By Tim Mansel
Hamid Karzai was officially sworn in as Afghanistan's first directly-elected president earlier this week. He has already become a full-time presence on Afghan radio and TV, but there is still a long way to go before local journalists are able to broadcast information effectively.
President Karzai's inauguration ceremony was televised
I watched the inauguration of President Karzai on television in Kabul the other day.
Occasionally the camera focused in on a familiar face - that of Dick Cheney, the vice-president of the United States, for instance, or his colleague, Donald Rumsfeld.
But mostly I relied on the group of students I was watching with to point out the important guests, like the former King, Zahir Shah, or one-time President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
The TV production team made no concession to the uninitiated; no helpful commentary to identify the dignitaries - most clad in turbans or flat woollen hats - making their way to their seats; merely a succession of Afghan folk songs - no subtitles either.
But they did at least provide some pictures, so that viewers were able to watch as Mr Karzai promised to continue to root out terrorists and stamp out poppy cultivation.
I say this, because the channel we were watching - the state broadcaster RTA - does not always manage to get its pictures of the president on air, even though this appears to be its primary function.
'Frantic phone calls'
I know this because I visited the station a few weeks ago to watch the main evening news go out.
Shortly before airtime there was a series of frantic phone calls.
It was one of the cameramen, I was told, who was on his way back from the presidential palace with pictures of Mr Karzai making his latest pronouncement or meeting his latest guest.
It was more than eight minutes into the bulletin before the viewers saw anything other than the newsreader
Sadly the cameraman was coming back on foot, as the station had been unable to afford transport, and he was ringing to say he was not going to make it in time.
I cannot judge whether this was the true reason for the non-appearance of images of the president that night, but I can say that it was more than eight minutes into the bulletin before the viewers saw anything other than the newsreader.
Not much fun, frankly.
But then working as a journalist at RTA probably is not much fun either.
The news team occupies a few rooms along a squalid corridor in one of the few buildings on the site that is still intact. The newsroom itself is a tiny sliver of a room furnished with a couple of ramshackle tables and a motley collection of plastic picnic chairs.
The remains of someone's lunch lay congealed in a pan on a small gas burner in one corner.
The favoured method of communication is the fax machine, and I mean THE fax machine
On one of the tables was a pile of fax paper that made up that evening's news bulletin.
The fax paper was familiar. I had encountered it earlier the same day at Afghanistan's official news agency, Bakhtar.
Bakhtar is to be found inside the Ministry of Information building, a battered tower block down near the dried-up Kabul River.
If the government wants anything to be known, it tells Bakhtar. Bakhtar then duly tells its customers - RTA radio and television and the various state-owned newspapers.
The favoured method of communication is the fax machine, and I mean THE fax machine. There was just one, attended by two men in what appeared to be a small bedroom overlooking the street.
The fax machine was rather hi-tech compared to everything else I was shown at Bakhtar.
My favourite memory is the darkroom, where the photographers develop their pictures by the light of a bulb hanging precariously inside a small red plastic bucket
Reporters in the provinces, where mobile phone coverage is still patchy, sometimes have to resort to rather more traditional methods of filing their stories: running into town, finding the next bus going to Kabul, pressing a piece of paper into the driver's hand, and urging him to deliver it.
Apparently it works.
But my favourite memory is the darkroom, where the photographers develop their pictures by the light of a bulb hanging precariously inside a small red plastic bucket.
There are two enlargers in there. One no longer winds up and down, but still does what it needs to do thanks to a block of wood propping it up. The other was made in Stuttgart in the mid-1930s, a couple of years before Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia.
So that pile of faxes on the table at RTA, which had been sent from the little bedroom at Bakhtar, had in effect come straight from the government and were about to go on air.
From memory the first five concerned the doings or sayings of the president.
The Ministry of Information and Culture in Afghanistan has made a commitment to transform RTA into a national public service broadcaster, independent of the government.
There is little public evidence of that happening at the moment. But consultations are taking place behind the scenes with the international community.
Meanwhile a plethora of small radio stations, many funded by foreign aid money, have been nibbling away at RTA's monopoly for some time, and now there is further competition - from a high profile private TV channel which has been on air in Kabul for the last month or two.
Perhaps a private sector challenge is just what is needed to bring about the necessary transformation.
From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 11 December 2004 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.