Afghan media outlets and journalists on Wednesday again condemned the proposed amendments to the media law by the Afghan government, saying certain circles within the government are working secretly to pass the amendment which would impose restrictions on the freedom of press.
They said that amending the mass media law without consulting Afghan journalist community and media outlets is totally against press freedom and is illegal.
This comes after 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.
Media outlets believe that such an approach at this time--during the possible peace talks with the Taliban-- would have serious repercussions.
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 6 chapters and 59 articles of the mass media law have been approved by the cabinet and are expected to be sent to the parliament for approval. However, some amendments suggested by the government on at least 13 articles of the law have sparked a strong backlash from the Afghan media.
The letter mentions that the proposed amendments are in contravention of the articles 7, 34, 120 and 122 of Afghanistan’s Constitution.
The letter by the Afghan media 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.
“Certain people within Arg (Presidential Palace) took the decision without engaging in necessary consultations about the amendments, in fact this move is aimed to impose restrictions on the press freedom in the country,” said Jawed Farhad, the director of Khurshid TV.
Article 34 of the Afghan constitution says, “freedom of expression shall be inviolate” 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.”
The constitution of Afghanistan states that no law shall, under any circumstances, exclude any case or area from the jurisdiction of the judicial organ as defined in this chapter and submit it to another authority.
But, in the amendment plan, the authority has been given to the government.
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.
“Every action will be illegal unless they reach into a consensus about it with the media outlets,” said Mujib Khalwatgar, the head of NAI (Organization Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan).
The amendments of the mass media law will make the cancellation of the media licenses easy and will put limits on the autonomy of the media outlets and their broadcasting policy.
But the government has insisted that the amendment in the mass media law doesn’t mean imposing restrictions on the media outlets in the country.
“This law is not a final law, it is not fully completed, it has not been finalized and media representatives were present at every single phase of the legal process of the law,” said Mohammad Hedayat, media adviser to Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danish.
Afghan media outlets have urged lawmakers in Afghanistan’s parliament not to approve the proposed amendments in the law.