Afghan Youth Debates: Local Media Ready for Poll Challenge

Afghanistan's media have made enormous strides in the five years since the last presidential poll and there is no doubting their ability to cover the coming elections effectively, an IWPR debate has heard.

Speaking at an event at Bakhtar University in Kabul, Rahimullah Samandar, a senior newspaper journalist working in the country's capital Kabul, said the quality of reporting had increased across the country, and television and radio stations had now reached a standard that was not evident in 2009.

"We didn't have enough experience in previous elections, but now our media networks have attained professional maturity," Samandar told an audience of students at the December 21 debate. "I'm very optimistic about the upcoming vote provided we don’t ignore the principles of journalism".

Samander’s upbeat view was shared by Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the Independent Election Commission, who said his organisation was cooperating fully with journalists to ensure they had the freedom to work unobstructed.

Sayed Mohammad Rizwani, spokesman for the National Journalists' Union of Afghanistan, said media organisations were well-placed to help inform the public prior to the election and to act as observers during the poll itself.

He said journalists enjoyed a privileged role and, like politicians, must careful not to abuse their influence by seeking to "disrupt the electoral process".

"Today the media are so powerful around the world that they can bring real change," he argued. "It is the media that bring people to the ballot box.”

Hamed Obaidi, a lecturer in journalism at Kabul University who acted as debate moderator, asked panel members whether they believed journalists were often too quick to focus on the ethnicity of election candidates, rather than outlining their policies clearly.

Noor pointed out that the media were required by the Election Media Commission to make the "utmost efforts to ensure equal conditions for reflecting the views of all candidates", and that any infringement of electoral law by networks would be dealt with severely.

He added that journalists were free to report from any polling station they wished, and that the IEC was running advertising campaigns across 20-plus different media outlets around the country to promote free and fair elections.

"If a media outlet violates the framework set out by the IEC, then the commission will prosecute, leading to punishment and cash fines," he said

Enayatullah Nazari is a Kabul University student and an IWPR trainee.

This report was produced as part of Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out – Promoting University and Youth Participation in Afghan Elections, an IWPR initiative funded by the US embassy in Kabul.