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TV Turn-off

Kabulis try to circumvent government bid to take the spice out of Indian movies broadcast on Afghan television.
By Abdul Wali

Residents of Kabul are signing up for cable TV to get round laws censoring popular films.


Under new legislation television channels must cut sequences of a romantic or sexual nature from Indian movies and other entertainment programmes, and radio stations have been forbidden from featuring female singers.


The move was called for by the recently appointed head of State Television and Radio in the city, Mohammad Ishaq, a senior member of the former Northern Alliance.


The government has defended the move, denying that it amounts to censorship. "We simply want broadcasts to be in keeping with our culture and tradition," explained Abdul Hameed Mubarez, deputy of information and culture minister.


The editing of Indian films has particularly angered Kabul televisions viewers, who say it'll make it hard for them to follow storylines.


Indian films, with their mix of melodrama, romance and songs, have become hugely popular since the fall of the Taleban, who banned music and television.


Female singers have followings all around Afghanistan, but the deputy of the supreme court, Mawlavi Fazil Ahmad Manawee, seems to consider them un-Islamic and insists that their popularity is confined to the capital.


"We have a strong Islamic culture and tradition - the people in favour of broadcasting women singers are only Kabul resident and they are limited in number," he said.


"Given the views of Afghan people, there will be real anger and disgust if these songs are broadcast, " said Mubarez.


However, in the Sixties and Seventies female singers were in demand throughout Afghanistan, travelling the length and breadth of the country to give concerts and perform at wedding parties.


The authorities do acknowledge that a handful of female artists - traditional singers all over 60 - have a nationwide following and have agreed to continue playing their music.


"We decided to broadcast the songs and pictures of these singers because they have such reputations. People are addicted to their songs," said Mubarez.


There's little Afghans can do about the ban on women singers, but television viewers angered by the editing of movies and entertainment programmes appear to have simply switched to watching cable TV.


A cable network was set up in Kabul about a month ago and it already has 6,000 subscribers.


Half of them have signed up with Star Cable TV in Mecroyan, which claims to have been given official permission to broadcast western programmes so long as they don't conflict with Afghan culture.


"We are broadcasting programmes from 30 different channels, including BBC and CNN. Twelve channels are from India, Iran and Pakistan.


"We have permission from the ministry of information and culture to broadcast, but they have directed us not to show some American channels because they are not in keeping with the cultural policy of Afghanistan."


The ministry, though, has denied that it has given any such approval and is now threatening to close down the cable operators. "They have begun broadcasting without asking us. We have officially asked the interior ministry to close their offices," said a spokesman.


If they do, would-be cable subscribers are likely to join the growing army of people buying satellite receivers. A Taiwan-made model costing 100 US dollars in Kabul will get you Indian, Pakistani, Iranian and Hong Kong channels.


Mohammad Sayed, owner of an electronics supermarket in Kabul, said, "After the collapse of Taleban, the market for dishes has become bigger and bigger - everyone wants one."


Abdul Wali is a part-time reporter for IWPR in Kabul


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