Afghanistan

Access to information more urgent than ever during COVID-19

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GARDEZ/FAYZABAD - The importance of public access to information is even more critical during the time of COVID-19, said participants in a series of radio discussions held in Afghanistan’s northeastern and southeastern provinces.

During broadcasts in the provinces of Badakhshan, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika and Paktya, panellists argued that the citizen’s right to accurate and timely information can literally be a matter of life and death.

On Ghazni's Shamla Radio station, participants also stressed the importance of a free media informing the public on the pandemic as well as countering misinformation and myths on the spread, prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Speaking on Radio Pashtoon Ghag, in Sharana, the Head of Women Affairs Department in Paktika, Khoshbo Maidanwal, lauded the media for providing COVID-19 information, but lamented the absence of female journalists in the province, calling it a missed opportunity for combating the pandemic.

"Women understand other women better," observed Maidanwal, "unfortunately, we don't have a single female journalist in the whole of Paktika province."

In the northeastern province of Badakhshan, discussants on Sada-e- Banowan Radio, claimed that comparatively low recorded rates of contraction were in part due to strong reportage by local media.

Dr. Noshin Gawhar Karimi, advised listeners to vet their sources of information and cautioned against spreading misinformation and rumors.

“I call on people to use information from credible media and not to spread rumors from unknown sources, especially from social media,” said Karimi, who is a senior official at the Badakhshan Department of Health.

As Afghanistan and the world grapples with the pandemic, journalists are central to providing critical information, as well as countering the spread of misinformation, particularly on social media.

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in his address on World Press Freedom Day, spotlighted the media’s role. "As the pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis," he said.

The UN has been running a global ‘Verified’, campaign aimed at delivering trusted information on COVID-19. The initiative also invites the public to become information volunteers and share UN-verified, science-based content and stories highlighting the best of humanity.

Organized by UNAMA’s field offices in Gardez and Kunduz, the radio series concluded with calls for Afghans to work together in fighting the pandemic by avoiding misinformation, ending stigma and staying away from large gatherings. They urged everyone to follow the WHO guidelines, including social distancing, washing hands and wearing face masks in public places.

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.

In accordance with its mandate as a political mission, UNAMA supports the Afghan people and government to achieve peace and stability. UNAMA backs conflict prevention and resolution, promoting inclusion and social cohesion, as well as strengthening regional cooperation. The Mission supports effective governance, promoting national ownership and accountable institutions that are built on respect for human rights.