Saturday, June 12, 2010

Media: Afghanistan - zero to media plurality

By S. M. Raheen*
Republished courtesy of IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

Photo: Ministry of Information and Culture of Afghanistan

KABUL (IDN) - Nine years ago, we did not have mass media in Afghanistan. The Taliban punished even Television sets by hanging them in public. In fact the terms 'free press' and 'freedom of speech' were omitted from the life of the people of Afghanistan for three decades.

Following the formation of the interim government in pursuance of the Bonn Conference, the Ministry of Information and Culture during the first month of the establishment of the interim administration presented to the Council of Ministers the text of the media law, which was approved by the government.

The mass media law was the first of its kind in the country that came into effect in March 2002 following the toppling of the Taliban and coming to power of the interim Government.

The promulgation of this law created great excitement among journalists and writers within a short period. Nearly 300 independent publications sprouted in the country.

Few months after the enforcement of the law, several mass media experts in Afghanistan, as well as Europe and America expressed their views.

The Ministry of Information and Culture held a seminar in Kabul with the help of UNESCO entitled 'Media and Pluralism' inviting critics to gather in Kabul to express their views and voice their criticisms.

The Ministry of Information and Culture at the seminar, again with the cooperation of experts, scrutinized this law and proposed changes and revised the text.

Between the enforcement of this law and summer of 2005, more than 40 radio transmitters and several private TV stations and news agencies commenced their operation.

Again, in the summer of 2005, the Ministry of Information and Culture held a seminar in which nearly 200 journalists from the capital and provinces as well as foreign press agencies participated.

They expressed their opinions on the mass media law and, on the basis of nearly four years experience, told us if it would be appropriate to scrutinize it once again and amend it in order to institutionalize the freedom of expression.

After three days' debate, the seminar decided that it would be beneficial to revise the material forming the basis of the media law. Without such changes, they said, the freedom of speech cannot be institutionalized.

The Ministry of Information and Culture set up a committee comprised of 24 prominent Afghan journalists as well as representatives of international media, the UN office in Kabul and the Afghanistan independent Human Rights Commission to this effect.


Based on the working of this committee, the media law appeared in a new shape and came into force on December 5, 2005 after approval by the Council of Ministers and the President.

According to this law, a Media High Council comprised of 4 parliament members, a member of the judiciary, 2 journalists, 2 Government and 2 civil society representatives as well as a member of Olema Council will be set up.

This is the first time that the task of preparing and adopting the long-term policy of mass media in Afghanistan was jointly conducted by the executive, legislative and judiciary.

The high council will select the Mass Media Commission for private media. It will have 7 members from professional independent personalities from amongst various ethnic groups.

Likewise, it will choose the National Radio-TV Commission which will have 7 members, taking into consideration ethnic and gender balance. The appointment of the Director General of the National Radio TV station will be proposed by high commission and approved by the President.

Thus, the National Radio-TV will enter the public domain after operating for decades within the framework of the Ministry of Information and Culture and the Afghanistan Government. We now have a law for media, which Afghanistan lacked in its history and is matchless in the region.


As you are aware, the Afghan nation is comprised of different ethnic groups each of which has its own language and customs. This variety in the traditional society has attractively enriched it.

To preserve this cultural ingenuity, the Ministry of Information and Culture in 2004 launched programs in these languages through National Radio and Telivion, once again for the first time the periodical called Watandaran (Compatriots) came out of the press. It is in five languages Uzbaki, Baloochi, Pashayee, Turkmani and Nooristani.

Respecting the culture of each of these people produces better understanding and tolerance among them and fosters peace culture and democracy.

Three decades of war and foreign aggressions have left terrible marks on our society. From the start of transitional government, the Ministry of Information and Culture has persevered against violence and for strengthening the culture of peace and tolerance.

During this period of transition from the culture of war towards culture of peace, tolerance and reciprocal respect, we have restored to everything that consoles and enlightens human soul.

We have also utilized the principles of Islamic Sufism to cut distances between human beings and teach its lessons in respecting human dignity. The media law and free expression have assisted us in the realization of these principles. Today, the freedom of speech is one of the most important achievements of the past 8 years in the political and social life of the people of Afghanistan.

*Dr. S. M. Raheen is Minister of Information and Culture of Afghanistan. This Viewpoint is a slightly abridged version of his presentation at the Asia Media Summit 2010 on May 25-26 in Beijing, China, organised by the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD) headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.