Afghanistan’s vibrant young news media, the unrivalled star of post-Taliban reconstruction, is to be stifled by a new media law forced through parliament by conservatives, regional strongmen and criminal elements within the Karzai regime.
An oversight committee of government officials – with no media representatives present – will scrutinize all aspects of print and electronic reporting, including content. The Western-sponsored regime, ultimately, will be the sole arbiter of fact and falsehood.
The law will reverse plans to make RTA a public broadcaster, bringing it under strict state control instead. All state and private media organizations will fall under the supervision of the Religious and Cultural Affairs Commission of the parliament, headed by Mohammed Mohaqeq. Mohaqeq maintains a large private militia, backed by Iran, and is accused of gross human rights violations for his Hizb-e-Wahdat faction’s role in the civil war of the early 1990’s.
The impetus for the law has been the spirited investigative reporting style of Afghanistan’s new newspapers and radio and TV stations, which have drawn back the veil on the rampant corruption, wrongdoing and incompetence of the Karzai regime.
Shamefully, the Bush administration and Tony Blair’s UK government remain silent as the law nears enactment. Canadian officials, too, have failed to state a position. On April 5th, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay told skyreporter that “Canada supports the principles of freedom of expression, as outlined in Afghanistan’s constitution.”
The statement noted the profusion of new media outlets, and concluded: “We understand the proposed legislation continues to evolve.”
It has - towards Taliban-style control.Afghan journalists tell skyreporter that President Karzai’s international backers will also benefit when the curtain falls on free reporting. Their empowerment of the old warlords, and their see-no-evil support of the current regime, has been one of the main drivers of Karzai’s decline from hopeful reformer to idle despot.