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

Afghan TV Focuses on Victims of Violence

Afghan television stations show the human face of suffering.
By Wahidullah Amani
The image is stark - a small boy stands on his father’s grave holding a photograph of a bearded, turbaned man. The boy is crying, looking down and saying, “This is my father, who was killed in a suicide bombing in Charahi Qambar.”

This short but powerful television clip was part of a concerted campaign by several Afghan TV stations to bring home the human tragedy of bomb attacks that have shattered Kabul’s relative calm over the past ten days.

On September 29, a powerful blast tore through a residential district, killing 30 and injuring 29. Just three days later, on October 2, another suicide bomber took the lives of 15, injuring ten. And on October 6, a further bomb near the airport killed four.

The capital, preparing for the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of Ramadan, was temporarily shocked into silence. But the hardy residents of Kabul soon began picking themselves up, and less than a week after the latest attack, the streets were once again crowded with holiday shoppers.

For the families of the victims, Eid will offer cold comfort.

Three major television stations have set themselves the task of keeping the faces and stories of these people in the public eye and consciousness.

“We want to send a message to both sides - to the Taleban and to the government and NATO forces,” said Abdul Qadeer Merzai, head of the news desk at Ariana Radio & Television Network. “We want to show them what they are doing. People are being killed, wives are losing their husbands, and children are losing their fathers, brothers and sisters. We are showing them what the survivors’ lives are like.”

Ariana is a private station begun two years ago, broadcasting to 28 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, and available via satellite in the rest of the world. It broadcasts in both the major languages, Pashto and Dari.

“We have received many calls and emails from Afghans living in Europe and other western countries,” said Merzai. “After the October 2 bomb, many people asked how they could contact the families. They wanted to help them.”

Ariana has an even loftier aim in mind, according to Merzai.

“We hope we can reduce the number of suicide attacks through these broadcasts,” he said. “After they see the victims on television, maybe some potential suicide bombers will change their minds. We are all human beings.”

The programming is certainly having an impact on the general population. When the broadcasts come on, rooms fall silent. Some people weep, while others turn their heads away.

“It is really painful to watch these broadcasts,” said Dil Agha, 24. “I want these people to stop. If they are against the government, they can fight in the mountains or in the desert. But with suicide bombs, they kill women, they kill children. These stories show them what they did.”

The Taleban claimed responsibility for the Kabul attacks, but the fundamentalists are not the only people targeted in the media blitz.

“We have sent reporters to Helmand and other provinces,” said Mujahed Kakar, the head of Lemar TV and news editor of its parent station, Tolo. “We have done stories on civilian casualties, those who died in NATO bombings. We want to present the voice of civilians, those who are hurt. We want both sides to be very careful so as to minimise civilian deaths.”

Lemar and Tolo have joined the campaign, expressing similar aims to Ariana.

“The Taleban always say they are targeting foreign troops and the Afghan army,” said Kakar. “We are telling the stories of the civilian casualties to show them that these aren’t Afghan army soldiers or foreigners. We are investigating the short- and long-term consequences of these attacks. I think no Muslim is interested in killing another Muslim.”

Lemar, just one year old, broadcasts exclusively in Pashto and can be seen in nine provinces, mainly in the south and east. Tolo is the oldest of the independent stations, launched in 2004, with programming mostly in Dari.

Among the family members seen on TV was a woman whose son was driving the bus that was blown up in the October 2 attack.

“He was my only son,” she said on screen, crying. “Now he has left a wife and three children. What can I do? Who is going to feed them?”

The TV stations look set to continue show this kind of programme, but even outside the format, victims are trying to be heard.

On one recent call-in programme on Tolo TV, a young girl asked for advice from an on-air psychologist.

“I lost my mother and my eight-year-old brother in the [September 29] suicide attack,” she said. “Now I can’t stop crying. What should I do?”

Wahidullah Amani is IWPR’s lead trainer and reporter in Kabul.

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