At least 20 Afghan media outlets and media-supporting organizations in an open letter to President Ashraf Ghani raised their concerns about the possibility of restrictions on media outlets and on the freedom of speech, as the government has suggested amendments to the mass media law that was enacted in 2006.
The 2006 mass media law has 54 articles.
The new amendments have been approved by the cabinet and the draft is set to be sent to the parliament for ratification.
The letter mentions that the proposed amendments are in contravention of the articles 7, 34, 120 and 122 of Afghanistan’s Constitution.
Article 34 of the constitution says, “freedom of expression shall be inviolable” and “every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with provisions of this constitution.”
It also says that “every Afghan shall have the right, according to provisions of law, to print and publish on subjects without prior submission to state authorities.”
The letter says that the proposed amendments will restrict the independence of monitoring organizations.
The amendments suggest before and after publication censorship, and the letter in protest states that government institutions have provided “unnecessary” and “vast” authority to the government’s monitoring organizations, some advantages and rights of media and journalists have been excluded and the independence of the National TV has been questioned – among other restrictions and amendments.
The letter says the proposed amendments will limit media activities and freedom of expression in the country.
The issues come amid the possibility of imminent peace negotiations between the teams of the Afghan government and the Taliban.
“If this draft is sent to the parliament and if it is passed, it will impose very serious restrictions on media activities,” said Najib Sharifi, head of the Journalists Safety Committee.
The letter also says that many of the amended articles of the mass media law are in contravention of article 19 of the international declaration on human rights that guarantees the freedom of speech without restrictions.
Article 6 of the mass media law says Journalists shall have the right to avoid disclosing their source of information, except when a competent court orders the disclosure. But the amended draft says that the source of information can be disclosed to government institutions such as police, NDS and the Attorney General’s Office.
“Also, the cancellation of the licenses of media outlets has been eased (in the draft),” Sharifi said.
Journalists' rights organizations also questioned the reason behind the government’s decision to propose the amendments to the law.
“It has given the media monitoring role to specific government institution. This can result in autocracy,” said Mujib Khalwatgar, head of Nai, an open media supporting organization.
However, the Ministry of Information and Culture said the government remains committed to safeguarding the freedom of speech.
“Any amendment in the mass media law is shared with heads of media, media unions and heads of newspapers,” said Sabir Mohmand, a spokesman for the ministry.