Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, September 16th, 2021

A Dose of Solution to End the Disputes between Afghan Government and Media Community

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A Dose of Solution to End the Disputes between  Afghan Government and Media Community

Although the dispute between democratic governments and the media community is a normal issue, the disputes between the government and media community of Afghanistan are growing serious. In recent years, Afghan government has repeatedly warned the media community to work within the framework of the law and national interests. In the latest case, the ministry of justice and also the attorney general warned with a serious tone that the media community must not cross the national redline or national interests. They stressed that the freedom of media or abuse from freedom of expression should not pose a threat to the republican system. Earlier, the head of national security had also expressed similar views about the media of the country.  In reaction, the media community blames the government for creating barriers against freedom of information and failing to support freedom of the press. They stress that the freedom of expression and right to access information is an inalienable right of the people without interference of the government.
In order to solve the disputes between the government and media community, there are different issues to be raised. First of all, both sides use interpretable concepts such as national interests, national redline, freedom of information, and freedom of the press when criticizing other side. If we do not specify these concepts, there are always chances of making sophistries between the government and media community and so the dependent media and also for the autocratic elements can intentionally trouble the water to fish in. Hence, we need to specify the problem by raising different legal and technical questions. For example, what are the exact limitations of freedom of expression? Where is freedom of expression not allowed? What information is not allowed for the media community to share?  What role does national security play when limiting freedom of the press? What are the exact national redlines that the government is worried about?
In response to the aforementioned questions, there are no absolute concepts in social science and so every country usually defines these concepts in accordance with their social and political demand. Undoubtedly, everyone must respect the legal redlines and national interests as the government officials recently raised; similarly, everyone must respect the freedom of information and freedom of expression as media community stress but these vast concepts must be defined and specified in law. For instance, when we talk about freedom of information, we need to exactly know what information is allowed and what information is not allowed for the media community to share. Unfortunately, most of these concepts have not been clearly specified in the legal document of Afghanistan. According to Article 50 of the Afghan Constitution, “Right to Know” or “Right of Access to Information” is a fundamental human right for every Afghan citizen but it is not clear what information? If we look at other countries’ law, they did specify it in their legal documents. For example, when we talk about freedom of information in the United States, it is clearly explained in US law that all citizens of the US have the right to access the information except those pieces of information stated in the exceptional list, but there is no exceptional list in our country.
Similarly, when we talk about the concerns of the media community about freedom of the press, we must understand that no absolute freedom of expression exists in the world. Freedom of speech and expression, therefore, is not recognized as absolute rule; the common limitations or boundaries to freedom of speech relate to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, and food labeling. However, these limitations defer from place to place, but the general principle is that that we are not allowed to harm others to get what we want. That is why we are not allowed to use speech for force, fraud, lies, and so on. In conflicts between national interests and freedom of the press, our common sense adjudicates that national security should be superior to freedom of the press. As a whole, there seems no concrete solution how to end the chronic disputes or sophistries between government and community as long as we do not clearly define these interpretable concepts in the ruling law.
In addition to the aforementioned disputes between government and media, the government has been constantly criticized for failing to ensure the security of the media community. Therefore, there are daily pieces of evidence showing the downfall of media freedom in the country with the rising of war and violence in the country. However, the threats against journalists and media workers are not a new issue. In recent years, the Reporters without Borders reported that Afghanistan had been evaluated as one of the deadliest places for journalists in the world. In 2020, they ranked Afghanistan 121st or 122nd place in the world while with recent threats and advances of Taliban the global position of Afghanistan must have extremely dropped in the world.  Therefore, when the government officials talk about national interests, the national interests should require them to ensure the security of media and press freedom in a true sense.
In final, both the government and media community should accurately define their rights and responsibility within the framework of ruing law. The government officials should note that the republic system is meaningless without Freedom of media and freedom of thought. Therefore, the government should review its commitment to support independent media and freedom of expression noting that the right to freedom of speech is one of the basic human rights enshrined in international human rights documents and also national law.  The journalist community should also not forget their responsibilities in regard to professionalism and impartiality on the basis of national interests and convergence culture. Otherwise, media can play a destructive role in promotion of hatred literacy or act as a loudspeaker of the enemies of the country.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail com.

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