13 April 2009

TV reception warm in post-Taliban Afghanistan

In the west, trashing the quality of television news and entertainment programming is so common that many of us continue to lambaste it even while are watching it. Here in Kabul, the overwhelming majority of my sociology students view television as something that has qualitatively improved their lives and their understanding of a diverse world.

This is not to say they don’t have criticism of TV. The biggest complaint they express concerns the large amount of entertainment programming that originates in India and espouses values and beliefs that are contrary to Islam, the faith of 99 percent of Afghans. My students say some elements of Indian culture, and perhaps more specifically the Hindu religion, which has an endless number of deities, amounts to worshiping idols. They also say Indian programming features too much bare skin, puts too much emphasis on romantic love, and features fashion styles that are immodest from an Afghan perspective and are being widely copied by younger Afghans. Oddly enough, the same criticism is seldom directed at American programming, but that may be because Indian shows are so much more pervasive than western ones.

My students are also suspicious of any claims of objectivity and fairness by any TV news network and they claim Afghan news shows are slanted toward the ethnic and ideological perspective of the network’s ownership.

Still, their view of global TV is generally very positive because they believe it allows them insights into other cultures and perspectives, which they find stimulating and educational. To contextualize their viewpoint, it is important to note that before the Taliban regime fell in 2001, there was only government-owned TV network, and it seldom operated; the approved radio stations were controlled by the Taliban, and all other forms of entertainment, including music, dance, videos and DVDs, were officially banned, even though some people enjoyed them in secret.

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