OPINION: 'To report freely is critical to democracy'

Two Australian federal Police officers walk out of the main entrance to the ABC building at Ultimo. Source: AAP

Afghan refugee and the executive producer of SBS Pashto Abdullah Alikhil says trust is so precious. If you lose it, getting it back – if you ever do - will be a long struggle.

As a refugee from Afghanistan, press freedom is not a topic I would have expected to be something discussed in the way it has been recently following AFP raids on the ABC and the home of a News Corp journalist in the last few weeks.

Abdullah Alikhil, Executive Producer, SBS Pashto
Abdullah Alikhil, the executive producer of SBS Pashto.

I left my home country in 2012 because of threats to my safety as a result of my work in Afghanistan as a journalist.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Afghanistan was the world’s deadliest country for journalists in 2018, with 15 journalists and media workers killed last year.

I knew some of these people, journalists who were attempting to uphold the values of freedom of the press by reporting on news, events, and violence in the country.

Every day, journalists continue to face intimidation and violence from a range of parties, each with their own interests in ensuring the media report a certain way, as well as ensuring there is news that isn’t reported.

The people of Afghanistan do not enjoy the independent media we take for granted here in Australia.

News organisations around Australia staged a silent protest against AFP raids on journalists
News organisations around Australia staged a silent protest against AFP raids on journalists

 Most media companies are controlled by people and organisations with their own interests and agendas, including warlords and corrupt officials who exert pressure and influence that is detrimental to press freedom.

But the biggest threat is that imposed by the Taliban who this week alone issued a warning to media outlets in Afghanistan to stop broadcasting government-funded anti-Taliban advertisements.

This was a direct, but not uncommon, threat to journalists and those who work for media organisations.

I would travel to work in the morning, wondering if what I reported that day would place me and my family at risk, and if during my journey home, I would be a target.

I believe – and I believe that Australians also strongly believe - that no journalist should have to choose between reporting what the public has a right to know, with the risk of such reprisals.

I am so grateful that today I call Australia home. I am grateful that I live in a proud democracy that values the rights of people and organisations to be held to account, and that trusts its media to scrutinise the activities of governments and institutions on its behalf.

And I am grateful that I can work as a journalist here in Australia without facing the intimidation and threats that saw me have to leave my home country.

In my role as a broadcaster for SBS Radio’s Pashto program, I am also incredibly proud that I get to report on topics that are important for the Afghan community in Australia to know about, without the fear of retribution.

The events and discussion that have been taking place in Australia in recent weeks remind me of the importance of ensuring we do all that we can to maintain, protect and defend freedom of the press.

The ability to hold power to account, and to be able to report freely on the facts that the public have the right to know, is critical to a democracy. It’s also critical in ensuring the media remains trusted by society.

Importantly, a free press is good for all sides: for the government, for the public, as well as for media networks. If we compromise, interfere or do anything to harm press freedom, this not only affects the public’s trust in the media, but their trust in the institutions that run our country.

There are many people like me who have come to Australia from countries where we do not have the trust in media we can take for granted here.

That trust is so precious. If you lose it, getting it back – if you ever do - will be a long struggle.

We should do all that we can to fight for it and protect it.

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