporters and restate our support for women’s full and meaningful participation in public life and their full enjoyment of all human rights.
Despite these challenges Afghans should be proud of the achievements of their press. Many other countries in the region can learn from the commitment of government and the strength shown to open itself to challenge. The physical and moral courage of Afghan journalists is an example to the world of the importance of the press.
We pledge to support Afghanistan’s journalists and defend press freedom. It is not for the international community to lead the way, it is for the Afghan people to decide. We call on the Afghan people to make their voices heard and ensure the future of freedom of expression and the media in Afghanistan.