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Afghan web-TV pioneers seek new screen revolution

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Trying out a new spa in Kabul, testing the latest spiky hairstyles and swapping gossip -- Afghanistan's first Internet TV station tackles subjects that the mainstream channels prefer to ignore.

Globox.tv is the latest product of a media revolution in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime -- which banned television, music and cinema -- and the station's bosses hope its bold programmes will attract younger viewers.

Nearly 12 years of development since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 have left many urban Afghans with a taste for globalised pop culture and a striking knowledge of celebrities from Beyonce to Justin Bieber.

The channel taps into the new generation with programmes such as "What's New in Kabul?", a seven-minute slot in which presenter Aimal Qowat, 22, explores up-and-coming places in the city.

In one show, he cheerfully appeared to nearly drown in the pool of the spa -- the first in Kabul -- and in another he sat in a hair salon experimenting with adventurous new looks.

Spiked and heavy-lacquered locks copied from the pages of international fashion magazines is very much in fashion among "cool" Kabulis, and barbers do their best to adapt, he discovered.

"Our customers want to look European," said the barber, who offers a range of gelled styles -- as well as a treatment to tackle facial spots.

Globox.tv uses hip-hop and electronic music as the soundtrack to its programmes -- in stark contrast to traditional music on domestic television -- and it also has a show for foreign rap, a genre rarely heard in Afghanistan.

"Forty years ago, some parts of Afghanistan were more modern than today. But people have destroyed their souls with war," said Mohammad Idrees Barakzai, a 26-year-old producer at the station.

"Today, the new generation wants a peaceful life like in Europe or the United States. And in Afghanistan, there is not only sad faces. There is also hope."

It is this optimism that Globox wants to put out on screen.

"We need to repair people's minds," said Shamssulhaq Rahimi, 26, the manager of Globox.tv as well as Globalistan.com, an Afghan social network site similar to Facebook with 10,000 users.

Globox produces some of its shows from an office in Dubai, where Afghan staff put together slick, professional programmes about subjects such as sky-diving that are popular with its domestic audience.

The Dubai output is also about movies and fashion, with one show displaying an Afghan designer's daring clothes that would raise the eyebrows of many viewers back home.

"We do not talk about religion, sex or politics and we respect the constitution, but apart from that, there is nothing we cannot do," said Aref Ahmadi, 29, the director of Awaz, the private company that created Globox.

But many fear that tolerance is at risk as conservative Muslim voices push for increasing influence in Afghanistan with international forces pulling out by the end of 2014.

In September, legal action was launched against two other channels accused of immorality for broadcasting foreign music videos showing scantily-dressed women.

For Globox, which was founded only last year, viewing figures are still the main problem as Internet speeds are often not fast enough for people to watch the output, which is repeated on a 90-minute loop.

It employs 15 people and claims just 200 views a day, but its owners continue to invest in the infant project despite its lack of profitability.

"This is a bit of an unknown in Afghanistan but it really brings something new to the country," said Ahmadi.

"Television went out with the Taliban. Now we have web-TV, which is only just getting started in Europe. We are catching up fast."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130313/afghan-web-tv-pioneers-seek-new-screen-revolution