Afghanistan’s religious Ulemas Council calls the country’s main privately-owned TV station, Tolo TV, “immoral and anti-religious” and has been pushing President Hamid Karzai hard since its launch in October 2004 for it to be shut down. This makes life difficult for the Kabul-based station’s journalists.
Shakeb Issar, who presented the station’s music programme “Hop,” was forced to flee the country after getting death threats. A woman colleague, Shaima Rezayee, 24, accused by the hardline chief of the supreme court of “corrupting society,” was found dead in May 2005.
Its news programmes contrast sharply with the dry style of the state-run TV station and its journalists investigate all kinds of things. One reporter was hounded in June 2005 after doing a report on shady land deals involving top government officials.
Tolo TV, owned by the same group as the very popular radio station Arman FM, has just started the first talk-show for Afghan women, called “Bonu.”
Fragile gains for the Afghan media
Since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, the Afghan media have fought for more freedom of expression. The 2004 national constitution guarantees press freedom but with restrictions imposed by Islamic law. The media played a key part in the peaceful 2005 parliamentary elections but the government-controlled outlets are used by the authorities for their own interests.
The return of Taliban violence in the south and east of the country has affected the media, with a reporter killed and several media outlets attacked.
The religious hardliners are trying to silence criticism and editor Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, of the magazine Haqoq-e-Zan (Rights of Women), was recently jailed for two years after a flawed trial before a Kabul court for blasphemy by printing articles condemning the practice of stoning and beating as punishment.
The main resistance to media diversity comes from the hardline supreme court and its judges regularly denounce cable TV, the Internet and women journalists.
President Hamid Karzai is sometimes slow to defend press freedom and in 2004 he agreed to temporarily ban cable TV and set up a commission to report on whether these stations were putting out “immoral and anti-Islamic” programmes.
The broadcast media are crucial in a country with 65% illiteracy and at least 50 FM radio stations are on the air. The written media is weakened by continual money problems and most are funded by political factions, NGOs or religious groups.