Tiny TV station broadcasts
in defiance of Taliban rules
reach is limited, but what counts is its symbolism.
War With Terror
Afghanistan - The studios of TV Badakhshan are not exactly state of the
art. An old video camera propped on a shelf is aimed at news anchor Abdul
Wasill Hamidi, who sits in a broken wooden chair behind a rusting steel
desk. There are no computer graphics behind him, just a frayed green
curtain hiding a large crack in the wall.
the station's mere existence is an act of defiance and hope in a country
where modern technology and culture are outlawed.
the Taliban took control of most of Afghanistan's cities five years ago,
it banned television, radio and other forms of infidel entertainment. This
tiny station in an opposition-held corner of the country is the only
broadcast outlet still operating in a nation of 20 million people.
television station is of great symbolic importance in Feyzabad, the
capital of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, still recognized by the
United Nations and most of the world as Afghanistan's official government
although the Taliban fundamentalists control virtually all the major
cities and most of the countryside.
its reach is not great in a medieval nation ripped apart by 23 years of
civil war and where most people can't afford a television, TV Badakhshan
is emblematic of the resistance of this ethnic Tajik area against the
unyielding Taliban movement. (Badakhshan is the rebel-controlled province
in which Feyzabad is located.)
unveiled women newscasters appear on the government station reading the
news or letters from viewers - revolutionary stuff since women in Taliban-controlled
areas are not permitted to work or to appear without being cloaked from
head to toe.
station's operations are as patched together as the opposition Northern
Alliance, the fragile coalition of ethnic and political groups that is
hoping the American government's desire to retaliate against the Taliban
and its guest, Osama bin Laden, will strengthen its weakened movement.
Badakhshan usually broadcasts for two hours every night, though the
schedule varies depending on whether the city's small hydroelectric power
plant is operating. Since the schedule is erratic, the start of the
evening's programs is announced in town on a public loudspeaker.
evening news lasts about 15 minutes, though that, too, is not rigidly
there is news, it takes 15 minutes," Hamidi said. "If no news,
maybe eight minutes or 10 minutes."
night's big news story was a report on a memorial service for Ahmed Shah
Massoud, the popular opposition military leader who was killed Sept. 9 by
Taliban suicide bombers. There were no updates on reports about the U.S.
military buildup to oust bin Laden from Afghanistan.
a script handwritten on notebook paper, Hamidi spoke in a monotone while
the camera held a 90-second shot of the audience at the memorial service
sitting, arms crossed, and listening to an offscreen speaker.
the news, TV Badakhshan typically airs a movie from the United States,
Iran, Russia or India, with Persian dubbing. Often the Indian movies are
syrupy love stories, but viewers in this war-ravaged land also seem to
like action-adventure fare. The most recent American movie shown was
Rambo: First Blood.
course people are tired of the war, but they like these films," said
Mohammed Tahir Mustazki, who has worked at the station for 14 years.
on a hillside overlooking Feyzabad, the station's signal does not go much
farther than the steep granite valley in which the capital rests. Nobody
is quite sure how many viewers watch; the most recent survey done in 1991
indicated there were 5,000 televisions in town.
broadcasters seem baffled by questions about whether the public treats
them like stars - the concept of television celebrities is foreign here.
are widely recognized when they walk down the capital's stony dirt
streets, where pedestrians and cars have to negotiate around open sewers.
But people are no longer excited when they see them.
is not something new for these people," said Mustazki, whose salary
is about $10 a month. "Of course people were excited when we first
started broadcasting, but we've been on the air since 1986."
Badakhshan is virtually the only source of news in this isolated region. A
few people here have satellite television receivers, but for the rest, the
only news from the outside world arrives via foreign shortwave stations
such as the Voice of America or the BBC.
beleaguered government once had an FM radio station, but its ancient Czech
transmitter died several years ago and no spare parts were available to
Chinese government recently donated two shortwave transmitters, which are
scheduled to arrive in the next month.
until the new machines arrive, the only broadcast outlet in Afghanistan
remains TV Badakhshan, where a poster on the wall written in Persian
states: "To rebuild our country begins with culture."