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The Killid Group
Afghan media overlookedWritten by Farkhuloqa Sultani and Gulkohi
Saturday, 05 February 2011 15:42
Why news and information about Afghanistan often first appear in the main stream western media and then get translated by the Afghan media? Why the President has never accepted the request of an exclusive interview by an Afghan media but only that of main stream international one? Our interviewees provide answers.
Some think this happens because senior government officials prefer to be quoted in some prominent international media outlets because they care more about U.S. and NATO governments and western public opinion than the Afghan public.
Non-government media organizations are particularly overlooked by officials while the government media only receives ceremonial statements claim others.
President Hamid Karzai is a good example. He regularly appears on BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera on live and pre-recorded shows but has hardly appeared in a local TV program exclusively. The Killid Group is among those Afghan media houses which has repeatedly requested for an interview with the president but to no avail.
Several ministers, meanwhile, like to talk and share first-hand information with foreign journalists but hardly allow local reporters into their offices.
In the absence of information or access to sources of information, the local media heavily relies on rumors and unsubstantiated information which not only infuriates the government but also spread misinformation among the public. This, in return, creates critical information gaps between the government and the people.
Afghanistan's media law ensures access to information for all and without prejudice and discrimination. Article four states: "Everyone is entitled to have the freedom of expression and thought. Receipt and transfer of information, without undue intervention or limitation imposed by government officials, are part of this right…"
The media law, however, does not force government officials to deliver information to journalists and reporters. When journalists seek to access information - where officials have to provide information - the implementation of the law becomes problematic.
Seddiqullah Tawhidi, former Editor-in-chief of the official Bakhtar News Agency, now a media watchdog officer with a non-governmental organization in Kabul, suggests amendments to be made in the existing media law. "It must be revised and some penal provisions -particularly regarding the obligatory provision of information by the government to the media- must be included and approved by the parliament. When the law requires government officials to provide and deliver information then they cannot simply bash away journalists," he said.
Discrimination or ignorance?
Some journalists say the preference of senior government officials on sharing information with western journalists demonstrates a lack of confidence in the local media. "They do not care about local journalists and treat them as if they are less professional or less worthy than foreign journalists," said Ahmad Shoaib, a reporter for the Daily Cheragh. He said if government officials shared first-hand information with local journalists and thereby helped imparting the information to Afghans quickly, the credibility of the domestic media could be enhanced significantly.
"When officials trust the local media and provide them with the necessary information and access, Afghan journalists will be encouraged and enabled to promote their professionalism and gradually this will lead to a fair competition between Afghan and western journalists," said Rahim Sarchashmaye, head of newsroom at the weekly Iqtedar-e-Milli.
However, some government officials reject the criticisms and say domestic media organizations lack the necessary professional capacity and resources to compete with the international media.
"Although the numbers of media ventures have hiked over the past nine years, the quality has remained low," Mubarez Rashidi, deputy minister of Information and Culture, told Killid.
Mr. Rashidi's argument is not acceptable to journalists. "It's all about personal interests and politics," said Farida Nekzad, director of the Wakht News Agency in Kabul. "First-hand news is often shared through personal links and dealings."
Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, the finance minister, conceded that some government officials prefer ed to talk to western journalists than to locals. "Our people should be more important to us and they should be informed first and foremost about the situation in our country and this will not happen without the help of the domestic media," Zakhilwal told Killid.
Whilst restrictions for Afghan journalists on accessing information from the government are across the country, journalists in the provinces say they are particularly overlooked.
"Some powerful officials even force the media to impart misinformation and impede the disclosure of genuine information," said Gul Rahma Hamdard, a journalist in the northern Balkh Province. "This has seriously damaged the credibility of the local media," he added.
Another reason cited by some journalists is that some officials may conceal information from the local media in order to camouflage their failures. Afghan journalists are more exposed to local realities than foreigners and thus may not be easily convinced by the political spin which officials tend to give to the western media.
"An incompetent government will certainly prefer to conceal realities in order to keep the public in the dark," said Mohammad Hashim Elahi, a journalism lecturer at the Kabul University.