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Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 14:59 GMT
New era for Afghan television
Television Afghanistan's damaged satellite
Years of war have left the station's facilities in ruins
Marcus George

It had been a big Afghan feast, courtesy of the Herat Restaurant in central Kabul.

The three of us had gently moved through three courses of epic Afghan proportions.

News presenter Marzia Adil
Presenter Marzia Adil is happy to be back
And as the green tea arrived at our table, the teahouse's battered old television sprung into life.

A stage set with a backdrop of psychedelic lights, straight out of the 1970s, was hosting three male singers who blew their chests out and sang with muster.

Restaurant goers bobbed along to the melodic Afghan ballads and clicked their fingers.

New era

This was the dawn of a new era and, after five years of Taleban rule, Television Afghanistan - the national television network - is mobilizing to re-establish its former largesse.

The news followed. American bombing continues, Defence Minister Mohammad Fahim, meets officials in Abu Dhabi, and the head of the interim government, Hamid Karzai, addresses the nation.

There may not be many television sets surviving in Afghanistan and only a handful of Afghans are able to afford one.


During the time of the Taleban I was confined at home. I was very depressed and miserable

Marzia Adil
But after seeing row after row of diners fall into silence as the news rolled out, the future demand for educational television will be large.

And the network, with mainly women news presenters clad in head scarves, is at the forefront of liberalism.

They put on their burqas only when they leave the building.

One of them, Marzia Adil, is cherishing her new found freedom since the Taleban left.

Miserable memories

The cloud of miserable memories of the past linger but the opportunity to return to work is an antidote to the captive life she has led for the past few years.

"During the time of the Taleban I was confined at home.

"I was very depressed and miserable and I used to think about my life and hopes for the future and I saw nothing at all, nothing to look forward to.

"I love working in television. But my brothers fear for my safety because I come home late at night."

It was not the Taleban movement that caused the most damage to the television studios, but the years of infighting during the time of the mujahideen government.

The station's satellite dish towers above the compound.

With one side blown to pieces by a rocket, it stands as a monstrous grey relic of the war.

The surrounding walls are peppered with bullet holes and shrapnel scars.

The news gallery
A late-running bulletin caused tension in the gallery
And the construction of two large buildings to house new television studios stopped 20 years ago.

The Taleban guarded and maintained the studios, network manager Shamsuddin Hamed told me.

But due to the previous damage, only the suburbs of Kabul can receive the programmes.

"As far as television goes, we need to purchase a powerful transmitter and install it so the Afghan nation can receive television."

Many people do not have televisions. But go to most houses in Kabul and you will find that they have radios.

One day it will be the same for television.

Live broadcast

After pestering my hosts, I was taken down to the studio to see a live broadcast of six o'clock news.

Killing time taking photos in the gallery, I waited for the camera to roll.

But the director was flustered. The programme was running two minutes late. He screamed into the studio.

Cameraman holds on to clock's hands
The cameraman holds back time for the six o'clock news
The long hand on the countdown clock was showing two minutes past.

The cameraman pushed it back to the hour and held on.

Then it was let go and the producer started shouting incomprehensibly.

Ten seconds of chaos ensued.

The clock appeared and then cut seamlessly into the news.

Looking at me, the director breathed a sigh of relief and laughed.

"Now you see how Afghan television works."

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