AFGHANISTAN: Not Much Good News for the Media

  • by Ashfaq Yusufzai (peshawar, pakistan)
  • Tuesday, August 31, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

Indeed, even the news gatherers there have been wary about becoming the subject of bad news themselves after the sudden shutdown in July of one of Afghanistan’s private television networks. And while no other news outfit there has suffered a similar fate so far, Afghan journalists say the case of Emroz TV sets a dangerous precedent affecting all of them.

Sediqullah Tawhidi, head of Media Watch/ Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, told IPS in a phone interview that if the Emroz had violated the law, then it should have been dealt with according to law.

'(The) Attorney General’s Office should have undertaken comprehensive investigation, collected sufficient evidence, and then the court should have issued its decision,' he said, speaking from Kabul. 'In that case, we would not have any objection.'

But, he noted, Emroz TV was not even given a chance to defend itself after the Ministry of Culture and Information and the Attorney General closed it before the end of July.

The closure had been ordered Jul. 27 by Afghanistan’s Council of Ministers, as the cabinet is called there. Said Tawhidi: 'The Cabinet played the role of prosecutor, judge and law enforcer, which is not consistent with the Constitution.'

The Council also banned the programmes ‘Del and Nadel’ and ‘Bazi Bakhat’ that were being shown by two other private stations. The programmes, which are discussions on political and other issues, were accused of being 'un-Islamic'. The government, however, has yet to elaborate on the accusation.

The issue against Emroz TV was even less clear, although Deputy Information Minister Jalal Norani has since told IPS: 'To create religious division or to create religious problems is against the constitution of Afghanistan. That is why the Council of Ministers banned the station.''

Reports also quoted President Hamid Karzai as saying that Emroz TV had committed 'national treason'.

'Whoever incites national schism, incites religious schism, incites linguistic schism in our country — to me it is a national treason,' said Karzai, two days after Emroz’s closure. 'I as an Afghan and today as the President understand it is my duty to preserve national unity that Afghans have maintained in the most difficult circumstances, at any cost.'

Without much specifics from the government, however, many media insiders and observers in Afghanistan have assumed that Emroz’s closure was prompted primarily by its consistently anti-Iran and anti-Shiite stance.

The station had been critical of Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili, as well as of leading Shiite scholar Sheikh Asif Mohseni and Mohammad Mohaqiq, a member of Parliament representing the ethnic Hazara minority, for allegedly being Iranian agents.

Emroz owner — and member of parliament -- Najibullah Kabuli has himself led protests against those who are seen to be pro-Iran among Afghan leaders.

'We have been organising protests against the pro-Iran policy of the government from the past two years that ultimately led to closure of our outlet,' Kabuli said recently. He said the Iranian Embassy in Afghanistan had pressured the Karzai government to close his station, but the embassy has denied this.

Kabuli, for his part, has continued to argue: ''I am a member of parliament. I have a political party. I am the son of Kabul, not a terrorist. When the Cabinet was making this arbitrary decision, they should have at least have heard my side of the story.''

The international media monitor Reporters Without Borders, in condemning Emroz’s shutdown and the banning of the two television shows, had also pointed out: 'The government must not under any circumstances violate the media law, which gives the media commission sole decision- making authority when a media (member) commits an offence.'

'We call on the government to rescind these decisions and never interfere in the content of Afghan TV stations again,' it said.

But the organisation observed as well that '(media) backed by different political parties and foreign countries have been waging a news and information war since 1998' in Afghanistan. It cited in particular Emroz, along with another station, as battling it out with Tamadon, 'a station that supports Afghanistan’s Shiite leaders'. Afghanistan has 18 television stations, all of them private.

'The rivalry between the media reflects a battle for influence among the countries that support them, above all Iran and Pakistan,' Reporters Without Borders also said on its website.

Meanwhile, Afghan Independent Journalists Association head Rahimullah Samandar told IPS that the Independent Election Commission had decided that electronic media personnel, especially those from television, would not be allowed to continue working in media if they run seek public office.

While it is unclear if this means Kabuli would not be able to run in the upcoming polls, Samandar said that like Emroz’s closure, the commission’s decision was 'illegal'. He argued that the electoral law names only state employees as being obliged to resign before nominating themselves in presidential or parliamentary polls.

Afghanistan’s labour law also stipulates that the suspension of jobs of those working with private organisations, including media outlets, who nominate themselves for election, is subject to mutual agreement, he said. Thus, Samandar said, no third party such as government or the elections commission should interfere in this matter.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Where next?