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Afghan Youth Debates: Why a New Media Watchdog?

Students and panellists at an IWPR debate in Kabul have questioned the relevance of a newly-established commission intended to police the Afghan media’s election coverage.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) recently set up an internal body with an express remit to monitor the impartiality of television, radio and print reporting in the run up to the April 5 presidential and provincial council polls.

Farida Nekzad, the new Media Commission’s head, said it would seek to address breaches of the rules during the election campaign, as well as to investigate complaints from the public about the press.

But Mohammad Qasem Rahmani, a spokesman for Nai, a group which supports open media in Afghanistan, claimed the commission had obvious shortcomings. Specifically, he said, it lacked the specialist legal expertise required to draft its own regulations.

“There's no doubt there are professional staff within the Media Commission, but there are also legal shortcomings in its newly-developed regulations," Rahmani said.

He argued that under Article 42 of Afghanistan's media law, press violations already had to be investigated by an existing body known as the Media Violations Investigation Commission. This made part of the new commission’s role redundant, he said.

"It would be good if there were some legal experts alongside senior staff within the Media Commission,” he added.

The IWPR debate took place at the Ibn Sina Institute of Higher Education in Kabul on February 27. The event was moderated by Hamed Obaidi, a journalism teacher, and Aziz Ahmad Fanus, a senior lecturer in journalism at Kabul University, was among the panellists.

Nekzad outlined the role of the IEC’s media commission to the audience and admitted that the body did not have its own legal specialists. But she argued that lawyers working for its parent body, the IEC, were more than capable of advising her staff.

“The Media Commission at the IEC aims to make every effort to ensure the media is impartial and fair when reporting on presidential and provincial candidates,” she said. “If we see any media outlet violating what we believe to be balanced reporting of the election, then we will first advise them and then warn them. In the third instance, we would issue a cash fine, and finally we would consider revoking the organisation’s operating license."

She added, “We have already consulted legal experts in developing our regulations. We don’t have any problems."

Audience member Sayed Basir Sadat asked the panel why media networks affiliated to particular political parties were not banned.

“We can’t order the closure of politically affiliated media,” Nekzad replied. “But if those networks commit violations, then the Ministry of Information and Culture can revoke their license.”

Enayatullah Omari is a student at the Ibn Sina Institute of Higher Education in Kabul 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.

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