'Concerns over media imbalance in Afghan polls'

Date of Publication : Monday 27 July 2009 10:19

Sun Jul 26,
KABUL  – Afghanistan's election commission said Sunday government-run media was giving disproportionate coverage to President Hamid Karzai, and urged fairness in reporting campaigns for the upcoming polls.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said Karzai -- who is standing for re-election on August 20 -- received 72 percent of coverage in the government-run print media, while TV stations were also showing bias.

"Two TV stations did not observe balance in this period of monitoring. National TV allocated most of the time to President Karzai and Noor TV to Dr. Abdullah," the IEC report released Sunday said.

Noor is a one of dozens of private television stations in Afghanistan, while National TV is state-owned.

Karzai is favourite to win the presidential polls but is facing tough challenges from his one-time foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, while 38 other candidates are also running.

"In print government media... 72 percent is allocated to President Karzai, 12 percent to Dr. Abdullah and five percent to Dr. Asharf Ghani Ahmadzai," Sadiqullah Tawhidi, the media monitoring chief, told a press conference.

This imbalance could impact on audience's decisions on polling day, he said.

In private print media -- which has boomed after a US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in 2001 -- about 50 percent of the coverage was focused on Karazi with other candidates sharing the rest, Tawhidi said.

Karzai pulled out of a televised presidential debate on Thursday at the last minute, accusing the host station of bias, prompting Ghani and Abdullah's campaign offices to say Karzai was unable to defend his time in power.

The debate went ahead with his rivals laying out their campaign manifestos standing next to an empty lectern, with the moderator making frequent references to the president's absence.

Karzai won the 2004 election with 55.4 percent and is tipped by observers to have a good chance at the August ballot despite his failure to rein in corruption or the Taliban in his nearly eight years on the job.

The election comes with Afghanistan gripped by the deadliest violence since the Taliban rose up against Karzai's government. About 90,000 Western troops are deployed in the country to help quell unrest.
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