Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, December 15th, 2019

Media Upholding Freedoms of Speech and Opinion

The media plays a highly significant role in Afghanistan for upholding democracy and freedom of speech. It provides a platform for the public to have their say freely about social and political issues. However, media outlets also have some negative side effects in Afghanistan.
In the post-Taliban Afghanistan, a large number of media outlets had emerged to support freedoms of thought and speech and uphold democratic principles. The government also played a pivotal role in supporting the media and freedom of speech. The public could communicate their needs and demands with officials through the mass media and vice versa.
Notwithstanding all the challenges, freedom of speech in Afghanistan has to be admired. The media outlets air and publish reports and let people express their views without censorship by the government. Afghan Constitution states in Article 34, “Freedom of expression shall be inviolable. Every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with provisions of this constitution. Every Afghan shall have the right, according to provisions of law, to print and publish on subjects without prior submission to state authorities….” Since it is said in the preamble of Afghan Constitution that Afghans will observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the government will also endorse freedom of speech and opinion maintained in the UDHR as it states in Article 19, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
Media outlets monitor the government and criticize officials severely without receiving reaction from the government. Meanwhile, the media provides platform for people from all walks of life to speak their mind without fear. The Taliban leaders are also interviewed by Afghan journalists to have their say and communicate their views with officials and the public.
To speak of social media, it is a free and open platform for each and every Afghan citizens, who express their views. That is, social media gives every individual a free rein to speak about anyone without a tinge of censorship. Thus, Afghan officials receive the harshest rhetoric from social media users, who also satirize officials in the worst possible way. Social media is also means of pressure on the government. Besides playing a pivotal role in convening people for public demonstration, social media could draw the attention of officials to many national concerns being voiced by social media users.
However, social media has also been changed into means of entertainment for youths, which is spoiling. Worst of all, since social media is a free and open platform, a number of media users speak unfairly of the government officials or simply hurl vitriol against them without feeling a sense of responsibility. Meanwhile, a number of individuals also stoke sectarian issues on social media and make a mountain out of a mole with impunity since Afghanistan lacks cyber law. The free platform of social media is being used negatively as individuals attack religious values and cultural norms of others, which outrages the public conscience in the society.
Propaganda is spread and baseless claims are made on social media. It is also believed that radical individuals and insurgent groups are using social media to channel public sensation against the government.
The destructive aspect of the mass media in the country is that negative issues form the bulk of the news. That is to say, journalists are used to focus on negative issues. It is right that Afghanistan is embroiled in many challenges, the positive issues should not be ignored. In some cases, negative issues are exaggerated whether intentionally or unintentionally, which will fill the air with fear and disappointment. Being inundated with negative news and reports, Afghans have turned highly pessimists viewing social and political issues pessimistically.
It is believed that there are many positive issues to be covered. Unfortunately, all attention is turned to negative aspects of social and political issues. For example, instead of admiring the freedom of speech and press, reports are focused on obstacles hampering the freedom of expression or threats posed to the life of journalists; instead of viewing election as a strong back-up to democracy, electoral rigging and challenges ahead of voters are overstated; and instead of casualties inflicted on the militants, civilian or military casualties are brought up. Thus, news and reports are not balanced in the country since negative aspects outweigh positive ones.