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Afghan Media Fears Loss of Editorial Independence

The independence of Afghan journalists and editors is increasingly at risk in Afghanistan and a proposed new media law could make conditions even tougher, activists say.

Afghanistan’s fledgling independent media are under threat.

A draft media law to create a government watchdog committee opens the door to censorship, activists and journalists say.

Saleha Soadat reports for Tolo News, owned by Afghan media tycoon Saad Mohseni. Even under existing laws she has come under pressure from powerful political leaders.

"The brother of a former lawmaker raped and killed a girl. I talked to the girl's brother and lawyer, but the accused refused to be interviewed. After that I got a letter from the existing commission saying I would be questioned," said Soadat.

Afghanistan has dozens of papers, radio and TV stations, some independent, others owned by political and warlord factions.

Those pushing for government oversight say the media is inciting instability in the country, a claim activists reject.

Activist Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar is in meetings with lawmakers. He admits the 12-year-old media sector has failings. But he says more government control is not the answer.

"They want to mimic or they want to imitate what Iranians are doing and what Chinese are doing. It is not acceptable for us," said Khalvatgar.

Earlier this year gunmen burst into these offices of the daily Hasht-e-Subh after the newspaper published an expose of land grabs.

Editor Parwiz Kawa, whose paper is partially funded with U.S. aid, says things are at a critical point.

"So right now we are definitely in a fight. And in the frontline of this fight is the independent media. We fight for the democracy in this country, we fight for the civil society, we fight for the human rights, we fight for many other values, internationally accepted values," said Kawa.

The concern is that press freedoms will further erode after international forces leave in 2014 and international attention seeps away. And that in turn will affect reporters like Soadat.

"These pressures are getting increased on both men and women. And the figures we have it shows that female staff of the newspapers, the radios, the TVs, they are trying to leave their jobs, and look for some other alternatives to work," said Kawa.

Journalists, editors and advocates for now are meeting in private to discuss ways to force a review of the law. But, they say if they have to, they will take their fight to the streets.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.