World Press Freedom Day: Media for democracy

The relationship between the press and democracy is the main theme of this year’s edition of World Press Freedom Day (3 May).
How can journalism rise above emotional content and fake news during an election? What should be done to counter speeches demeaning journalists? To what extent should electoral regulations be applied to the internet? This year’s World Press Freedom Day, whose theme is “Media for Democracy, Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”, is the occasion to reflect on these current issues.
This year, UNESCO also launched the Defend Journalism Campaign that encourages media to show their solidarity for a free and independent press through the use of banners on their printed publications and digital platforms. This year theme for world day of press freedom is Media for Democracy.
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993, following the recommendation of the 26th session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991. It celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, assesses the state of press freedom throughout the world, defends the media from attacks on their independence, and pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
3 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 unrecognizable 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. Many people worry about the future of freedom of expression and other human rights Afghans have gained over the past 18 years.
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 martyred while covering different incidents across the country.
The international community have supported Afghanistan’s development and institution building over the past 18 years. For them 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 neighboring 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. On 30 April, Journalists in Kabul and in the provinces celebrated first anniversary of attacks that martyred 10 journalists last year while covering a suicide attack incident in PD9. 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. Journalists 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.
After the establishment of the National Unity Government, President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah has made tremendous efforts to remove barriers and restrictions facing Afghan journalists and has taken major steps to support and protect open media in Afghanistan.  President Ghani has signed and put into action the Access to Information Law, approved the regulation to establish private media, ordered to develop the regulation on safety and security of Afghan journalists and private media, and ordered the investigation of cases of murder and mistreatment of Afghan journalists.
In an act to express his and the First Lady’s support to free press and open media in Afghanistan, President Ghani appointed ambassador for protection of freedom of speech and expression.  
The above-mentioned steps and the recent appointment are the major signs and indicators of the Afghan Government efforts to support and protect free press and Afghan journalists.
Open media is an important element of a democratic society and plays a vital role to inform citizens about the government goals on sustainable development and to enable the public to hold their leaders at national and provincial levels accountable for fulfilling the pledges they have made and what they are required to perform as per their jobs and Afghan laws.
In addition, the Afghan government, together with Afghan media outlets works to preserve the achievements and accomplishments made over the past several years including the press freedom.  
Government believes that freedom of expression, including the right to receive and impart information, is an undeniable right of the Afghan people guaranteed by Afghan Constitution and will be fully respected by all Afghan officials in the government.  
It is believed that human rights, democratic societies and sustainable development all depend on the free flow of information, and that the right to information depends on press freedom.
The National Unity Government is determined to support and protect free press, freedom of speech and expression and will make sure all Afghan laws in regard to freedom of speech are enforced and the media professionals to be valued and protected on their duties and in their private lives. 
Meanwhile, 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.
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.
It is not for the international community to lead the way; it is for the Afghan people to decide. Afghan people should make their voices heard and ensure the future of freedom of expression and the media in Afghanistan.
 The Kabul Times

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