Afghanistan: Afghan Media Org Convenes High-Level Meeting on Access to Information

October 21, 2014

Original article found on: Internews

October 9th, 2014

Historically, the government of Afghanistan has been marked by a lack of transparency, with only a vague – and thus far unenforced – reference in its decade-old constitution to the guaranteed right to access to information.

That all might be changing soon: earlier this summer, Afghanistan’s Lower House of Parliament approved the country’s first-ever Access to Information Law. Now, Internews partner Nai is leading multi-stakeholder advocacy efforts to encourage the swift and responsible passage of the law by Afghanistan’s Upper House, and ultimately by Afghanistan’s new President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

Having met with the Upper House of Parliament earlier this summer, last month, Nai convened media, civil society, and government leaders – including former President Karzai’s legal advisor and high-ranking officials from the Ministries of Information and Culture, Defense, Interior Affairs, and Commerce and Industry – for a roundtable discussion on the effective and fair implementation of the law.

Although spokespeople for the Ministry of Defense emphasized a need to keep information concerning national security and the wellbeing of Afghan troops confidential, the group agreed that government agencies should start preparing now to put systems in place to allow Afghan citizens to request and gain access to government-held information in a timely fashion. These mechanisms include establishing access to information committees in Kabul as well as in seven additional zones across the country, trainings for government workers, classifying and even digitizing data if possible, and setting up clear channels of communication and cooperation between government agencies.

Nai legal advisor Qasim Rahmani called on the National Assembly to hold a joint committee session to allow lawmakers to reconcile different existing drafts of the law. That way, he said, the government can prevent confusion and misinterpretation once the law goes into effect.

In numerous press releases, media briefings, and roundtable discussions leading up to Parliament’s vote on the law, Nai has repeatedly stressed how critical such a law will be for reducing corruption, protecting journalists, and building a more democratic Afghan society.

The law, said Executive Director Mujeeb Khalvatgar, will “allow Afghan journalists to work in a better and safer environment than they do now…it will lay the groundwork for journalists to produce more investigative reports.”

“The Access to Information Law is an important piece of legislation for all, but specifically for media outlets,” said Nasir Maimanagy, who attended the meeting representing Internews radio partner Salam Watandar. “This law will provide the strongest tool ever – access to information – for the media to monitor the activities of both the government and the private sector.”

Maimanagy noted that for all of the law’s promise, however, its proper enforcement is far from a done deal. “Implementation is a daunting task,” he said. “If not implemented properly, the hopes of media organizations will turn to dismay and frustration.”

Internews’ support for Nai is funded by the US Agency for International Development.

Original article found on: Internews

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