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    Rights group attacks Afghan draft media law

    KABUL (PAN): The Human Rights Watch slammed a proposed Afghan medial law and urged the government to withdraw the bill as it would stifle media freedom in the war-torn country.

    In a statement, the New York-based rights group said the draft law would expand government controlled over the media influence and chill free speech.

     “Journalists are the canary in the coal mine in Afghanistan. Afghan journalists have bravely held the government accountable in key areas such as corruption and human rights. President (Hamid) Karzai should openly oppose any legislation that curbs media freedom,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
    Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture have recently circulated the piece of law that would replace the 2009 legislation.

    Human Rights Watch said the proposed bill would allow the minister, deputy ministers and other officials within a complex set of regulatory bodies to exact control over the media.

    The minister would be director of the High Media Council that would have expanded powers to set policies and modify implementation of laws governing media and influence the composition and budgets of all other media oversight bodies.
    “Press freedom has been one of Afghanistan’s most important success stories since 2001. The Afghan government should be acting to solidify media gains, not seeking to placate forces hostile to free expression,” added Adams.
    The draft law raises serious questions about Karzai’s commitment to freedom of expression and it is the latest threat to the rights to freedom of expression and association and access to information in Afghanistan, said the rights group.

    Several  provisions in the draft would undermine free expression -- would reduce the number of journalists on the nongovernmental Mass Media Commission, curtailing the current role of experienced and independent journalists in providing media oversight, it added.

    In addition, the draft law would establish a costly and unnecessary new system of prosecutors and courts specifically to bring and hear civil cases regarding media abuses. Broadcasting foreign programming would be restricted. The law would create civil sanctions for a long new list of media violations – vaguely defined acts ranging from changing bylaws to illegally broadcasting foreign programs.
    Human Rights Watch said the 2009 law could be improved, including by revising overly broad and vague limits on speech, particularly relating to religion and giving greater independence to government-sponsored media. The proposed law, however, leaves all of these restrictions in place while creating a new set of barriers to free speech and should be withdrawn.

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