Kabul, Apr 22 : Afghanistan Information and Culture Minister Abdul Karim Khurram has ordered his country's television networks to stop broadcasting five Indian soap operas as they were not according to Afghan culture and religion.
Private television companies however have refused to obey the order saying they will approach President Hamid Karzai on the matter.
All soap operas are still being watched by the urban Afghan population.
Afghan television networks present a mix of news, popular-music programs, imported serials and soap operas drawing crowds to teahouses and ice cream parlours. Call-in shows, including an Afghan version of "American Idol," also have large followings.
The viewers are so absorbed by the serials, that they after rush home to find out what happens next.
The television companies have also had an impact on the political front, not only by airing probing news reports ethnic language debates.
As Afghanistan prepares for a presidential election next year, some station owners and journalists contend that the ban on television programs is part of a political tussle for control of the airwaves. Political party leaders have opened their own television stations, which are already challenging the Karzai Government.
Television has flourished under President Karzai's Government with 17 private television companies opening up over the past six years. Eleven of them are based in Kabul.
Last week, Karzai signalled that he might side with the conservatives on the Indian serial issue. He said that he would ensure a free media, but would not allow programs depicting Afghan culture.
Despite his liberal leanings, Karzai has been swayed by conservatives on cultural issues. After complaints in Parliament two years ago, Karzai appointed Khurram as the Cultural Minister, replacing Sayed Makhdoom Raheen, who oversaw the expansion of free media in Afghanistan.
Khurram ordered the ban on five television serials after strong protests in Parliament over a recent televised awards ceremony on a private channel, Tolo TV, that showed Afghan men and women dancing together, an activity that is virtually taboo in Afghanistan.
The Director of the National Association of Journalists, Abdul Hamid Mubariz supported Afghan journalists and the media organizations and called the ban unjustifiable.
"Our position is clear and we defend the freedom of speech. Under the law, complaints about media content should be first considered by a media commission and cannot be banned outright by the minister," he said.