When the Taliban swept into power in
1995, the fundamentalist government seized control of all print publications,
as well as radio and television broadcasts. Entertainment and news shows that
had been on the air for decades were cancelled. In fact, the hard-line rulers
went so far as to make it illegal to own a television, including satellite dishes
that provided citizens with international programming.
The Taliban had "brought
the media to its knees, leaving printing plants and distribution networks destroyed,
communications infrastructure in ruins, journalists ill trained and primitive
radio and TV programs," Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based media
watchdog, said in 2000. Afghanistan had become "a country without news or
pictures," the group reported.
But just one week after coalition forces
ousted the Taliban in Dec. 2001, Afghanistan TV resumed broadcasting several popular
entertainment shows, albeit during limited hours each day.
Less than two
months later, Kabul Weekly, an independent weekly publication, reappeared in shops
and newsstands after being banned for five years under the Taliban.
this, the development of Afghanistan's media required -- and continues to need
-- significant professional and financial assistance.
As part of a massive
reconstruction plan, foreign governments and international organizations -- such
as the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
-- are helping rebuild Afghanistan's communications infrastructure, left in ruins
by nearly 25 years of war.
Another major challenge facing Afghanistan's nascent media is the creation
of policies that protect the freedom of the press. To help ensure this,
international organizations and foreign governments are working with
the post-Taliban government to craft legislation that will enable the
media to function independently from government oversight and censorship.
Additionally, a number of nongovernmental media organizations -- such
as Internews, a Calif.-based group involved in various media projects
worldwide, and AINA, a French non-governmental organization -- received
grants from the U.N. and foreign governments to provide technical assistance
and media equipment and train a new generation of journalists -- including
women, who previously were forbidden to work during the Taliban's rule.
remains the dominant media in Afghanistan. The U.S. State Department
describes Afghanistan as a "radio culture," since roughly
85 percent of Afghans own a radio and can tune in anywhere. The low
literacy rate, the economic costs of television, and the country's rugged
landscape also contribute to the prevalence of radio, according to Internews.
As of May 2003, seven radio stations can be picked up in Kabul. The
most popular station, Radio Kabul, broadcasts intermittently throughout
the day and airs hourly news reports, written by the government-run
Bakhtar News Agency.
A number of international radio broadcasts -- including the U.S.'s Voice
of America and Radio Free Afghanistan; Britain's BBC; and Germany's
Deutsche Welle -- are also available. A majority of Afghans listen to
the BBC's Pashtu and Dari-language services every day, according to
2001 surveys conducted by Reporters Without Borders.
Over the last three years, however, a growing number of Afghans have
turned to the television and print publications for news and entertainment.
The state-run Kabul TV, for example, is on the air for several hours
each evening. There remains only one newscast on TV, but occasionally
news reports will appear between the regular entertainment TV programs,
according to a recent Internews report. Because of the country's undeveloped
communications system, Afghanistan's television service remains limited.
The Bakhtar News Agency provides the news reports for Kabul TV, just
like Radio Kabul. The officially sanctioned Bakhtar rarely criticizes
the government, one journalist who works for a Pashtu-language foreign
radio service in Kabul told Reporters Without Borders.
Since the central government no longer outlaws television, people who
can afford sets and satellite dishes can buy them and watch international
broadcasts. However, in several provinces, such as Herat and Jalalabad,
conservative leaders have banned the use of media equipment, such as
satellite dishes, VCRs and video games.
State-run TV stations may be available, but the Afghan government has
banned a large number of cable stations. In January 2003, the Afghan
Supreme Court banned cable television, calling its content offensive
to the moral values of Islamic society. Chief Justice Mawlazi Fazl Hadi
Shinwari said the court was responding to people's complaints about
cable's programs containing "half-naked singers and obscene episodes
Following an inquiry by the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture
in April 2003, the central government eased the ban on most news and
sports cable broadcasters -- such as the BBC, Al-Jazeera and CNN --
but prohibited cable operators from airing Western movie and music channels.
The government continues to debate which foreign and domestic cable
operators will receive broadcast licenses.
Growing Print Presence
Despite Afghanistan's low literacy rate, more than 120 new publications
have cropped up in the last three years. There are three independent
publications: Kabul Weekly, which prints 10,000 copies each week; Malalai,
a monthly women's magazine; and Seerat, a weekly newspaper published
Most of these publications are only available in Kabul. Outside the
capital and in rural provinces, local governors and warlords continued
to dominate the media and have largely muted journalists who criticized
them, according to human rights and media organizations.
Even journalists in the capital face intimidation and threats, say media
and human rights watchdogs. In June 2003, Afghanistan's Supreme Court
ordered the closure of the privately owned Aftab news weekly and the
arrests of its reporter and editor for publishing an article entitled
"Holy Fascism." The article called for a secular government
and a moderate interpretation of Islam; the high court called the publication
an "offense to Islam." Authorities released the editor, Sayeed
Mirhassan Mahdawi, and reporter, Ali Payam Sistany, after nearly a month
in jail, but the two must still stand trial under Islamic law, or sharia,
in Kabul. Aftab remains closed.
Several human rights watch groups called upon Afghan interim President
Hamid Karzai to allow the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture
to arbitrate the case, rather than allow the two journalists stand trail
before the Supreme Court, or clerical council.
However, in early August the Supreme Court sentenced both to death for
"blasphemy." Since their release from jail, the two journalists
have been hiding somewhere in Afghanistan. Authorities have issued new
warrants for their arrest. Human rights groups condemned the latest
"The government's message to journalists is clear: 'You are not
protected,'" John Sifton of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch
said in a press statement.
"In Afghanistan today, dominant government officials or powerful
clerics can order journalists arrested, and President Karzai won't stop
them. The situation has grave implications for Afghanistan's future
By Liz Harper, Online NewsHour