Access to information is vital to build stronger society and policies in Afghanistan says Irina Bokova

Kabul, 26 May. The safety of Afghan journalists, the role of women in media and access to public information by the people of Afghanistan were the first issues considered today by UNESCO's Director General, Irina Bokova, upon arriving in Kabul for a two-day visit.

Irina Bokova had an in-depth discussion with Shafika Habibi, founder and Director of the Afghan Women Journalists Association, Najiba Ayubi, Deputy Director of the Afghanistan National Journalists Organisation, Danish Karokhel, member of the Oversight Commission for the implementation of the Access to Information Law and Najib Sharifi, Director of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee.

Mr Karokhel shared his perspective on the implementation of the Access to Information Law approved in December 2014. “Eleven months back we created the 13-member commission that according to the law should oversee its implementation. However, no governmental budget has been assigned to it so far,” he said.

He said that the Commission has elaborated a bylaw to strengthen its independence and highlighted the importance of right to information in the fight against corruption and the promotion of sustainable, participatory development . “A culture of information sharing is vital to strengthen accountability, to improve public policies and build stronger, more transparent societies,” he said.

Mr Karokhel referred to the launch of a future joint project with UNESCO in Afghanistan to raise public awareness and to encourage media and civil society to play an active role in pursuing the full implementation of the law. «People should know that they have this right to access information» said the Director-General. «If they do not know their own rights, if they are not educated or encouraged, what is written in the law will never be fully implemented ,» she said, reaffirming UNESCO’s  special role to play in this regard.

With regard to the situation of female journalists,  Ms Ayubi said that out of estimated 10,000 reporters in the country only 2,000 women are able to work. “While women represent 50% of the Afghan population, only 30 media organisations are managed by women, against around 1800 registered.”

Both Ms Ayubi and Ms Habibi underlined the urgent need for capacity building for female journalists, including a leadership and management focus. “The creation of role models is important, to encourage young journalists, to tell them they should not be afraid and to give them confidence, » said the Director-General.

Ms Habibi informed that since the last visit of the Director-General three years ago, the Afghan Women Journalists Union has expanded its activity to 13 provinces and counts over 400 members. “The situation is very bad in the provinces, the number of women working has decreased, many are fired without any reason and others receive their salaries after months,” she said, also reporting on harrassment.

Both Ms Habibi and Ms Ayubi agreed that the decision making power on hiring staff is dominanted by men, stressing the importance of women in leadership positions in the media.

Ms Bokova pledged to seek further support from potential donors, in particular for capacity building. The UNESCO office in Afghanistan stands ready to launch a Women Media Service project that would include investigative reporting by female journalists and capacity building throughout the country.  

The Director of the Afghanistan Journalists Safety Committee underlined the role played by media in promoting democracy in the country. “However, we receive pressures from all sides” said Mr Sharifi, highlighting also that many media had to close because they are unable to tackle the financial challenges they face. He recognized the commitment of the current Afghan leadership towards media freedom, calling for more concrete action.

Ms Bokova cited the expertise of UNESCO in the context of the UN Plan for the Safety of Journalists,  with judges and prosecutors receiving specific training to prosecute crimes against journalists. “I am impressed by the leadership you demonstrate and by all the actions and progress made over the past few years. The adoption of the Access to Information law in 2014 is truly a success story for Afghanistan, and now it needs to be fully implemented,” concluded the Director-General.

For further information contact UNESCO’s Mr. Habibullah Sayed 0728 85 85 53 – s.habibullah@unesco.org