The government of Afghanistan has called off amendments to the country’s media law that will compel journalists to divulge their sources after an outcry by the Afghan press.
Media practitioners in the country are alarmed over amendments of the law that would force them to reveal sources to the government without a court order.
Highlighting that the country enjoys a “free and vibrant media,” a presidential spokesperson confirmed that “the government started a consultation process with all media outlets for any possible future amendments.”
The cabinet’s initial approval of the changes to media law has troubled journalists, who fear press freedom could be under threat in the war-torn country.
Afghan media and the government are due to resume talks in the coming weeks to see if further amendments are necessary.
“Afghanistan has the freest media in the entire region, while being the deadliest country for journalists globally. Such an achievement is hard-won and deserves recognition and support, not a systematic condemnation,” said Lotfullah Najafizada, the director at Tolo News, Afghanistan’s top news channel when speaking to the Guardian, adding that “any setback is a self-inflicted wound”.
“There are many forces in Afghanistan and outside who wish to curb free media and access to information in our country, but we certainly did not expect the government to be a frontrunner in this league,” he said.
Afghanistan has enjoyed significant press freedom since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, with no journalists imprisoned. While militant attacks routinely pose a permanent threat to journalists, the government has supported the media sector.
Freedom of expression and the open access to information has transformed the country.
According to Reporters Without Borders, 2018 remains the deadliest year for Afghan media since 2001, with a total of 15 journalists killed. Reporters continue to risk their lives on a daily basis, covering the decade-old conflict.
While worried, journalists have welcomed the government’s suggestion for direct talks.
“Giving media a voice in the process of reforming the law is a positive development,” said Ruth Kronenburg, the director of Free Press Unlimited. “Source protection is essential for independent journalism and the safety of journalists should be included in this law as well.”
With the signing of an agreement towards peace between the US and the Taliban in February, large-scale withdrawal of US forces and prospects of direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, concerns are rising that press freedom could be sacrificed as the country seeks an end to the war and that this could see the Taliban enter the government.
“We need to protect and enrich our democratic values and laws, not to weaken them at a time that gains such as press freedom are at many bargaining tables,” said Najafizada. (Source: The Guardian)