Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Officials Want End to Gory TV Images

Footage of insurgent attacks seen as too much for traumatised population.
By Khan Mohammad Danishju

Afghanistan’s health ministry has urged a halt to gratuitous violence on television, which some viewers – especially those traumatised by war – find distressing.

“The health ministry has no authority over the media, but it has requested the Ministry of Information and Culture several times in writing to prevent such scenes being aired,” health ministry spokesman Ghulam Sakhi Nur Oghli Kargar told IWPR.

The culture ministry has joined the campaign, accusing Afghan television channels of broadcasting graphic images of people maimed and killed in war.

Deputy Information and Culture Minister Mobarez Rashedi said his office had repeatedly instructed television channels to stop broadcasting such material, and had held a conference on the subject for television executives.

“The media law explicitly prohibits the airing of violent scenes that have a negative impact on the psychology of society,” Rashedi said.

He acknowledged that although the ministry regarded the broadcasts as unlawful, it had not imposed penalties on any channel.

Ghani Ghorbandi, a 47-year-old resident of Kabul’s Khair Khana district, said his ten-year-old son was partly paralysed in a bomb blast and finds such broadcasts harrowing.

“The doctors have advised that he must not watch television, or that the TV should be turned off when such scenes are aired, or else he should be moved to another room,” Ghorbandi said, adding that his son screamed when images of suicide attacks were shown.

Kabul University graduate Najla Azimi survived a suicide attack three years ago, and says such footage on TV constantly reopen old psychological wounds.

“After that attack, I couldn’t study when I saw these scenes on TV,” she said, adding that she failed her exams before eventually passing.

“When I see such scenes on TV some evenings, I cannot sleep alone. I have one of my sisters sleep in the same room, and even then I have nightmares,” she said. “If officials at the TV channels had a little bit of conscience, they would never make money by upsetting people like this.”

One TV executive told IWPR that the Afghan defence and interior ministries and unspecified foreign organisations paid for images of Taleban victims to be shown. Sediq Ahmadzada of the privately-owned Tolo TV said these institutions provided the footage shown during commercial breaks.

“They supply it to TV channels for propaganda purposes,” he added.

Ahmadzada said Tolo TV showed the footage because it needed the revenue.

A media law passed in 2006 prohibits TV images of violence that is psychologically damaging, especially to children, or that is insulting to the victims involved.

Ahmadzada said the law could not be used to halt the broadcasts because it did not define what violence meant.

Rashedi said this was disingenuous and that the media law did provide clear definitions.

“If we told the media not to lie, would they need ‘lying’ to be defined and explained for them as well?” he asked.

The state-owned Radio Television of Afghanistan also shows the gory footage, but station official Isa Aria declined to comment on it.

The defence ministry denied paying for the broadcasts. Its spokesman General Zaher Azimi said Provisional Reconstruction Teams, PRTs, were doing so. The PRTs are joint military-civilian forces run by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

“Some foreign organisations and provincial PRTs provide such [footage] to the TV stations,” Azimi said.

The interior ministry also denied supplying or paying for the TV images, saying it opposed such broadcasts.

“Things that go against the media law should not be aired on television, so as to protect society’s mental wellbeing,” ministry spokesman Mohammad Sediq Sediqi said.

Asked about the footage, the United States embassy said America did not support media content that incited violence or extremism, though it was in favour of transparency and access to information.

Timur Shah Mosamem, the director of Kabul’s Psychiatric Hospital, said TV channels should think carefully about whether to broadcast violence which was unsuitable viewing for women and children under ten.

“TV channels must [also] give special consideration to the rights and human dignity of those who have been injured and killed,” he added.

Sabur Babakarkhel, a doctor at a private hospital in Kabul, said his colleagues were providing treatment to a number of children traumatised by the TV images of death and suffering. He added that the best treatment would be not to show such scenes in the first place.

Political analyst Daud Sultanzoi said that even if the government was unable to enforce the media law, TV stations should take a moral stance by themselves and stop showing scenes of violence.

But he would prefer a tougher government response, arguing that “the best way to prevent this is to punish the perpetrators”.

Khan Mohammad Danishju is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kabul.