Editor in Chief: Dr. Hussain Yasa Friday, February 24th, 2017

Media and Access to Information

The role of media is paramount in today’s democratic world. Many intellectuals believe it to be the fourth pillar of the state along with executive, legislature and judiciary and it has the function of keeping an eye on the activities of other three pillars. This generates a sort of pressure and also helps in making the important pillars of state amend themselves and their activities. Nevertheless, for media to acquire and retain this function it is important that it should be independent and should have the opportunities wherein it has full access to information and freedom of expression.
Media is agent of social and political change and awareness. It has the power of developing and changing public opinion. Being available 24 hours a day and containing information from different parts of the world, it has the capacity to reach to most of the people who have access to media outlets. And, the current developments in social media have further invigorated its role and impacts.
Though media’s role is important all the times, it becomes overriding during the times of instability and catastrophes. All the sides that are part of any clash, conflict or war, try to use media in their favor and always consider it to be vital for turning the war and the public opinion in their favor. However, at such moments, it becomes really imperative for media to retain its integrity and unbiased role.  
Afghanistan has been one of the countries that have been dominated by instability and conflict. The role of media in Afghanistan has been felt to be very much vital, but unfortunately, it is has been developed only in the last decade. Today, it is claimed that Afghan media is independent, yet there are many issues that have to be dealt with to really make it free and independent in the true sense of the word. One of the major issues it faces today is access to information. Because of restrictions put by different authorities it is very difficult for media to have access to accurate information on time.
Afghanistan’s Oversight Commission on Access to Information on Monday, December 26, said at a conference that they are working on a national strategy to ensure the media has access to information, adding that in accordance with a presidential decree, government departments have three days in which to classify information after a request before sharing it with the media. It is said that many government institutions do not share information with the media, citing it as confidential. The law of access to information was approved by President Ashraf Ghani in 2014. Two years later, the law has still not been fully implemented. Now however, the commission says media workers can register a complaint with them if refused information. “All the ministries and government institutions have introduced us to who we should ask for information. The media can contact these sources and if the information is not provided within three days, they can register a complaint against the related department with this commission,” said Sayed Ikram Afzali, chief of the commission. 
A number of commission members meanwhile say that government departments should provide the opportunity to media staff to assess and read classified information in the presence of the related department representatives in order to promote investigative journalism in the country.
Media staff, according to the Declaration of Rights and Duties of the Journalists, must have free access to all information sources, and the right to freely inquire on all events conditioning public life. Therefore, secret of public or private affairs may be opposed only to media staff in exceptional cases and for clearly expressed motives. And, any factor hindering the media staff from having access to all information sources must be considered illegal and should be eliminated.
The claim of the rights of the media is not only advantageous for them but for the entire society. If press and journalists are free to do their job they can support in identifying the facts and figures within the society, which will portray a complete picture and also assist in finding out the deficiencies. Unless, people have the true picture of the socio-political conditions, it is very difficult to have awareness and be able to play a positive role within the society.
Ill-fatedly, Afghanistan is one of the countries that have not been giving enough heed to the freedom of media and the rights of the journalists. The war and conflicts and the negligence of the relevant authorities have resulted in poor development in media sector and particularly in press. Moreover, different sorts of discrimination against the journalists have continued in different parts of the county. Afghan government, different organizations and groups both national and international must make sure that they strive to make efforts in bringing about real changes for the development of media in the country and must protect the rights of the media staff, particularly the right to free and easy access to information.