KABUL – AFGHANISTAN – Over 100 Afghan media professionals, a third of whom were women, engaged in open dialogue with officials from the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) in an early effort to ensure free and fair elections in Afghanistan.
On March 6, 2013, a media and elections workshop, funded by AusAID and facilitated by Nai, Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, brought together media leaders and journalists from Afghanistan provinces as distant and diverse as Badakshan, Kunduz, Helmand, Bamyan, Paktika, Paktya, and Samangan. During this one day workshop the participants discussed the media’s critical watchdog and education role in upcoming elections with the Afghan Independent Elections Commission (IEC).
As the country prepares for its most important elections in decades, the role of the media is more critical than ever in ensuring citizens trust, and engage in, the elections process. This in turn will support the legitimacy of an elected Afghan government to pave the way for a stable and prosperous Afghanistan over the coming decade.
The Afghanistan Capacity for Media and Elections (ACME) program, funded by AusAID, and implemented by Internews Network, is a 2.5 year program aimed at supporting free and fair elections in Afghanistan through local Afghan media. A range of Afghan media partners will be mentored by Internews Network and funded by AusAID to implement education and training programs for national and provincial media. Nai, Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, is the lead ACME media training and development agency.
Nai’s Executive Director, Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar, and workshop facilitator said “this was a very unique and positive workshop as it brought together, for the first time, media leaders from many towns and villages from across the country to discuss the different roles of the media and the IEC in ensuring transparent elections. This was the first time media leaders engaged in dialogue with high level elections officials of the IEC about the need for both government regulation and self-regulation in elections reporting.”
Ensuring the credibility, inclusivity and transparency of planned presidential elections in 2014 and parliamentary elections in 2015 is critical to the future stability of Afghanistan. The two-year electoral cycle coincides with the withdrawal of international troops in 2014, thereby adding further complexity to the transition. This period will not only be the first presidential succession since the fall of the Taliban, but will be the first ever leadership changeover through elections in Afghanistan’s modern history.
The active involvement of IEC officials in the discussions was appreciated by the media participants. Abdul Basir Haqio, station manager of Radio Amo, situated in Badakshan, the furthest northern province of Afghanistan, said “The workshop gave the chance for the media and the IEC to think about mutual cooperation in the future, which has not happened in the past”.
Speakers representing the media, civil society and government presented on a range of issues including the key findings of a recent USAID funded Democracy International survey on voter behavior. Information about election monitoring was also presented by IFES and the local agency for Free and Fair Elections of Afghanistan, (FEFA).
Mobina Khairandish, station manager of one of Afghanistan’s first ever women’s stations, Radio Rabia Balkhi, travelled from Mazar-e Sharif for the event and said “this is a valuable new experience for us. I think the IEC now realizes how important it is to both regulate and collaborate with the media, in elections, as we both have important and yet different roles to play”.
In remote and provincial areas of Afghanistan the “town hall” is often too dangerous a place for men to speak their minds, and women and young people’s attendance is taboo. It is in these impoverished regions that local media provides the safest and most credible alternative public space for political engagement. Media provides a virtual town hall where all citizens can engage, debate, listen and share information, aspirations and concerns. The Afghan media has been one of the few places where people from different parts of the country with different backgrounds can search for common ground on issues and forge a national identity.
Journalists and media managers at the workshop also discussed the challenges they face in fulfilling their roles in a professional and responsible manner, particularly in high risk, politically unstable provinces, characterized by inhospitable terrain.
The IEC chief of staff Tabesh Forogh in his address to the media noted “the 2010 elections really helped us to understand the key role that media has in elections.” The significance of the event was also acknowledged by government representatives in a message conveyed by the Minister of Information and Culture through his advisor, Jalal Noorani, who said “It is the media’s responsibility to keep an eye on the elections (process) and the official organizations involved, and it is the ministry’s responsibility to defend the media and freedom of speech.”
As an outcome of this workshop journalists and media leaders developed a series of recommendations to present to the IEC relating to regulations governing elections reporting, as well as their own agreed standards for self-regulation, or codes of practice, they believe Afghan media should observe in covering elections.
For more information about the ACME program please contact Jan McArthur at [email protected]
For more information about Internews or Nai’s programs in Afghanistan please visit:
Nai’s website: www.nai.org.af
Internews website: www.internews.org
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