Afghan girl fronts return of Kabul Television after five-year blackout

War on Terrorism: Media
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A 16-year old Afghan girl fronted Kabul Television's return to the airwaves yesterday, after a five-year TV blackout under the Taliban.

Outlining an evening of programmes that began with a reading from the Koran and was followed by music, cartoons, interviews and news – in Dari and Pashtu – Mariam Shakebar, dressed in a brown and cream headscarf, welcomed back the capital's viewers.

Ms Shakebar was an 11-year-old presenter of children's programmes when the Taliban's interpretation of shariah law came into effect, banning music and television and forbidding women from working. In yesterday's broadcast, her co-presenter, Shamsuddin Hamid, cast aside the Taliban's unbending laws on appearance by sporting half a day's stubble and dark glasses.

He promised that nothing would be censored on Kabul Television and that the views of all Afghans would be aired. He thanked all those who had worked to bring the station back on air just six days after Taliban forces fled the capital and the Northern Alliance took control. "Greetings, viewers, we hope you are all well!" he said. "We're glad to have destroyed terrorism and the Taliban, and to be able to present this programme to you."

A few wealthy residents used to risk watching foreign channels via satellite dishes, but most people had kept their sets hidden away in cupboards. Radio broadcasts fed them a daily diet of prayers, teachings and Taliban propaganda.

Engineers at the television station, whose old building is half-destroyed and has been empty since 1996, worked around the clock to bring Kabul TV back on air at 6pm (1330GMT). The station's huge satellite dish was demolished by fighting between mujahedin factions in the early 1990s.

This week, Afghan technicians have instead hoisted an ageing antenna onto the roof of Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel, next to state-of-the-art equipment set up by foreign television networks broadcasting worldwide.

Nearby, a small white satellite dish, riddled with bullet holes, had already resumed broadcasting radio programmes.

The director of Kabul TV, Humayon Rawi, said from the chaotic studio, said: "When we lost television here, it was a terrible blow. This is a big day for us. Our men and women are working together side by side."

Broadcasting with 30-year-old equipment through a 10w transmitter, Kabul TV will be seen at first only for three hours a day in central Kabul.

But the first hurdle over, the station has ambitious plans for the future. "We want to expand our broadcasts, putting out all kinds of programmes for the whole of the day," Mr Rawi said. "We're asking for help from foreigners so we can be a proper TV station."

Last week, when the Northern Alliance rolled into Kabul, one of its first acts was to put three female journalists on Radio Kabul, renamed from its Taliban-era Radio Shariat.