June 24, 2020 / 5:29 PM / a month ago

Afghan media ask government to scrap new rules they say could hurt press freedom

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan media companies complained on Wednesday that changes to a media law would be a setback for independent journalism, ahead of a meeting with officials to press for the government to abandon the plans.

The amendments were sent to parliament for ratification early this month but recalled by the government for further review after an outcry from media outlets. Among the proposals is a measure that would require journalists to reveal their sources to government bodies, including the security services.

“We were surprised to learn the government has almost discreetly amended the media law with some quite shocking amendments,” Lotfullah Najafizada, director of Tolonews, Afghanistan’s largest private television station, told Reuters.

“Freedom of expression has transformed Afghanistan in two decades and any setback is a grave mistake”.

Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said the government is committed to safeguarding press freedom, which is why the president recalled the draft from parliament.

Ghani tasked one of his vice-presidents to discuss the draft with media companies, and meetings are expected this week.

The media has flourished in Afghanistan after the 2001 fall of the hardline Taliban, which banned television. Domestic media grew after international outlets decreased their presence following a draw-down of foreign troops in 2014.

Journalists worry that gains towards media freedom could be jeopardised if the Taliban are again given a share of power in upcoming peace talks, after the United States reached an agreement to withdraw its remaining troops.

“Concern is growing that basic freedoms, including press freedom, could be sacrificed in the course of the international efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan,” media freedom group Reporters Without Borders said in a report.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Editing by Gibran Peshimam and Peter Graff

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