Meagre TV Schedule Delights Viewers

A few hours of television a day may not seem much but for Afghan audiences it marks a welcome change from the Taleban era, when they could not watch it at all.

Meagre TV Schedule Delights Viewers

A few hours of television a day may not seem much but for Afghan audiences it marks a welcome change from the Taleban era, when they could not watch it at all.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

Television in Jalalabad is pretty dire by Western standards, but such is the public's thirst for popular culture after years under the puritanical Taleban that the limited daily schedule of the city's relaunched TV station has viewers glued to their screens.

After years of no television at all, the two-hour daily broadcasts - including a hotchpotch of music programmes and old war dramas - provides the long-suffering population with a welcome relief from life's hardships.

The first image seen on Afghan screens in the post-Taleban era was that of former children's television presenter Maryam Shakiba - her face no longer covered with a chadri veil.

"After years we can watch good programmes," said Amhad Shah Majroh, a shopkeeper in the eastern city, which bestrides the road to Pakistan's Khyber Pass. "We are proud we can watch music and light entertainment on our national television."

However, like so many other public services in the country, state broadcasters remain chronically short of funds and the sector will take some time to re-establish itself. It is estimated that there are only 100,000 television sets in a country with a population of more than 27 million people.

Nangarhar Television, named after the province of which Jalalabad is capital, broadcast for four hours a day when it began operating 18 years ago under the government of Babrak Karmal, installed in power by the Soviets in the late Seventies.

The mujahedin restricted the output, which then came to an abrupt halt when the Taleban came to power. But the after the defeat of the student militia, the local commander for Nangarhar, Haji Abdul Qadir, personally relaunched the city's TV station.

"Now we have two hours of output a day, including music, news, dramas and some training and educational programmes," said station director Abdul Samad Momand.

" Programmes are quite modest at the moment because of our technical and financial problems - we can't compare it with foreign broadcasting, but everything will be okay in time."

The two-storey broadcasting centre also houses the local radio station. Radio fared rather better under the Taleban, which had no objection to voices being heard over the airwaves, although women, drama and music were still banned. During the last days of their regime, the student militia used the radio network to broadcast anti-American propaganda.

An estimated 2,500 people working in the broadcast media were hit hard by the Taleban's rule. In Nangarhar, the TV station's 105-strong staff was more than halved and no women were permitted to work.

The number of people working in the sector is now growing, but many new staff members are underqualified and the expertise of many specialists, who fled the regime, is much missed.

In Nangarhar, a number of former employees have returned to take up their jobs in recent months. But they are doing so more out of a love of broadcasting than the prospect of receiving a regular wage.

Abdul Rawof Rodwal, an engineer responsible for radio output, has worked with the station since it was founded. "Our salaries are not paid and we have children at home," he said. "We work in the morning for the station and do other jobs after that. That is how we run our lives."

Although Rodwal is confident about the station's future, the debate about broadcasting and entertainment is far from over in Afghanistan. The city's commander Abdul Ghafar recently tried to ban video games and relented only after a public backlash.

Sayed Jan Sabaoon participated in an IWPR journalism training course in


Pakistan, Afghanistan
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