The commercials — some funded by a U.S. organization — have drawn
official criticism because they urge President Hamid Karzai to
abandon his refusal to sign a security pact with the United States
that would enable the troops to stay.
Broadcasters, which ran the spots for several weeks, came under
investigation on grounds that their source of funding was unclear.
All have pulled the advertisements off the air.
"We have launched an investigation into broadcasters to find out
where they receive money from for such advertisements," Basir Azizi,
a spokesman for the attorney general, told Reuters on Wednesday.
Despite Karzai's refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement
(BSA) unless several conditions were met, many Afghans are uncertain
the army is able to fend off Taliban insurgents without help from
the NATO-led ISAF coalition of troops.
The commercials often include interviews with rank-and-file Afghans
calling on Karzai to sign the accord immediately.
In one spot, the head of a cultural association tells the president:
"You should accept the people's demand and sign this as soon as
The crackdown is the latest symptom of Karzai's hostility to
Washington. Last week, he cited a deadly attack on a restaurant to
accuse the United States of doing too little to fight terrorism.
Afghanistan's media watchdog said pressure on broadcasters was
hurting attempts to establish the industry's independence.
"Such actions by the government are a clear attempt to limit freedom
of speech and put at risk advances in the media industry," Mujib
Khelwatgar, Director General of NAI media watchdog, told Reuters.
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Government figures show that more than 50 private television
stations, 150 radio broadcasters and about 1,000 newspapers have
sprung up since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Broadcasters were aware the spots were funded by ISAF or related
groups, but saw "public service" advertising as a source of revenue.
Afghanistan's most popular channel, Tolo TV, said the spots were
provided by a company called Ads Village, whose officials
acknowledge the funds came from ISAF or U.S. state aid agency
"All adverts are treated with similar terms and conditions, whether
it is on BSA or a brand of mineral water," Massood Sanjar, Tolo TV's
channel manager, told Reuters.
The station, he said, was paid $700-$1,000 a minute to air the spots
several times over a 24-hour period.
The ISAF declined to indicate how much it spends on advertising,
saying: "Public information released... is intended to inform and
educate the public on the mission and operations of ISAF and our
Afghan National Security Forces partners."
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; editing by Jessica Donati and Ron
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