Losing the battle to keep female flesh off Afghan TV

Fri Mar 19, 2010 1:24pm EDT
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By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) - Eight years after the fall of the Taliban, who banned television and barred women from appearing in public without an all-enveloping burqa, the Afghan government is fighting a losing battle to keep female flesh off TV.

In a country that remains deeply conservative and male-dominated, the government has the power to impose fines or shut down broadcasters for showing images of women deemed racy. Yet the guidelines seem to be observed largely in the breach.

Urban Afghans are now spoiled for choice with a remarkably vibrant array of TV stations. At any given moment, viewers can flip between news, cooking shows, cartoons, Turkish soap operas, Iranian dramas and hugely popular Indian films, with their gyrating sari-clad heroines.

To get around government restrictions on showing female flesh, TV stations employ full-time pixilators, charged with adding blurry blotches over bare arms, legs, necklines and midriffs. But if you watch long enough, you can easily spot a swaying elbow, a naked ankle or even an exposed strip of waist.

The new information and culture minister, Sayed Makhdoom Raheen, summoned the heads of some 20 private broadcasters and cable operators last month, demanding they revise their programs and follow government restrictions.

"I told them that in addition to your personal interests ... you should not forget your social and Islamic obligations and act responsibly with regard to the morals of the new generation," Raheen told Reuters in an interview.

"There were lots of complaints from the public, especially among families, that some of the TV stations were not observing Islamic cultural traditions, which they called harmful for the young generation.

"It is a serious matter for us. The ministry believes in raising and discussing the issue through understanding, and if that does not succeed, then steps will be taken under the law."   Continued...

<p>An Afghan man walks past a stall selling VCDs and CDs in a market in Kabul March 19, 2010. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih</p>