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Samangan provincial authorities and media forge ties to improve access to information

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AIBAK – In a bid to improve access to information, the provincial government and media in the northern province of Samangan have forged closer ties.

More than 30 journalists and government officials, including the provincial deputy governor, participated in a one-day workshop organized by Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, to discuss ways to improve the free flow of information to the public. They agreed to replicate a model recently adopted in the Balkh province such as designating press focal points in line departments and creating a joint-WhatsApp group with the local media.

Deputy governor, Sefatullah Samangani, said that the government holds information not for itself, but on behalf of the people.

“Government information is the people’s property that is in the hands of government officials,“ said Samangani. “Information should be given to the public unless there is a good reason to classify it.” He also urged the media to play their part through objective reporting and by providing the public with accurate information.

Head of Nai, in the north, Mobina Sai, said that access to information benefits not just the public but also the government as it facilitates the free flow of timely and accurate information on government activities and programmes. She gave an example of the Balkh province were media and the provincial government are working together to provide information.

Last year, UN-backed workshop in partnership with NAI, was also held in Mazar, where journalists were complaining about the difficulties of accessing information from government entities. To address the concerns, the Balkh governor took several measures, including the introduction of bi-weekly briefings with the media, designating press focal points for each government department and creating a joint WhatsApp group with the media.

Afghanistan adopted a progressive Access to Information Law in 2014, which guarantees every citizen the right to access public information from government institutions. This right might be limited only in narrow circumstances where disclosure would harm the rights of other citizens or threaten national security.

According to the law, every government entity has an obligation to provide unclassified information to the public, whenever asked. However, many citizens, including government officials, are not aware of the law and its provisions.

The media in Samangan are hopeful that the ‘Balkh model’ will open a new chapter of transparency, mutual trust and cooperation with provincial authorities in the interest of providing accurate and timely information to the public.

UNAMA works with various institutions and individuals, including media stations, religious leaders, provincial councils, community leaders, youth groups and women to create platforms – using radio, social media, and television – for Afghans to engage in dialogue on pressing issues affecting their communities.

UNAMA provides 'good offices' and other key services, including diplomatic steps that draw on the organization’s independence, impartiality and integrity to prevent disputes from arising, escalating or spreading. The Mission coordinates international support for Afghan development and humanitarian priorities.