Media legislation

The Afghanistan constitution, Article 34, guarantees freedom of expression and clearly states: “Freedom of expression shall be inviolable. Every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with provisions of this constitution. Every Afghan shall have the right, according to provisions of law, to print and publish on subjects without prior submission to state authorities. Directives related to the press, radio, and television as well as publications and other mass media shall be regulated by law.”

The constitution recognises the right of access to information for all Afghan citizens through its Article 50 and states: “The citizens of Afghanistan shall have the right of access to information from state departments in accordance with the provisions of the law. This right shall have no limit except when harming rights of others as well as public security.”

According to the Freedom House 2017 report, Afghanistan is in a better position regarding freedom of expression than all its neighbouring countries. An indicator for comparing countries is the mass media law, and the Afghan one clearly gives all the information and procedures regarding the establishing and maintenance of the media sector and its affiliations. The law gives the government no ways to control independent media and for these reasons it can be considered one of the best in the region.

Although there was an attempt by the government of Afghanistan to amend mass media law and bring some legal limitation to the media sector in the country, but through the advocacy processes, the attempt was stopped.

The access to information law was recently amended and subsequently rated as the best law in the world by a Canadian-based freedom of expression organisation, the Center for Law and Democracy.

The private mass media establishing and performances’ regulation is another legal document, amended in 2018, that states journalists’ rights, performances and responsibilities.

The media and journalists’ safety and security regulation is also an apt document to the situation of Afghanistan and states the responsibilities of the government and media organisations toward journalists and media staff. It also recognises the right to a safe working environment for journalists and states government-specific organisational responsibilities.

All media-relevant laws are drafted, processed and approved in close cooperation with media advocacy organisations.

The legislation process according to the Afghanistan constitution starts with the submission of a draft proposal from the sector to the Media High Council at the Ministry of Information and Culture. It is then sent to the Ministry of Justice, which sends it to its cabinet and then to the parliament. If a law passes the parliament, it is sent it to the president for signing.

This is a long process with difficulties. The current parliament of Afghanistan is considered to be a conservative one, thus, it should be less keen to amend media and freedom of speech laws. Media advocacy organisations try their best to convince members of parliament, ministers and even the president to vote for the improvement of said laws. But the main problem is enforcing and implementing these laws. Media-related laws are not implemented in lots of instances. According to the constitution of Afghanistan, freedom of expression is guaranteed but journalists are still being killed. The number of killings has raised annually. According to Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, in the 14 years between 2001 and 2014, 42 journalists have been killed, while the number is 53 between 2015 and October 2018. Access to information is recognised as a right to every citizen by the constitution, but remains one of the biggest challenges of Afghan media. According to the Freedom House 2017 report, the government remains the largest perpetrator of violence against journalists in Afghanistan, especially through its security forces. The Taliban take the second position.

It is worth mentioning that in 2019 nine regulation documents passed as attachments for labor law of Afghanistan that all related to private media rights and responsibilities. Compensation, retirement, and health insurance regulations are among them.