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President Ghani rolls out tax break for Afghan media

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President Ashraf Ghani: Is there anything I can do?

KABUL: President Ashraf Ghani has by decree exempted media outlets — except TV channels — from paying tax fines, an Afghan government official said on Tuesday.

The presidential order was read out by Abdul Subhan Rauf, deputy head of the Administrative Office of the President (AOP), on Tuesday during the president’s meeting with representatives of print, audio, broadcasting agencies and media outlets. He said the order was aimed at resolving problems, preventing bankruptcy of media outlets and supporting and strengthening them.

Neighbouring Pakistan’s military president Parvez Musharraf had a similar presidential law for politicians, businessmen and other financial scammers called the National Reconciliation Ordinance when he was in power. The idea — according to him — was to let bygones be bygones and help the corrupt fall into line and pay up most of what they had pilfered, in return for subsequent amnesty and newbeginning with a clean slate. Though various efforts to make the corrupt pay up today come in various cloaked forms in Pakistan, the NRO is torn limb from limb by Pakistani politicians in their disdain for somene who was seen by many as a ‘benevolent dictator’.

The decree says: “In accordance with the Article 12th of the Income Tax Law, media outlets that have so far not paid their taxes, should pay the charges in monthly instalments over a maximum period of seven years.” Based on the order, previous tax fines and tax instalments of such businesses have been written off.

Sidiqullah Tawhidi, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) representative, thanked the president and said  672 cases of violence against journalists were currently being investigated, 172 of which pertained to the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and the rest to the Attorney General’s Office (AGO).

From the first of January this year, about 75 cases of violence against journalists had been recorded till date, he added. “We pay taxes to the government but we don’t receive benefits of retirement and insurance and our work at government organizations is not counted as experience or job career for journalists.”

President Ghani heard the demands and suggestions from media representatives and said: “We and you have changed the negative discussion into a constructive debate.”

Ghani said the freedom of expression was more valuable than money and added: “If there is a need for amendments to the Income Tax Law, I’m ready to sign it.”

He said the current freedom of expression in Afghanistan was not a gift from anyone but it was achieved with efforts spanning one hundred years.

He said the unity government paid serious attention to investigative journalism. He directed the Ministry of Information and Culture (MoIC) to consider two to four awards for investigative journalism in order to pave the way for a fair competition.

He said the unity government had the political will to investigate cases of violence against journalists, saying investigations would be carried out fundamentally and in accordance with the law. “No one is above the law.”

He ordered government officials, especially governors, to stop misbehaving with journalists and that threatening them was ‘unacceptable’. He also asked the media to act ‘conscientiously’. About hiring female reporters at government institutions, the president said the Presidential Palace and all ministries should provide ‘proper job opportunities’ to them, unclear about what that meant.

The president directed the minister of finance at the meeting to gather  suggestions from the media outlets and chart a course accordingly.

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