Afghan Minister Vows Continued Free Speech, Press Freedom

Posted July 10th, 2012 at 10:35 am (UTC-5)
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Afghanistan's information and culture minister says his government will firmly protect freedom of speech and the press even after the international community leaves his country.

In an interview with VOA's Afghan service, Said Makhdoom Raheen says a new draft media law will help do that as well as make the state-run Radio-Television Afghanistan and Bakhtar news agencies into public broadcasters outside of the government and his ministry's control.

But Human Rights Watch and media organizations have raised concerns about several provisions in the draft law. These concerns include the creation of a special prosecutor to handle media cases and the composition of a regulatory body to oversee the press. The measure also would restrict foreign programming in Afghanistan.

Late last month, the United Nations' mission in Afghanistan gathered about 100 journalists and media organization representatives in Kabul to discuss the draft law and prepare joint comments to submit to the government. An official at the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture said fears about the law were “unfounded,” and that the measure would result in “more freedom.”

In the interview with VOA, Minister Raheen emphasizes that the law is a draft and that “if we find somewhere which is not good for freedom of speech…we can remove it.” He welcomed input from journalists and civil society.

In the latest World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Afghanistan 150th out of 179 countries, citing the threat of violence from extremists and political groups as a major concern for journalists.

Raheen also tells VOA that the $16 billion in non-military aid recently pledged to his country by international donors gathered in Tokyo is “very good news.”

But he said not enough attention has been paid to investing in Afghanistan's culture. He said, “The war on terrorism is not only the war of guns. This is the war of minds, different ways of thinking.”

The minister said he does not have the budget or professional staff to care for Afghanistan's 1,200 pre-Islamic monuments that are in danger of collapsing. He said the Afghan government needs outside help and that he is expecting assistance from different friendly countries.