Afghan journalists and rights activists have condemned “religious guidelines” issued by the Taliban restricting the role of women in television as Islamists move to slam the media.
The Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Cargo on Sunday urged broadcasters to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring female actors.
It also told TV stations not to show films or programs that are “against Islamic or Afghan values”, and asked female TV journalists to wear the hijab at work.
Zan TV, the first Afghan channel staffed exclusively by female producers and journalists, tweeted that the guidelines threatened media freedom and would reduce the presence of female journalists.
The Taliban’s interpretation of the hijab – which can range from hair clothing to face veil or full body coverage – is unclear, and the majority of Afghan women are already wearing headscarves.
The attempt to regulate the media comes three months after the Taliban are swept back into power.
Hujatullah Mujadidi, a founding member of the Federation of Afghan Journalists, said that if applied, the guidelines would force “some media, especially television, to stop working”.
Many shows that have been rolled out to fill TV shows, especially soap operas produced in India and Turkey, will be inappropriate according to the guidelines, making it difficult for the channels to generate enough output and retain audiences.
A ministry spokesman said after the announcement that the measures were “religious guidelines” rather than rules.
But Qari Abdul Sattar Saeed, a media spokesman for the Taliban’s prime minister, days earlier accused the Afghan media of spreading propaganda for the “enemy” and said they should be treated harshly.
Aslia Ahmadzai, a journalist in exile, said female journalists “will feel threatened” by the measures.
Another exiled Afghan journalist, who wished to remain anonymous, described the guidelines as “the first step to banning television altogether, just like in the ’90s”.
During the Taliban’s reign in 1996-2001, there was no Afghan media to speak of – the Islamists banned television, movies and most other forms of entertainment and considered them immoral.
Despite insisting that they will rule more moderately this time, the Taliban have introduced rules for what women should wear at university.
Taliban members have also beaten and harassed several Afghan journalists covering protests, despite promising to maintain press freedom.
Human Rights Watch condemned the guidelines. “The new media rules and threats against journalists reflect broader efforts to curb any criticism of the Taliban regime,” said Patricia Gossman, an associate Asia director for the organization.
Many journalists lived in fear because of threats, the rights group said. It claimed that “Taliban officials … have required journalists to submit all reports for approval before publication”.