Afghanistan reality show boom upsets hardliners

By Rob Crilly, Zubair Babakarkhail

The programmes - modelled on Western favourites such as  The Voice  and  X Factor  - are hugely popular in Afghanistan. Photo / TVNZ
The programmes - modelled on Western favourites such as The Voice and X Factor - are hugely popular in Afghanistan. Photo / TVNZ

Religious hardliners have declared a jihad against the television talent shows that have taken Afghanistan by storm, condemning the way they feature unveiled women singing and dancing.

The programmes - modelled on Western favourites such as The Voice and X Factor - are hugely popular in a country with a young population and where television ownership has risen sharply since the Taliban were ousted from Kabul in 2001. At the same time there is a growing backlash against what many see as foreign values.

Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a parliamentarian, is leading the campaign and has secured a promise from the Minister of Information to review the programmes.

"I have already made it clear in the Lower House that I am going to start a jihad against these kind of shows and programmes on our television channels," he said.

Swathes of Afghanistan remain beholden to conservative clerics. Women are rarely seen outside the home and only then hidden beneath a burka.

A lively media scene is, however, a reminder that things have changed since the five-year reign of the Taliban, when TV, films and videos were banned. Broadcasting has boomed in recent years. Seventy-five television stations and 175 radio stations are on air, numbers cited as evidence of Afghanistan's growing democracy and freedom.

With that has come an almost insatiable demand for talent and reality shows. Among them are a programme to find the next football star and last year, for Ramadan, Tolo TV developed a Koran Idol-style contest to appease more traditional tastes. Islamic scholars judged contestants on their ability to recite Islamic verses.

Such is the demand that Simon Cowell is planning to launch a local version of Britain's Got Talent.

However, the talent shows have also stoked controversy. During the first season of Afghan Star - a local copy of Pop Idol - one woman was forced into hiding when her headscarf slipped as she danced. This year, Voice of Afghanistan has been singled out for particular criticism.

It features Aryana Sayeed, who was born in Kabul but now lives in London, as one of three singing coaches.

The singer has faced a barrage of criticism on social media sites for not wearing a headscarf and wearing figure-hugging clothes. Messages posted on the show's Facebook page claim she might be better off working as an escort and complain that Afghan women are shown dancing.

Khawasi added: "Look at its name, the Voice of Afghanistan, how sweet the name is and how great it looks, but unfortunately look at the contents of the show - it does not represent the culture and customs of our country."

Aminullah Qaderi, 24, a student at Kabul University, said Afghan producers must show Afghan culture and Afghan initiatives.

Follow @nzherald_ent on Twitter for up-to-the-minute entertainment news, videos and reviews.

- Daily Telegraph UK

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 17 Sep 2014 17:38:28 Processing Time: 794ms