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Can a free media exist in Afghanistan?

12 Nov 2007

Maria Semenova writes:

Baqer Moin gave an illuminating and  interesting talk on the very relevant and powerful issue of media development in Afghanistan. Baqer Moin grew up in Nishapur, and from an early age was inspired by Rumi's poetry. Later in life he wrote and translated a number of books on the Islamic Revolution in Iran. He is the author of Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah. The founding Director of Jadid Media and a former head of the BBC Persian and Pashto Service, he is a well-known and highly respected commentator and journalist tackling issues related to Islam and the West. In 2002 the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association awarded him the Elizabeth R Award for his contribution to public service broadcasting.Afghanistan's media landscape has dramatically changed since the Taliban regime was overthrown by the US-led coalition forcers in  2001. The country has never before had an independent media, so media outlets have flourished in the post-Taliban years. During the Taliban regime there was ony one radio station, which broadcasted pro-government propaganda. However, there are now more than 300 newspapers with a circulation of over 150,000 across the country, more than 50 FM radio stations and 13 24-hour TV channels. A strong oral culture, problems of distribution and electricity supply, a low literacy rate and ethnic tolerance problems, together with state corruption, are some of the major obstacles currently facing the media and its development, especially print media. There is a lack of professionalism in print journalism reporting and a tendency to mix facts with opinion. Radio plays a vital role and is the most popular medium in the country but despite a very fragmented electricity network, TV is overtaking radio as the most popular , with TV channels being very popular in urban centres. Tolo TV is the leading private network, with its current affair programmes, in particular, enjoying a solid reputation. A new law on the press in Afghanistan passed both first and second readings in the local Parliament. On paper the law guarantees a free press, but in reality warlords and conservative religious groups are still strong, and local officials and provincial governors are highly corrupt. As a consequence, for the media, making programmes and raising very important topics for Afghan society such as the issues of gay people, child abuse and incest is possible under the close protection of the coalition forces.