In democracies, people have the right to choose their representatives in government and that right can be exercised through general elections.
The people of Afghanistan are once again getting close to electing their president and members of the provincial assemblies. They want to learn about the candidates so that they can make a decision as to how to vote.
For this purpose, media outlets should publish such reports and information to assist the voters in making their decisions.
Pajhwok Afghan News, which has a reputation as a reliable source of information because of its impartial position while covering events, considers it a responsibility to cover the coming elections with the same impartiality as it had covered the previous one.
To achieve that end, PAN had prepared the following guidelines for its reporters.
Voters are the most important
Disregarding gender, language, family, religion and other differences, voters are all those people who are Afghan citizens and are 18 years of age.
Voters are the key elements of the whole elections process; it cannot be completed without their participation. The validity of elections where the voter turnout is low is usually questionable.
Under the Afghan constitution and the election law, a candidate should be declared the winner when he gets 50 plus 1 votes (more than half of the total polled votes.)
Keeping this in mind, one vote is of key importance and every single vote must be given the same importance.
Reporters must appreciate that voters are of the greatest importance.
For example:
+ Three candidates are holding separate meetings. Two candidates are very well-known and the third is not. All the three meetings have their own supporters. In this situation, reporters should not ignore the third candidate’s meeting. It may be that financial position of the third candidate is weak. The reporters should give equal coverage to all the three and report on the issues that are important to voters.  
Otherwise, supporters of the candidate who did not get coverage will accuse the journalists of taking a biased approach and will not trust the reports.
+ Large numbers of people are participating in the election gatherings.
Some reporters ask questions from those participants who are well-dressed and seem more educated than others. This is non-professional approach. Reporters should try to talk to a wide cross-section of voters in any gathering. Remember, Afghanistan has three times as many people living in rural areas as in cities, and more people are uneducated than educated. A reporter should talk to people belonging to all groups and then prepare a report on the basis of significant quotes.
Don't include your views when getting comments
Everyone has his or her own views and feelings, but don't offer your feelings and views while interviewing someone.
One journalist may prefer to talk to those in suit and tie, women reporters may be more interested in female voters, and some journalists have inclinations towards people for their faith and belief. However, all these things should be set aside and the reporter should treat everyone on equal footings while conducting an interview.
Be careful in selecting people to interview
At a meeting in support of a candidate, you may see foreigners and children attending. However, foreigners can't vote in the polls, and only those Afghans 18 years old or above are eligible to vote. So you should take care to select such people as voters who have the right to vote.
Don't take each quotation passively
Some people, while talking, get so emotional that they care little for logic. It may be that a supporter of a certain candidate tells you: "We should vote Candidate X because he is the best and if elected, he will bring prosperity in the country within a year."
But everyone believes his candidate is the best. Every candidate claims that he will bring prosperity.
In such a situation, you must ask questions to find the logic of the voter’s answer and details to support his position. For example: Do you know all the candidates? Why do you say that X is better than others?  What problems in your life will be solved by Candidate X? What steps will X take to rebuild Afghanistan in a year? Why do you have confidence in this program?
Review candidate promises
Election is still new in our country. Not all the voters are familiar with this process and neither are most of the candidates.
Some candidates are chanting slogans during their campaigns which show that they don’t even know what their elected job would be.
In the previous election, candidates for the provincial councils and Wolesi Jirga were heard saying that they would pave roads if elected. The fact is that pavement of roads was not within their authority.
For example:
+ Afghans are faced with problems such as unemployment and  lack of housing, and this has become a theme for candidates to make big promises of solving these problems.
One candidate says: "I shall soon create jobs for one million people and construct one million houses." If these promises were published without questioning, voters do not know what to believe.
You should seek explanations about such promises and ask candidates: "With what resources can you accomplish this? Please give an example of even a developed countries that has done this." Such questions force the candidates to move from false promises to more realistic plans.
+ Some candidates have level accusations against others. Reporters should remember that using derogatory language and making accusations can be a crime. They should take care with such statements.
Ask the accusing person: "What proofs do you have? If the rival challenged you in court, how will you defend yourself?"
Be careful with numbers
Some candidates mention misleading figures to show they have more support. For example, they call a meeting in a hotel and claim that 5,000 people participated and all of them announced their support for the candidate.
You should check to be sure – does this hotel have that much capacity?
In this connection, you should talk to the manager or staff of the hotel and find out how many people were there. It is better to ask even before the gathering what the capacity is.
Sometimes people are brought in on different pretexts for such meetings (they are told they’ll get a free meal, or that it is a Quran reading). To check whether those in attendance are really supporters, you should ask several people at random questions like, "Why have you come here?" and "Who called you here?" Do you know the candidate and support him?”
Check the consistency of candidate speeches
To get support, candidates aim their speeches at the immediate audience. You should try to compare their previous speeches with recent ones.
For example, people of the southern and some eastern provinces are fed up with house searches and air strikes. People especially hate the Taliban in the northern provinces. The candidates will deliver speeches in the two zones according to the likes and dislikes of the people which may be contradictory.
For example, a candidate giving a speech in the south might say: "If elected, I shall expel all the foreigners and give seats to Taliban in the government …..."
If the same candidate goes to the northern zone, then he may say: "Foreigners are here to support us, so if elected, I shall reconstruct the country with their support." Or he will say: "Taliban are terrorists who destroyed the northern zone. If elected, I shall eliminate them."
If you face such a situation, ask the candidate directly: "You have said something different in Helmand, how will you accomplish both of these promises?"
If you don't get a chance to ask the question, write his north speech and add in your report the quotes from his public meeting in the south. In this way, you can help the voters and let them know about the candidate.
Violation of election rules
An election is only valid if the rules are followed.  And voters may decide that a candidate who breaks the rules during a campaign will not follow the laws of Afghanistan if elected. An important part of your role is to check on how well the candidates follow the rules.
Journalists can point out the violations when they know about the election system and study the election laws.
Nineteen clauses are included under potential violations in the election laws.
They included threats against voters or officials, preventing official observers from working, having more than one ballot for each voter, searching the ballot box without permission, and other detailed provisions.
A journalist seeing such violations must investigate and then report it. Such violations can best be seen when the reporter is present at the voting precinct and sees everything from up close.
While casting votes, the officials use ink on thumb so that the voter may not vote again the same day. If you see a person whose thumb shows the mark of ink and still he/she goes to the ballot box to vote, you know that it was a violation and you should ask the voter and the election official present.
Under the section 44 of the election laws, no one can hold arms within 500 metres of the polling station without the permission of the Interior Ministry. However, if you see armed men in that area, you must investigate and report that.
Similarly, the polling stations can be closed before the set time by the officer concerned only in case of storm, rain or security problems. However, if you see that the polling office is closed without any reason before the time prescribed by the law, you should investigate and then report.
Above all, be accurate
Forty-one candidates are in the run for the presidential seat and only one is going to succeed at the end. It is possible that candidates may spread false information in order to win, or that if they lose they will not accept their defeat and spread rumours to hide it.
Reports should never be based on hearsay. You must find reliable sources or observe directly in order to file a report.
Extra care should be taken during the elections. Pajhwok wants timely news, but accuracy is more important. Giving an inaccurate report would stop people from believing in Pajhwok and they also will not trust you as a reporter.
So don't forget that you have to take complete care and if possible, try to reach into those areas where problems were reported, see everything yourself or share information with the candidates, concerned people or regional officials of the election commission and start filing the news only when you confirm it.