Indian soap operas, hugely popular among Afghans, are among the shows that have been branded “un-Islamic,” and television stations have been given orders to take them off the air.
Abdul-Qadir Mirzai, chief news editor for the private television station Ariana, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that Ariana has had to stop airing "Kumkum," a popular Indian soap opera.
“The Ministry of Information and Culture -- for the second time -- sent an official letter to Ariana television demanding the station refrain from airing the ‘Kumkum’ drama,” he said. Mirzai added that the popular soap opera had attracted many advertisers, and by pulling it off the air, the station would lose both a considerable number of viewers and a significant amount of money.
Mirzai insists the Indian soap opera, based on the love story of a Hindu couple, does not undermine Afghan culture or corrupt young Afghans’ morals. Indian movies and television series do not usually include sex or nude scenes.
Most Have Complied
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture issued a “final” deadline of April 22 to several other private stations, including Tolo and Noorin, to stop airing similar soap operas. Most private television stations have complied with the order.
During the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, music was outlawed and television was banned for being un-Islamic.
In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, Culture Minister Abdulkarim Khorram, a conservative, defended the hard-line stance on foreign serials, saying they put Afghanistan’s family institutions at risk.
“For instance, these serials show a woman who simultaneously has relationships with three of four men. Or they have children out of wedlock, or other similar things," he said. "These serials are watched by everyone, from children to adults; and it damages the ethics and moral well-being of families.”
At the same time, Afghan television stations have come under fire from parliament’s Committee on the Fight Against Drugs and Moral Corruption, which has criticized them for airing programs that “are foreign to the Afghan mentality and culture.” The committee caused a stir in the local media by introducing a package of proposals to be discussed in parliament as possible amendments to existing laws.
Among other issues, the committee suggests outlawing the consumption of alcohol, banning both men and women from dancing in public, and preventing television stations from airing “controversial” films and programs. The lawmakers also want to clarify under what circumstances and conditions female and male athletes should be allowed to train together.
Some of them suggest dancing should be banned altogether as a profession for women.
Erfanullah Erfan, a member of the committee, says the introduction of such proposals “has been necessary for a variety of reasons,” including “an increase in the number of young boys and girls being dragged into dancing groups against their will and many of them being abused and even raped.”
Erfan said the committee has amended the original text of the proposals to eliminate calls for the outlawing of T-shirts, video games, and snooker in Afghanistan.
The package of proposals, which has received extensive media coverage in the country, has brought mixed reactions among Afghans.
Conservatives have welcomed it. The influential Council of Clerics and conservative lawmakers, including a former warlord, Abdurrasul Sayaf, have taken a tough stance against television stations that broadcast programs with liberal content.
Other lawmakers, however, have defended what they call private television’s right to freedom of speech.
Television and radio executives, meanwhile, are calling for a meeting with President Hamid Karzai and religious leaders to discuss what they call “coverage of sensitive issues.” Karzai has yet to publicly comment on the issue, and it remains unclear whether the meeting will take place.
Many ordinary Afghans say they don’t have too many options for fun and leisure, and that banning their favorite television serials deprives them of what little enjoyment they have in their war-torn, impoverished country. They say if the country’s leaders want to fight un-Islamic and dangerous elements, they should tackle more concrete issues, such as young girls being sold by their families to settle debts or family feuds.
It is not the first time private television stations have been criticized by Afghan politicians and clerics for “undermining Afghan traditions and culture.” Last month, Tolo television was condemned for showing a group of men and women dancing together, as well as for hosting a national music contest, “Afghan Star,” a takeoff on the “American Idol” talent-search show.