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    Much-criticised draft media law withdrawn

    KABUL (PAN): A senior Ministry of Information and Culture official on Tuesday said a controversial draft media law had been declared null and void after widespread criticism from news outlets and civil society organisations.

    The ministry, which prepared the draft in May and released it for a debate through the government-controlled media, came under criticism for introducing a bill that tended to create problems for journalists.

    Slamming the proposed law, the Human Rights Watch urged the government to withdraw the bill that would stifle media freedom in the country. The New York-based group said the draft law would expand government control over the media influence and curtail free speech.

    The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission also called for invalidating the draft law, saying it would bring media under government control.

    Deputy Minister of Information and Culture Din Mohammad Mubarez Rashidi acknowledged the proposed legislation had problems and was presented for a debate in haste.

    He said some media organistaions, donors and human rights bodies had expressed concerns about the bill. “The draft has been nullified. In my view, the time is not yet ripe for a new law. So the existing law remains valid,” he remarked.

    The government believed in reforms that facilitated the press freedom of press and laws creating problems for them were unacceptable, remarked the deputy minister, who insisted there had been a lot of improvement with regard to the freedom of speech in Afghanistan, but problems remained.

    He confirmed that cases against some media outlets had been referred to the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) despite the fact that they had mentioned their sources of information. “And the attorney dealing with such cases knows little about media laws,” Rashidi remarked.

    “A judge is required to have knowledge of media laws, the freedom of speech and rules of journalism in order to be able to deliver a fair ruling in such cases,” the deputy minister added.

    Pajhwok Afghan News recently quoted a government official as saying that Iran had given a colossal amount of money to a lawmaker for distribution to Wolesi Jirga members to block the approval of a strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the US. The case has been referred to the AGO.

    “The information ministry is bound to protect media outlets. If we reach a conclusion that the existing law needs reforms, we will do the job in consultation with senior journalists and donor agencies, “Rashidi promised. He stressed the need for improvement in the law and removing articles that created problems for journalists.

    He urged media representatives to cling to professional ethics and not to let anyone speak against the freedom of the press.

    Pajhwok Director Danish Karokhel accused some government officials of trying to weaken media’s role by bringing arbitrary changes to the media law. He said some government circles were against reporters’ access to information.

    ma/mud



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