Afghanistan - State radio and TV broadcaster backs Hamid Karzai's reelection campaign



    MONTREAL, Aug. 14 /CNW Telbec/ - The violence that threatens journalists
working for Afghanistan's news media has created a climate that does not
favour free and impartial coverage of the 20 August crucial presidential
election, now just one week away, Reporters Without Borders said today.
    Media coverage is also affected by the fact that political obstruction
has prevented the adoption of a new press law, a situation that Reporters
Without Borders already deplored in its March report on a fact-finding visit
to Afghanistan and its letter to the presidential candidates on 31 July.
    "One of the consequences of the failure to adopt the new press law has
been unequal air-time for the candidates," the press freedom organisation
said. "Voters have also been denied independent coverage on national
television throughout the campaign. Even if the monitoring carried out by the
Electoral Media Commission is a big step forward, it is not enough.
Journalists need laws that guarantee their safety and freedom, at least in
principle."
    Reporters Without Borders added: "This campaign has underscored the need
for the next government to decriminalize press offences and pass legislation
that improves the pay and contract situation for journalists so that
Afghanistan can a have a free press. It must also end impunity for those who
commit acts of violence against the media, especially women journalists. Such
violence by officials and security forces has repeatedly been denounced. It
must cease without delay or women will stop working in the media."

    Media during election campaign

    Around 30 candidates have been seeking radio and TV airtime and
interviews since the start of the presidential election campaign on 26 June.
Unequal access and manipulation of access pose a serious threat to the
elections. Few of the candidates have sufficient funds to be able to broadcast
regular campaign spots. Most of them have used TV only once or twice during
the campaign and some have had to settle for just using wall posters.
    Although independent TV stations and other independent media have tried
to let the various parties participate in debates and interviews, the leading
broadcasters have accorded most space to a limited number of candidates.
According to Insight, a local NGO supported by the United Nations Development
Programme that has been monitoring coverage of the elections, the TV stations
have been favouring just a few candidates.
    There are independent media in Afghanistan but they are in the minority.
It is very common for media to be funded by political parties or foreign
governments that dictate their political and religious agenda. This
politicises and "ethnicises" independent media and severely reduces the
quality of news and information.
    Several "temporary" daily and weekly newspapers have reportedly been
created that are not edited by professional journalists and are in fact just
political tools being used by certain candidates solely for electoral ends.

    Unfair media coverage

    An independent body with five experienced members, the Electoral Media
Commission was set up to ensure fair media coverage of the elections. Its
president, Sediqullah Tauhidi, told Reporters Without Borders: "Overall, the
media situation has been satisfactory during the election campaign. The media
have had sufficient freedom to report the news and to make the public aware of
the campaign. Privately-owned radio and TV stations have had a significant
participation in the election coverage by means of various programmes,
especially local radio stations, which have been very active. International
media such as Radio Azadi and BBC Persian have actively covered the elections
throughout the campaign."
    However, although most of the privately-owned media agreed to a
good-conduct charter proposed by the Electoral Media Commission that called
for equal coverage of the candidates in news programmes, in practice they have
continued to favour one candidate or another in other kinds of programmes.
    Tauhidi also voiced reservations about the state radio and TV
broadcaster. "It has not performed its duties with impartiality and has
instead displayed a clear support for the incumbent president even if, in
certain regions such as Mazar-i-Sharif or Balkh, local branches of the state
television have supported other candidates."

    Violence turns remote regions into news black holes

    More than 3,000 Afghans are running for the 544 provincial councillor
positions that are also up for election on 20 August. Although there have not
so far been any serious incidents related to the elections, the situation
continues to be tense in several provinces.
    Saber Fahim, a member of the Nai media monitoring NGO, said: "Many
journalists complain of lack of access to information in the provinces of
Ghazni and Khost and in the south of the country." Some journalists even claim
that local officials have been ordered not to cooperate with the media.
    Fewer and fewer journalist visit regions that are no longer controlled by
the authorities, with the result that these regions have turned into news
"black holes." It is important to remember that the threats to Afghan and
foreign journalists do not come solely from the Taliban. Although the Taliban
are the main source of violence and press freedom violations, criminal groups
are also often to blame.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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