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Afghanistan slams Tolo TV channel for ‘un-Islamic’ program

5 April, 2008

The conservative, Islamic government of Afghanistan has severely censured Tolo, a popular Afghan television channel, for broadcasting what it describes as “immoral and un-Islamic” programs.

What invited the ire of Afghanistan’s Information and Culture Ministry was a scene on Tolo television – known for its Indian soap operas and Pop Idol-style talent contest – that showed a group of Afghan women and men dancing together at a film awards ceremony.

The Information and Culture Ministry ruled that the program was “against the beliefs and traditions of the Islamic society of Afghanistan.”

Britain’s Telegraph quoted Abdulkarim Khorram, Minister for Culture, as saying that Tolo would be referred to a state media-monitoring committee to determine whether it violated the media law by showing the dance scene. “Not only do we denounce this show, we will also try to find ways to prevent these issues from happening again,” Khorram said.

Tolo’s editors, reports said, told Radio Free Afghanistan that airing of the dance scene on the night of March 28, 2008, “was an unfortunate mistake that occurred because of some technical errors.”

Tolo’s broadcasting of Afghan women and men dancing together at the film awards ceremony led to a debate in the Afghan parliament the following day. A few conservative deputies even demanded that the television station be shut down. Abdurrasul Sayaf, a deputy and former warlord, charged Tolo with being “an entry point for foreign conspiracies.”

On March 31, 2008, the lower house of parliament passed a resolution intended to stop television programs from showing dancing and other activities deemed “un-Islamic.”

However, many parliament deputies supported the Tolo station calling for safeguarding “freedom of speech and media,” the Telegraph reported.

Fawzia Kufi, a female legislator, argued that the parliament has no right to close a television channel and that such action by the deputies would damage the country’s constitution.

Media-rights activists in Afghanistan termed the stand of the government and the conservative lawmakers as an attack on freedom of speech.

Rahimullah Samandar, president of the Independent Afghan Journalists Association, said, “Afghans are tired of decades of war and restrictions, and now they want light and entertaining TV programs. As a young person myself, I support these shows. Most young Afghans want these programs to continue and even increase. Apart from a group of hard-liners and those who belong to jihadi or religious groups, the rest of society is in favor of such television shows.”

Tolo, launched in October 2004, is considered Afghanistan's most popular television station by many Afghans. It is very popular among the youths of Afghanistan, but conservative clerics and politicians criticize the TV station for its rather liberal programming.

The website says that Tolo was recently condemned by hardliners for hosting Afghan Star, a national music contest held among young singers, both male and female. The final program of the six-month show was watched by over 10 million viewers, while about 300,000 people sent text messages from their mobile phones to vote for the competition’s two finalists.

Conservative officials in the Afghan government had demanded that the Afghan Star show be banned, saying that it was designed to encourage immorality and was against Afghanistan’s culture and tradition. Their chief objection: participation of women on the show.

Over 10 private television stations have been started in Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban government in 2001. The Taliban, during its stern rule, had banned television as un-Islamic. Supporters of the Taliban had then smashed television sets and assaulted “offenders.”




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