Excerpt from ACE Project
Afghanistan’s Joint Electoral Management Board (JEMB) set up a Media Commission (MC) in August 2004 to monitor the coverage and fair reporting of the electoral campaign by the domestic media, advise the JEMB of any violations of regulations during the campaign period and make recommendations to the JEMB. The MC drafted the Mass Media Election Campaign Code of Conduct, the Regulation on the Application of the Mass Media Election Campaign Code of Conduct, and the MC Investigation Procedures. The mandate of the MC expired 15 days after the polling day for the 2004 presidential elections. However a report by the Asia Foundation in 2004 found that many journalists were either unaware of the existence of the MC or unsure of its mandate and jurisdiction, while another report by NDI on the 2004 elections did not even consider media as an important external stakeholder to the electoral process (NDI, 2006).
After the 2005 elections, the JEMB was dissolved and an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was formed with an Afghan Secretariat. It continued the temporary Media Commission of the JEMB but it took the violence and fraud of the 2009 and 2010 elections, and the attacks on the media launched by incumbent President Hamid Karzai to focus attention on the vital role of media in electoral processes. An EU Electoral Observation report criticized the President’s actions as inconsistent with the constitution, and praised both the media and the IEC, but noted that the latter’s regulatory powers through the MC were insufficient, particularly against institutions such as RTA (EU, 2009).
The 2014 presidential elections introduced another level of discussion over media regulation with the introduction of online news and commentary. The draft Cyber Law had not been passed and the IEC was unsure how to regulate social media, which was not mentioned in the 2009 Media Law, or in the 2009 IEC Regulation Establishing the Media Commission, or the 2013 IEC Media Regulation. In discussions with the IEC in January 2014, it was clear that the Media Commission was struggling to square its regulatory remit with the inherent lack of editorial control of Facebook pages, blogs and Tweets and with no legal framework to guide them.
The NDI reported in its March 2014 Election Update that there were now 2.4 million Afghans online, compared to about 2000 in the 2004 elections. Furthermore, Foreign Policy reported how Facebook pages were being used to incite ethno-sectarian tensions.
Social media, as Foreign Policy author Sam Schneider noted, was also used to launch an Ushahidi-style platform for election monitoring, known as Paiwandgah (place of connection in Dari). This uses a network of citizen journalists to monitor and report local news and events and it was widely agreed that social media combined with word-of-mouth was a driving force behind the high turnout. Participants of the 2nd Afghan Social Media Summit in Kabul in October 2014, which focused on the role of social media in elections, shared this conclusion which was made clear on the comparative data visualization platform set up by the NDI.
Traditional media entities also developed online platforms or improved existing ones. Tolo News set up a dedicated election website as did Pajhwok News Agency and almost all news entities set up Facebook pages. Media entities also worked with IEC to define editorial responsibilities for online platforms and the IEC provided workshops and seminars to explain aspects of the electoral processes, using its Facebook page to announce the events and invite participation.
It remains to be seen what kind of regulatory framework for cyberspace will evolve in Afghanistan. Lessons from across the world indicate that governments of all shades and sizes prefer to repress rather than manage the noisy proliferation of voices. However Afghanistan’s 2014 elections, which saw a massive turnout of women voters and young people, indicate that these voices will not be silenced easily.
PDF : Needs Assessment on the Reform of the Media Commission for the 2005 National Assembly Elections in Afghanistan– The Asia Foundation (2004)
PDF : Media Monitoring Report -The pre-electoral period (24 July – 16 August 2005) (The Media Commission: 2005)