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Afghan Media Protest Lack Of Access To State-Held Information

Afghan media representatives address a press conference in Kabul on February 4.

KABUL -- Dozens of Afghan media outlets have joined their voices to denounce the "deterioration" of access to government-related information in the country.

In a joint statement issued on February 4, 30 media outlets including privately owned national TV channels, local broadcasters, and newspapers blamed the "carelessness" of the government for endangering media freedom in recent years.

The protest was supported by media-freedom watchdogs, the UN mission in Afghanistan, and Western embassies in Kabul, which said access to information for citizens will make Afghan democracy stronger.

In their joint statement, the 30 media outlets said that all government institutions had "shortcomings" when it comes to providing access to information, but cited the Supreme Court, the Attorney General's Office, the National Directorate of Security, the president's office, the Finance Ministry, the central bank, and the Defense Ministry as being "the worst ones."

It urged the Afghan government and the international community to "act in the strongest possible ways to safeguard the free flow of information, our press freedom, and our young democracy.

Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah responded by calling on "all the government organizations to cooperate and share information with the citizens."

Abdullah said that "freedom of speech and freedom of media is one of the most important national achievements of the people of Afghanistan," adding that "honoring and respecting this achievement is the responsibility of government officials."

In a statement, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it supported the protest by the 30 media outlets and criticized the Afghan authorities' "failure" to fully implement the law on access to state-held information.

The European Union office in Afghanistan also called for the law to be "implemented in full," saying the "free flow of information is crucial for any democracy &progressive society."

The Afghan government "needs to respond to calls of media and fully implement" the law, according to Britain's embassy in Kabul.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that "open and healthy societies promote access to information for citizens," which it said was "vital" for accountability and fighting corruption, improving government performance and efficiency,
encouraging investment, and empowering citizens in public life.

Ross Wilson, charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy, said the authorities "must work with the press to make Afghan democracy stronger."

The German ambassador in Kabul, Peter Prugel, said the Afghan government "must assure free & indiscriminate access to information." "FreeMedia, #pressfreedom & #access2information are key to #accountability & #GoodGovernance and an open, transparent & democratic society in #Afghanistan," he tweeted.

The French Embassy said it "stands by Afghan journalists, who demonstrate on a daily basis courage, professionnalism (sic) and commitment to the information of [the Afghan] people and the world, often in difficult circumstances."