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    Afghan media freedom under threat: CPJ

    KABUL (PAN): An international media watchdog on Tuesday said the nascent media industry in Afghanistan, working under political and economic pressure, was likely to face a momentous task once NATO-led forces left the country.

    The Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) said that Afghan news outlets operated in a hostile environment and the absence of clear media laws made it hard for journalists to publish sensitive reports as they could lead to civil or criminal charges.

    “What is really under threat is the effort to create a non-partisan national media for Afghanistan where news organisations make the attempt to operate neutrally, trying to meet the ideals of a free and independent press,” said Bob Dietz, coordinator of CPJ’s Asia Programme.

    A case in point, he said, was the referral of the Kabul-based Pajhwok Afghan News to the Attorney General Office for exposing an alleged Iranian attempt to influence Afghan lawmakers with bribes amounting to millions of dollars.

    On May 24, Pajhwok released a story that Iran had allocated $25 million to bribe prominent lawmakers to oppose the US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement during a parliamentary debate.

    Following the expose, the Ministry of Information and Culture referred Pajhwok and several other media outlets, which ran the story, to the Attorney General Office for investigation.  The action was initiated by the ministry’s Media Monitoring Commission.

    “This is just the sort of story that makes media so important in emerging democracies like Afghanistan. Corruption and allegations of corruption in the country are commonplace, and the political motivations of the accusers and accused make for murky circumstances.

    “Making the attempt to report fairly on them should not mean that journalists run the risk of possible civil or even criminal charges, should it come to that. But there are few rules to play by,” added Dietz.