Ad-hoc Independent High Commission of Information and Communication for Afghanistan meets at UNESCOAfghanistan’s Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Sayed Makhdom Raheen, and the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, today opened the meeting of an Ad Hoc Independent High Commission of Communication and Information for Afghanistan. Over the next six days, the Commission’s members, 15 Afghan media professionals will take stock of the problems they face so as to assist the government of Afghanistan’s preparation of a medium-term development plan of the Afghan communication and information sector.
In his opening address, Minister Sayed Makhdom Raheen reviewed developments since the fall of the Taleban regime, noting that even the words “freedom of expression” were banned from public speech under the Taleban who allowed no mass media to operate. Pointing to the appearance of nearly 300 publications, 40 broadcasters and news agencies since the end of the Taleban’s regime, the minister spoke of the need to “scrutinize the law after four years and institutionalize freedom of the press.”
Mr Raheen stressed the importance of the fact that newspapers are being published in all the country’s languages. This is important, he said, as reflecting “the wealth” of the diversity of Afghanistan’s languages and cultures fosters tolerance and peace.
In his address, the Director-General of UNESCO praised Afghanistan for its “great strides in rebuilding a vibrant and forward-looking country from a devastated and war- torn land. […] But media freedom, as we have learned from bitter experience across the world, cannot be taken for granted. It must be defended and its institutions strengthened in order to ensure that the many voices of Afghanistan will never again be silenced,” he said.
The report and recommendations that the Committee will present, Mr Matsuura said “will be one more step towards the achievement of the rule of law and an environment where independent media can encourage reconciliation, good governance and unity, as well as the preservation of cultural diversity and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.”
The Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Afghanistan to UNESCO, Zahir Aziz, spoke of UNESCO’s “tremendous contribution to the well-being of democracy” in Afghanistan and went on to read out a message to the Committee from Hamid Karzai, the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. In his message the President recalled that the constitution of Afghanistan enshrines freedom of expression as inviolable, stating that “every Afghan has the right to express his thought through speech, writing, or illustration or other means.” The president’s message further stresses that “the revival, renewal and development of all types of communication and information, radio, television and other media services, is one of the urgent needs of the country.”
The conference will be divided into sessions on the following themes: Historical background and current situation of mass media in Afghanistan; Assessment of institutional needs of the media sector; Objectives and the role of media and information and communication technologies in Afghanistan; Medium and long term strategy for the advancement and development of communication and information services; Ways and means of funding the development of media.
The Afghan authorities have requested UNESCO’s technical and financial assistance for the commission. UNESCO’s assistance has benefited from the support of Japan’s Funds In Trust. UNESCO has supported Afghan media since the fall of the Taleban regime in December 2001. It has provided training, material, internet access and a press centre. It has played a key role in the launch of the first newspaper in the country, the first women’s magazine, the first women’s community radio as well as supporting the national news agency and broadcasting corporation.
The Paris meeting of the commission is the first of a series aiming to develop a media strategy for Afghanistan. It was established by the President of Afghanistan to elaborate recommendations on how to enhance the existing media regulatory framework and formulate mass media objectives and policy.