If you have set your homepage to BBC Persian’s Afghanistan page and hit refresh with a frequency that makes you wonder if you suffer from OCD, then you know what I am talking about.
Early yesterday morning, the page carried this headline:
“Parliament Votes to Grant Independence to Radio Television Afghanistan”
Within an hour of my first visit, the same story was titled differently:
“Radio Television Afghanistan Will Continue to Function As a Government Agency”
Substantively, the article had not changed all that much.
Both versions said, in essence, that as a result of a vote in the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of Afghan parliament) the state-run RTA will be granted functional autonomy and freed from the shackles of the Ministry of Culture (MoC) while at the same time continuing to be funded and run as a government agency.
All the same the change of title and tone is telling. One wonders whether the gestapoesque writ of the MoC and of Attorney General Sabit extend over the British Broadcasting Corporation as well. More than likely it does not, which is why BBC of all outlets should salvage some dignity and spine.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
On a related note, the parliament’s symbolic granting of functional autonomy to RTA and its separation from MoC, while at the same time debating how best to cut back on freedom of the press, amounts to “one step forward, two steps back.” As a continuing state-run agency, one cannot be too hopeful for a radical overhaul in RTA’s management or content. Privately-owned television stations like Tolo TV and Aina TV present the best hope for the future of media in Afghanistan. With the expected passing of the new media law by the parliament, however, even these independent outlets will be subjected to newer and certainly more draconian restrictions.
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