By Mansoor Faizy
Afghanistan can be called one of the dangerous places for various media outlets to operate. Ranging from insecurity, lack of protective legislation – or rather its proper implementation – to strongmen’s threats, there are many issues endured by the media people. Mostly journalists are the ones facing the bulk of problems in the media community. This is while a nonprofit group, Reporters Sans Borders, this week said that forty-nine journalists have been killed during the ongoing year, 57 are being held hostage and 389 are currently in prison. In such a situation, the media persons have no other choice but to engage in self-censorship. A case in point can be a recent TV show by the name of Cactus – which was one of its kind with regard to being a novelty and entertainment show – being taken down. Aired through a privately-owned 1TV channel, the show used to challenge popular figures with difficult questions and let the Afghans know about their personal endeavors. Without naming anyone, officials of the channel have admitted to Afghanistan Times that interferences and pressures in this regard had turned unbearable recently. This situation badly reflects on the Afghan government as it always speaks of freedom of expression; however, government officials said they were unaware about this, saying they always supported freedom of speech and the Cactus show. But the show will be no more on air and came to an end? The important question here is whether putting an end to the show was a case of self-censorship or not?
To explore these questions Afghanistan Times has conducted an exclusive interview with Mukhtar Lashkari, moderator and host of the show.
Is there any specific reason for choosing this name, ‘Cactus’ for this TV show, which has been the most popular one so far?
Picking Cactus as a name for this show is a secret that we want to remain as such. I might reveal this secret somewhere, someday but today is not that day.
What was the reason behind producing ‘Cactus’ show?
In our traditional country Afghanistan, you aren’t allowed to know about and examine the lives of high-ranking officials and Jihadi leaders. This is while the law permits us to ask every person, no matter what position they hold. We did this and were successful to invite great Jihadi leaders and prominent politicians to our show. We thus entered into personal lives of such people and asked them those questions which eager Afghan people wanted answered.
What was the reason behind ‘Cactus’ being the most viewed show?
The key reason for this show’s popularity has been its format and the conduct of the host with the invited guests. It’s because the host is permitted a bit more freedom to inquire about the private lives of the individuals and thus discuss topics which aren’t talked about as yet. In addition to format, I think another reason for being able to achieve our goal has been having a committed, hard-working and punctual team. I take pride in supporting and being part of a team whose members each can be considered a reason for the show’s success.
Did ‘Cactus’ succeed in delivering its main message to the audience?
Our main purpose was to familiarize political and Jihadi figures with Afghan masses. I don’t know really as to what extent were we able to achieve that purpose?
It seems the show will not be aired anymore; why is that?
The show will return but I don’t know when. I hope we are able to produce and broadcast the show in the same format.
What is the key reason for its discontinuation?
We have discussed the show’s airing or taking it down for weeks. We finally reached the decision that while respecting the critical political situation in the country, we bring this show to a halt. The political situation has turned so sensitive that a single sentence provokes tensions and we don’t want to take part in deteriorating such situation. Therefore, it was the only reason we stopped airing the show.
Did ‘Cactus’ faced any restrictions, or faced any censorship?
Programs like Cactus always confront many interested elements who either try to interfere or censor them but we have never give in to such requests and will never do so.
The pleasure is mine.