Afghanistan's Karzai backs clerics' demand for media crackdown

KABUL Wed Apr 24, 2013 1:55pm IST

Afghan man (R) pays money for his meal at a restaurant as the Indian family series called 'Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi' runs on TV in Kabul, Afghanistan May 25, 2006. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood/Files

Afghan man (R) pays money for his meal at a restaurant as the Indian family series called 'Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi' runs on TV in Kabul, Afghanistan May 25, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Ahmad Masood/Files

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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed with a call from the country's conservative religious council for a crackdown on television stations, calling some of their programmes "immoral and un-Islamic", officials said on Tuesday.

The decision by Karzai may alarm some of Afghanistan's international backers, who have invested heavily through 12 years of war in promoting liberal values and freedom of expression in Afghanistan's deeply conservative society.

The decision could also imperil advances in the country's media industry, which has enjoyed significant progress since the ouster of the austere Taliban regime 12 years ago.

Karzai issued a decree setting out the crackdown.

"The Ministry of Information and Culture must prevent (television channels) from broadcasting programmes which are vulgar, obscene and un-Islamic and are counter to social morality," Karzai said in a statement issued by the Council of Ministers.

Neither Karzai nor the Council of Ministers specified in the statement what was meant by vulgar, obscene or immoral programmes.

However, Jalal Noorani, an adviser to the minister of culture and Information, told Reuters immoral programmes included Indian television soap operas and Afghan music videos featuring "half-naked" dancing girls.

Afghanistan's Ulema council met Karzai on Friday and demanded the government take action against some television broadcasters, accusing them of promoting prostitution, the Council of Ministers said in the statement.

The Ulema council is an influential group of scholars and religious leaders who debate religious matters and exert significant political influence.

MOLLIFYING THE TALIBAN?

Karzai provoked international outrage last year when he backed recommendations from clerics to segregate the sexes in the workplace.

Another recommendation allowed husbands to beat wives under certain circumstances, a decree which some saw as reminiscent of Taliban regime.

More than 50 private television stations, 150 radio broadcasters and about 1,000 newspapers have emerged in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, according to Noorani.

Some of the stations broadcast Indian soap operas, dancing and songs which have drawn harsh criticism from conservative clerics and some politicians.

"There are many TV stations that turn to vulgarisms and broadcast immoral programmes, which are counter to national interests and Islamic values," the Council of Ministers cited the clerics as telling Karzai.

Karzai's critics say such directives are aimed at mollifying the Taliban, who banned television during their five-year rule, and luring them to the bargaining table.

Afghan and U.S. officials have been seeking negotiations with the insurgents in the hope of ensuring stability after most foreign combat troops leave at the end of next year, though the talks are widely believed to have stalled.

Noorani said broadcasters who failed to abide by the rules could have their licenses cancelled. (Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Dylan Welch and Robert Birsel)

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