US launches direct-to-home satellite channel for Afghanistan to counter Taliban

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WASHINGTON: US government-funded Voice of America (VOA) has launched a 24/7 direct-to-home satellite television channel for Afghanistan.

In an earlier statement, the US State Department urged Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to allow journalists and human rights defenders to operate freely and without fear.

The VOA announced that the new channel would carry “uncensored news and information” in both the Pashto and Dari languages of the country.

On March 27, the Taliban ordered VOA-affiliated Afghan television stations to stop showing VOA programs, as part of a broad ban on content regarded as undermining Taliban policies, including prohibiting women from anchoring newscasts with men.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Deutsche Welle also reported that their local broadcasting partners have been prevented from airing their programming in Afghanistan due to new guidelines from the Taliban.

Condemning the order, the State Department said: “It is with alarm and deep concern we learned of the Taliban’s decision to stifle the Afghan people’s access to independent, objective, international media sources.”

The VOA said its new TV stream, identified as “VOA Afghanistan,” is on the Yahsat Y-1A satellite (52.2 degrees East), Transponder 12 (downlink frequency 11.938 GHz), Channel 469. The Yahsat satellite is Afghanistan’s most popular platform, ensuring the Afghan audience will have access to VOA’s programming despite the Taliban censorship.

“Afghanistan is now one of the most repressive media markets in the world,” said Acting VOA Director Yolanda López. “Despite the Taliban’s attempt to end press freedom, VOA News stands by its Afghan audience with credible and authoritative news and information.”

The new VOA Afghanistan satellite stream includes its popular “TV Ashna” newscasts, its women’s show “Etesal,” viewer call-in programming, and programming from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azadi radio. Additional programming is planned, including entertainment shows to fill a void in Afghanistan, where local channels cannot air music programs.

The VOA satellite channel has been in development since August, before the fall of Afghanistan’s elected government. The channel is also accessible on YouTube and VOA’s Pashto and Dari language websites.

The State Department described the Taliban media guidelines as “restrictive, and unpublished,” reminding Kabul’s new rulers that Washington remained committed to supporting the right of freedom of expression the world over.

The United States, the department said, was particularly interested in ensuring that journalists and human rights defenders were allowed to “operate freely without fear of violence against them.”

The State Department noted the Taliban had continued to move Afghanistan in the wrong direction since they took Kabul and recently, they failed to uphold commitments they had made to allow women and girls to seek education. On March 23, the Taliban decided to prevent girls from attending secondary school.

“Each of these actions alone is alarming, but combined, they make clear the Taliban are not living up to the essential commitments they made to the Afghan people and the international community,” the department said.

Agencies