Television is gaining ground in Afghanistan as the most important news and entertainment source in urban areas despite continued difficulties with security and reconstruction, according to recent media surveys in the war-torn country.
"Television use and importance is rising most quickly in Kabul, where socio-economic conditions are better than in the rest of the country, and among young people aged 15-24," the surveys conducted by Washington-based media and public opinon research organisation, Intermedia.
"From 2005 to 2006, television access in the city rose from 59 to 78 percent. Even urban residents who can't afford to buy a television set have greater access to places where TV is available-others' homes, cafes and work places.
"However, due to problems with infrastructure, mainly a lack of consistent electricity and little disposable income, television's appeal is more socially desirable than affordable for many Afghans," the survey found.
In a country where 84 per cent of the population is rural, the urban-rural split is pronounced: nationwide only 37 per cent of Afghans claim to watch TV weekly, compared to 89 per cent in Kabul.
The capital's viewers can choose from six privately run channels.
Intermedia found that Tolo TV, funded by an Australian-based Afghan businessman, is most popular, with programmes including a nightly newscast, roundtable discussions, Islamic programming, and shows on cinema, cooking, music and sports.
Afghan state TV is the second most important information source.
The station's principal focus is news, the tone of which, Intermedia says, is usually consistent with the government line.
When it has strayed from this, officials, religious leaders and culturally conservative print outlets have accused the channel of sowing dissent and disrespecting Islam, which in turn has resulted in some self-censorship.
Other challenges remain before Afghans have true choice in terms of media platforms and diversity of views. More than 25 years of war has devastated the country's infrastructure, leaving radio as the most reliable means of news and entertainment.
"In 2006, Afghans witnessed increased violence in their country, yet interest in news and overall media consumption declined. This is unusual because media use typically spikes during wars and other crises," says Jacob English, an Intermedia project manager for the Middle East and North Africa.
But in Afghanistan, many are skeptical of domestic media, perceiving these outlets as biased due to their ties with political figures and factions-thus, the decreased interest in news, which may be due at least in part to dissatisfaction with available media outlets. Nonetheless, the need for news and information will not disappear."
In a country where 56 per cent of the people are under 34, the survey found young Afghans embrace television and other new technologies more readily than older generations.
TV access among those 15-24 has remained steady at more than 30 per cent since 2004, but averages less than 15 per cent for those over 45. International and local media producers realize this and are creating programmes to target young Afghans.