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Did Afghan Journalist Abuse Media Freedom?

Media possibilities in Afhanistan have boomed.

Media possibilities in Afhanistan have boomed.

Many people were shocked when journalist Nasir Fayaz, the host of the program "Haqiqat" (Truth) on Afghanistan's private Ariana television, was detained for unsubstantiated critical statements he made about members of Afghanistan's cabinet.

Afghan journalists unions, international organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, and political institutions like the Afghan National Assembly all condemned Fayaz's arrest. Those expressions of outrage and solidarity finally forced the government to release Fayaz.

On the one hand, now for the first time in the history of Afghanistan dozens of FM radio stations, up to 15 private television stations, and scores of newspapers and magazines are available. Such media diversity fuels hope and optimism for the growth of democracy in Afghanistan.

But on the other hand, some of these media outlets represent various interests -- warlords, specific religious groups or political parties, even foreign countries. And with the arrest of Fayaz by the National Security Directorate, hope and optimism gave way to frustration and even despair.

The Afghan Constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights -- to which Afghanistan is a signatory -- guarantee freedom of the media. That freedom gives people the opportunity to take part in political life by criticizing the government and expressing their views.

Just as importantly, a free press is a tool for keeping checks on politicians and maintaining a balance. But in order to keep the criticism and these diverging views civil and to maintain perspective, societies have principles and governments have laws that must be not only considered, but respected.

It is possible that Ariana TV's Fayaz may have breached such principles or rules. He harshly criticized two cabinet members and accused a high-ranking government official of theft and corruption, without providing any credible evidence to substantiate those accusations. Such actions constitute a serious attack on the integrity of these officials.

Some would argue that Fayaz abused the freedom of expression that he is guaranteed by the constitution.

But even though the government is responsible for defending the credibility and integrity of its officials against such accusations, in this case its repressive action against Fayaz is unacceptable. By the same token, the reaction of the media and other organizations and individuals in calling for Fayaz's release seems justified.

According to Afghan media law, the Information Ministry's Commission for Press Complaints is responsible for addressing such alleged violations by journalists.

In Fayaz's case, it would have been wise for the Afghan government to task the commission with investigating the veracity of Fayaz's allegations. The decision to have him detained for three days was neither for the cabinet nor for the National Security Directorate to make.

Akbar Ayazi is the director of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan and Hashem Mohmand is a Radio Free Afghanistan broadcaster. The views expressed in this commentary are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL