Badakhshis Change Channels

The only television station to have stayed on air during the Taleban era is now struggling to survive.

Badakhshis Change Channels

The only television station to have stayed on air during the Taleban era is now struggling to survive.

Thursday, 3 March, 2005

Faizabad television - which defied the Taleban for years - is facing a new threat.

Viewers in the far north-east province of Badakhshan are switching off its poor quality programming and turning to the latest news, entertainment shows and films from Pakistan and India available via satellite television.

As well as a broad range of slickly-made programmes, satellite also gives Faizabad residents some respite from the ten heavily-censored movies shown in constant rotation and the seemingly endless coverage of provincial governor Sayed Mohammad Amin’s meetings and public speeches.

Hashem, a tailor in the old city of Faizabad, told IWPR, “There is a joke in the city that a man goes into a TV shop and asks the shopkeeper to give him a set which doesn’t show any pictures of the governor.”

Faizabad TV was established in 1985, during the Soviet occupation, relaying programmes broadcast from Kabul. But only a few months after the mujahedin entered the capital 1992, they destroyed the city’s broadcasting centre and the fledgling station was left to its own devices.

It carried on broadcasting with almost no budget, relying on archived programmes and news bulletins cobbled together from international media agency reports.

The present state of affairs is a far cry from the Nineties, when Faizabad TV was lauded across the world for defying the Taleban and employing a female presenter, Munneza Rasooli, at a time when the student militia were banning women from the workplace.

Television, considered to be un-Islamic, was forbidden, but the Taleban’s failure to capture the city of Faizabad allowed the station to stay on air.

Today, though, it is facing a financial crisis and is only able to stay open thanks to a donation of film and equipment from the children’s charity, Unicef. In spite of these problems, it claims that around 50,000 viewers are still tuning in every evening. However, they will struggle to keep that figure unless standards improve.

Faizabad TV president Mohammad Din Khwahani admits that there is a problem with quality, which he blames on a lack of advanced technical facilities and low wages available for the station’s 18 employees. “Two of our most experienced workers even left their jobs to become security guards in one of the foreign non-governmental organisations,” he said.

Official censorship is also turning away viewers. Under recently introduced media legislation, television channels must cut sequences of a romantic or sexual nature from Indian movies and other entertainment programmes.

“A three-hour Indian film will be cut down to less than half that length. This leaves huge gaps in the plot and nobody can work out what’s going on. It’s no wonder people don’t want to watch Faizabad TV any more,” said Abdullah, a local worker.

Khwahani insists, however, that the latter isn’t a problem. “This is in keeping with the government’s cultural policy. Although some adults request that the films should be shown uncut, most are in favour of censorship and are accepting it.”

The word on the street would seem to prove him wrong. The ready availability of Indonesian and Taiwanese televisions and satellite dishes - which sell for around 100 US dollars across the city - could sound a death knell for the station.

“Most of the people who have money now watch only satellite television. You can tell that from the hundreds of dishes attached to roofs and walls of houses all over Faizabad,” said Hamid Saifi, a dried fruit seller.

Abdul Wali is an independent journalist in Kabul.

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