The young Afghan woman in a headscarf spends all day staring at other women's bodies and Hindu idols on her computer screen, then covering
It's Laila Rastagar's job to turn Indian and Korean soap operas into family viewing in this conservative Muslim country. Dual flat-screen monitors illuminate the 22-year-old's face in the dark cubicle as she draws a blurry square with her mouse to
obscure a collarbone, then a kneecap, then a Buddha statue.
She's one of a crew of such editors employed by Tolo TV, Afghanistan's most popular station, to censor shows in an attempt to balance its programming at the intersection of radical Islam, traditional values and the West.
A new private Kabul television station, Emrooz, has made a name for itself by airing entertainment and music programs mainly focused on
But the upstart broadcaster's quest for ratings has earned the wrath of authorities, with prosecutors accusing it of undermining Afghan society's traditional Islamic values and influential detractors threatening to revoke its broadcast license.
Critics are upset at the station for broadcasting scenes and clips of immodestly dressed women, notably Tajik and Indian singers and dancers.
Emrooz staff were questioned by Kabul prosecutors this week.
Fahim Kohdamani, a program editor at Emrooz, tells RFE/RL that station managers were repeatedly summoned by the Information and Culture Ministry before their case was referred to the Office of the Prosecutor-General.
Emrooz is the only Afghan television that does not censor music clips, Kohdamani says: We air video clips by Tajik, Iranian, Afghan, Indian, and even sometimes Arab and European music clips that show female and male performers signing and
dancing. The Ministry of Culture has always had this problem with us.
Emrooz producers insist they have violated no laws but are being forced to choose between overly aggressive self-censorship and even more rigid censorship by government agencies.
Despite Emrooz's pending legal wrangle, and the threat of a lost television license for the station and lost freedom for some individuals within the company, Emrooz appears defiant.
The station is launching a national search for male and female models. The show will be broadcast monthly, with more than 2,000 contestants competing for two top prizes over four months. It will be Afghanistan's first publicly declared fashion program --
and it has already incurred threats.
But Emrooz executives, defiant in the face of such threats, say they will continue to break down taboos -- even if they must pay a price for doing so.
The manager of an Afghan television network who refused to censor images of women dancing in short skirts and plunging necklines has
The government has previously censured television stations and taken others to court, but the arrest of Emrose TV's Fahim Khodamani was the first for airing overly salacious content, the Afghan deputy attorney general said Tuesday.
Since the Taliban fell in 2001, television stations have flourished, pitting the issue of freedom of the press against conservative norms in a country where most women wear clothes that cover everything but their face and neck.
Aggressive Afghan government attempts to censor TV programs could be part of a strategy to temper conflict with the Taliban. Or it could be an attempt to siphon support from Afghans drawn to the Taliban's conservative style of Islam.
Many Afghan TV stations cut or blur scenes with women showing more than their face or neck, taking a conservative stance to avoid violating a vague government law that prohibits media content that is not within the framework of Islam.
Khodamani was arrested for refusing repeated requests to pixelate or otherwise obscure images of women dancing in short skirts or outfits with low necklines, said Deputy Attorney General Fazel Ahmad Faqiyar. The videos are relatively tame by Western
The arrest comes days after Afghanistan's top Muslim clerics called on the government to block stations from airing prohibited and hypocritical anti-Islam programs and immoral scenes and movies.