Afghans switched on to TV show that mocks the mighty

By airing weekly episodes that are avidly watched by millions of Afghans across the country, “Shabake Khanda,” or the Laughter Network accurately represents how Afghanistan is governed, bringing to fore everyday issues faced by the people.
Updated 13 February 2019
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Afghans switched on to TV show that mocks the mighty

  • The program is widely popular as it exposes in a satirical form the problems that exist in the government and the unruly people
  • Actors said the popularity of the program was another reason for them to keep going

KABUL: In a war-torn country desperate for change and stability, a satirical TV show is providing some much-needed comic relief to residents of Afghanistan who are choosing to switch off their thoughts, fueled by the uncertainty that surrounds the future of their country, for one hour every Friday.

By airing weekly episodes that are avidly watched by millions of Afghans across the country, “Shabake Khanda,” or the Laughter Network accurately represents how Afghanistan is governed, bringing to fore everyday issues faced by the people.

Shot in Kabul and its surrounding areas, the privately funded program by Tolo TV went on air five years ago, with some of its episodes garnering millions of views at a time.

It has since amassed a legion of fans, with actors of the show saying that the format works because the topics touch upon everyday issues, such as disputes between couples, the dilapidated state of law and order in the country, and the government’s inefficiency to tackle graft, to name a few.

“The program is widely popular as it exposes in a satirical form the problems that exist in the government and the unruly people. We eagerly wait for Friday night to watch it together with our family. It is funny and at the same time scolds unlawful people,” Nafisa Ebadi, a government employee and a mother of three, said.

No one is spared with the parody poking fun at corrupt bureaucrats, warlords, and even the president — Ashraf Ghani. While one actor impersonates how the president becomes peevish and dramatic in a sticky situation; another narrates the power tussle between Ghani and his Chief Executive – Abdullah Abdullah.

Siar Matin, an actor who is widely recognized for his impeccable impersonation of Abdullah, said that humor is the need of the hour, especially at this time of political uncertainty and torpidity.

“I feel happy about what I am doing because I am serving the people who need entertainment and relief from miseries they face routinely. At the same time, through comedy, I want to show the shortcomings in the society and government that have to be dealt with,” Matin told Arab News.

Producers of the show said that the program has also become an indirect platform for residents to voice their grievances with several calling in to inform them about government apathy or unruly behavior at the hands of officials. This often serves as fodder for writers who use real-life experiences to shape the script for their future episodes but only after extensive research and by adding a healthy dose of fiction to facts.

One such episode – based on a true story – narrates an incident where family members of a top security commander, and his body guards, went on a firing spree to celebrate the engagement of his son in Kabul. “The commander was dismissed the very next day after the show was aired,” Ibrahim Abed, who impersonates Ghani on the program, told Arab News.

Another episode poked fun at a powerful MP whose electricity had been cut off after he had failed to pay his bills. “If you don’t switch it back on, I will switch you off,” an actor mimicking the MP says while threatening a power company official in one of the most popular episodes. The reality, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth with the lawmaker getting away by not paying his dues.

That, however, doesn’t deter the actors who — despite receiving threats from viewers and officials — said that they would continue with their line of work unabated.

“Ghani” Abed says he was once stopped by several men wielding an American assault rifle who threatened to kill him if he did not stop impersonating a specific leader.

“I told them that you won’t be able to kill me with this gun because after firing couple of rounds, the rifle jams and I am strong enough to resist and survive your two bullets easily. They started laughing at my argument by conceding that the rifle was not so efficient and that was the end of the issue. I managed to avoid a possible threat through a joke,” he said.

Actors said the popularity of the program was another reason for them to keep going. “We have great feedback from people across the country and even from Afghans who live abroad and are able to watch the shows,” Qasim Taban, another actor, said.

Despite Afghan society being an extremely conservative one, women are not banned from working in TV and films. However, on the Laughter Network — keeping the sensitivities and nuances in mind — the responsibility to tell their side of the story invariably falls on make actors who dress up and essay the role of women on the show.

It shows a side of Kabul which is a stark contrast from the Afghanistan of the 1960s where women had more educational opportunities than ever before, and seclusion was optional.

But in a country maimed by war and limping back to normalcy, that’s one issue which, at least for now, is being pushed to the backburner.

More than two million people died and nearly six million were forced to flee the country since the war broke out in Afghanistan nearly 40 years ago. With peace talks in place between the US and the Taliban for ways to end the conflict, there’s hope that the wounds may heal soon even if the scars remain.

For now, the Afghans are thankful that because of the show, there’s at least something to laugh about.

“I like the shows so much that I have to rush to find a TV for watching it if am out of the house while it is aired. People are exhausted with so many shortcomings here, so people can vent their frustration and by not thinking about it,” Tamim Ahmad, a 30- year-old baker said.


Media urged to deny Christchurch shooting accused the publicity he seeks

Updated 18 min 45 sec ago
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Media urged to deny Christchurch shooting accused the publicity he seeks

  • “We’re just going to be very careful we don’t become a platform for any kind of extremist agenda,” say Radio New Zealand chief
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier urged the public not to speak the gunman's name to deny the infamy he wants

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: The media has been urged to stop naming the man charged with the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch last week that left 50 people dead.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday that she would never speak his name. In a speech to parliament, she urged the public to follow suit and deny the gunman the infamy he wants.
“I implore you, speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them,” she added. “He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.”
Arden said the media can “play a strong role” in limiting coverage of extreme views such as his.
“Of course, people will want to know what is happening with the trial,” she said. “But I would hope there are ways that it could be covered without adding to the notoriety that this individual seeks.
“But the one thing I can assure you – you won’t hear me speak his name.”
The man accused of the mass shootings has so far been charged with one count of murder, but New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush has said further charges will be brought against him. The man said in a manifesto posted online shortly before the attacks that he intended to survive so that he could continue to spread his ideals, and that he intends to plead not guilty. He has said he plans to represent himself in court, although a judge can order a lawyer to assist him.
There have been calls for the media to refuse to report anything he says during the trial. Paul Thompson, the chief executive of Radio New Zealand, said his station will exercise caution and asked editors at all media outlets to take part in a discussion about covering the case.
“We’re just going to be very careful we don’t become a platform for any kind of extremist agenda,” he said, explaining that the station does not want to inflame the situation or become a party to the accused killer’s agenda.
Thompson described the case as “uncharted territory” but said he remains confident that his reporters will do their jobs professionally.
Dr Philip Cass, a senior lecturer in journalism at Auckland’s Unitec Institute of Technology, said the media will have to make “a very fine judgment” about what is reported if the accused killer uses the court as “a forum for the expression of his opinion.” He was wary, however, of calls to completely avoid reporting what is said in court.
“If you do that then we are moving into an area of censorship,” he said, adding that it is the media’s responsibility to provide a record of what is said and done.
Dr Catherine Strong, a journalism lecturer at Massey University, said she is confident that the media in New Zealand media will act responsibly. There is no legal or ethical imperative for journalists to report everything the accused says in court, she pointed out. The country’s media has already shown maturity by not using the name of the accused in headlines and by focusing on covering the shootings from the perspective of the victims, Strong added.

Hal Crawford, the chief news officer at MediaWorks, which owns TV3 and RadioLive in New Zealand, said, "Newshub is open to an industry-wide set of guidelines for reporting on Tarrant's trial, and we are in discussions with other newsrooms. Our aims are to minimise publicity of damaging ideology while reporting the workings of justice objectively." 

The man, who has not yet entered a plea, is due to appear in court again on April 5.