Next month, it expects to launch Tolo News, a twenty-four-hour satellite news channel. In 2009, it partnered with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to create the Farsi1 satellite network, which packages entertainment programs in Dubai and beams them from England into Iran. In fact, Mohseni has been called the Rupert Murdoch of Afghanistan, and though the comparison is extravagant, it gives a sense of his influence and ambition.
Excellent article about a very important person and their impact on Afghanistan. Especially on Afghanistan’s future. Media like Saad’s is an excellent tool for reaching out to the population and telling them how things really are. They can communicate how ineffective Karzai and his crew is (hence why he does not like Saad) and they can communicate how immoral and murderous the Taliban are(and I am sure the Taliban want to kill him). And what better way to accomplish these important tasks of media and journalism, than to fire up a 24 hour news show.
Hopefully Murdoch and company will come in and help Saad to create entertainment that the local populations ‘cannot live without’. Stuff that really brings a smile to their face, or educates them. That is crucial, because if people come to depend upon Saad and his entertainment networks as either a means for information or just to laugh and relieve stress, and the Taliban or Government destroys that, stand by. Guess who will lose popular support?
I am sure the Taliban would love to destroy this media company while they are still small. So would a corrupt government. But as it becomes a fixture of society and something people can call their own, doom on those that would destroy it. It is also great that they continue to call upon the constitution of Afghanistan’s free speech laws, and really push the issue if programming or stories are questioned.
Of course a company like this will not go too far towards entertainment extremes, because they still have to answer to the public. But as long as they have an audience and high ratings, I say full speed ahead.
A 24 hour news show can also inform Afghanis about horrible incidents like what happened to these medical workers that were massacred recently. Or they can get the real story out about what happened with DynCorp and the accident. They can communicate edits immediately, and not wait for the next day’s newspaper or show to make that edit. It would make if very hard for misinformation campaigns to be successful, because this station would have a larger audience and were able to communicate to that audience faster and with better delivery.
What I would really like to see are talk shows on the radio, intermixed with the 24 hour news shows. In the US these are very successful combinations, and I am sure Saad is up to date on the possibilities. (hell, just copy Rupert Murdoch’s media strategies)
The other interesting thought about this is that with the race to the middle to gain popular support, media centers like this one will be important to each side’s political strategy. The Taliban would have to weigh in on the benefits of either destroying it, or working with it to gain population support. The government will have to do the same.
So with that said, one little thing we can do to help Afghanistan, is to insure that this media center is well protected and truly entertains and informs the people. And if Ted Turner wants to come in and help out another media group, so be it. The more the merrier, because competition will fire up innovation and quality entertainment. -Matt
Afghanistan’s first media mogul.
by Ken Auletta
July 5, 2010
Every day in Kabul, politicians and journalists in search of information come to a barricaded dead-end street in the Wazir Akbar Khan district to see Saad Mohseni, the chairman of Moby Group, Afghanistan’s preëminent media company. At the last house on the right, burly men carrying AK-47s lead them up creaky stairs to a small second-floor office. Mohseni, a gregarious man with a politician’s habits, often stands up to greet visitors with a hug, then returns to his desk, where a BlackBerry, two cell phones, and a MacBook Air laptop are constantly lit up; fifteen small flat-screen TVs, set to mute, are mounted on the office walls.
Mohseni speaks so rapidly that the words sometimes run together, and he periodically interrupts himself to call out to his assistant—“Sekander!”—to make a phone call or produce a piece of paper. But he listens as intently as a psychiatrist, gathering information from an intricate network of sources: government and anti-government Afghans, American officials, foreign correspondents, diplomats, intelligence operatives, reporters, business and tribal and even Taliban leaders.
One morning this spring, Jon Boone, the Afghan correspondent for the London Guardian, stopped by. Boone, a lanky man with blond hair and stubble, sat on a folding chair and asked Mohseni if he thought that President Hamid Karzai was genuinely interested in reconciliation with the Taliban. Mohseni quickly said he thought Karzai was.
Boone peppered Mohseni with questions. At one point, when Mohseni did not know an answer he called out to Sekander to get the speaker of parliament on the line. The speaker could not be found, so Mohseni grabbed his cell phone and punched the number of the Vice-President. He spoke briefly, then hung up and announced, “He’ll call me back in a second.”
Before the day ended, Mohseni had talked with the speaker, the Vice-President, and the intelligence chief, and several members of parliament had come to visit. A few days later, he was awakened at three o’clock in the morning by NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, calling to ask if he had heard that Pakistan had arrested the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. He hadn’t, but he knew someone who might have; at breakfast the next morning, he asked a senior U.S. military-intelligence official whether the rumor was true. (The official was dubious.)
“Saad is the nexus of everything going through Kabul,” Tom Freston, a co-founder of MTV and a member of Moby’s board, says. “Besides the television business, he knows every foreign correspondent.” Mohseni collects business cards compulsively, placing them in the clear plastic sleeves of a loose-leaf book. “He’s a great networker,” Freston continues. “He’s got this contagious personality.”
Mohseni’s company owns Tolo TV and Arman radio, the country’s most popular TV and radio networks. It also owns a music-recording company, a second TV network, an advertising agency, a television and movie production company, the magazine Afghan Scene, and two Internet cafés. Next month, it expects to launch Tolo News, a twenty-four-hour satellite news channel. In 2009, it partnered with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to create the Farsi1 satellite network, which packages entertainment programs in Dubai and beams them from England into Iran. In fact, Mohseni has been called the Rupert Murdoch of Afghanistan, and though the comparison is extravagant, it gives a sense of his influence and ambition.
In Afghanistan the old media are still new. Under the Taliban television was banned and the single, state-run radio station was dominated by calls to prayer and religious chants. Seventy to eighty per cent of the population is illiterate, so the dominant media are radio and broadcast television; it is estimated that eight out of ten Afghans own a radio and four out of ten own a TV. Though there are no independent ratings agencies in Afghanistan, Moby estimates that Tolo attracts fifty-four per cent of the audience and Arman thirty-seven per cent. Mohseni owns and manages the company with his brothers, Zaid and Jahid, and his sister, Wajma, but he serves as the company’s public face. “Saad is the talker in the family,” Jahid Mohseni says. “He’s a great salesman. He can sell without anyone thinking he’s selling.”
The charm, though, is not universal. Mohseni has a contentious relationship with Karzai, whom he once supported. When Richard Holbrooke served as chairman of the Asia Society, in New York, he invited Karzai to speak at the society, and he asked Freston to deliver an introduction. Backstage before the event, Freston recalls, he told the President that he was friendly with Mohseni. Karzai growled, “He’s a good businessman, I guess, but he puts the Taliban on television. He does bad things on the media.”
That exchange, Holbrooke said, “told me that Saad was not just another free-media guy, a very attractive, charismatic entrepreneur. He was deeply, deeply involved in a political drama with President Karzai.”
Mohseni has been denounced as “un-Islamic” by fundamentalists for allowing women to appear alongside men on his radio and TV networks, for showing Indian soap operas featuring unveiled women, and for allowing women to compete with men on one of Tolo TV’s hit shows, “Afghan Star.” He’s been threatened with arrest, because his journalists aggressively report on government incompetence, vote fraud, and rampant corruption. He has been called a Zionist in Iran and an Iranian sympathizer in Afghanistan. He has been accused by authorities in Tehran of subverting moral values. He is implacably opposed to the Taliban and staunchly pro-American, provoking accusations that he’s an American agent. And his outspoken criticism of Pakistan for treating Afghanistan as “a satellite state” enrages Pakistani officials. But Engel says that Mohseni’s candor is “valuable in a place as full of rumors and half-truths as Kabul.” The American investment banker Joseph Ravitch, a friend of Mohseni, says that he is ultimately a “mix of capitalist and do-gooder.”
One afternoon, Mohseni summoned to his office Massood Sanjer, Tolo’s chief of programming; Rafi Khairy, its head of production; and Shafiq Ahmadi, its head designer. Mohseni, who is five feet eight and trim, has the aspect of a standup comedian. He wore an untucked dress shirt and jeans, square black-framed glasses, and thick rubber-soled shoes; his short, curly black hair was casually brushed. His affluence was betrayed only by a silver wristwatch, which he described as “the cheapest Rolex.”
One of the TVs on the wall was showing Wahid Osmani, a chef on Tolo’s afternoon cooking program, and Mohseni watched with growing frustration as Osmani, a sour-faced man of about fifty, sullenly bathed a pan of vegetables in cooking oil. “Look at him,” Mohseni said. (Mohseni grew up mostly in Australia and speaks with a distinct Australian accent.) “Look at him—he never smiles!” He jabbed a finger at the screen as the show’s host tasted the food. The chef, wearing white linens, stared dully at the camera. “They say he’s a good chef,” he said. “But this is not a cooking show. It’s an entertainment show.” Within a few weeks, Osmani would be removed from the air.
Mohseni turned to his three executives and began to critique a concert of traditional music that had aired recently: “The sets were atrocious. The presenter wasn’t any good, either.”
Ahmadi, the designer, defended himself: “The problem with the sets is materials—clothes, fabric. Getting stuff here is hard.”
“Go to markets,” Mohseni said. “Better to have something simple than something elaborate that doesn’t look good.”
“I put in for three designers a month ago,” Ahmadi said. “I’m willing to train them.”
“Go to the university,” Mohseni said. “People don’t show up at your door. You have to hire your own people. In Afghanistan you can do anything. Throw the rules out the window.” Tolo is animated by the demands of constant programming. The network produces fourteen hours of programming a day, including music-video shows; “Bonu,” a call-in program on which a psychiatrist offers advice; a nightly half-hour newscast, at 6 P.M.; and a three-day-a-week current-affairs discussion program. “Anything is possible, because you have no choice,” Mohseni said. “We are on the air tomorrow.”
Before long, Mohseni grew restless and began to wander among the eight buildings in Moby’s compound, passing dozens of jeans-clad young employees. “I walk through the halls and it reminds me of MTV in the eighties,” Freston said. In a building next door to Mohseni’s office was the newsroom, where sixty staffers file fifteen to twenty stories a day from all over Afghanistan. Sharif Hassanyar, the news-operations manager, gave Mohseni an update on that day’s breaking news. Mohseni is an active presence in the newsroom, sharing information and helping fend off challenges. In February, Tolo covered a suicide bombing in Kabul, and the Karzai government complained that live coverage of such events allowed the Taliban to see how it deploys forces after an attack. The chief of security phoned and told Hassanyar, “If you don’t stop this type of coverage, we will arrest you.” (This was not an idle threat; in 2007, Hassanyar had been arrested for talking to the Taliban.) With Mohseni’s approval, Hassanyar invoked the Afghan constitution, which guarantees free speech. “They totally backed off,” Hassanyar said.
Outside, Mohseni passed what looked like a primitive fast-food stand, from which employees carried paper plates of stew and rice to high Formica tables. The free food, he explained, had a security purpose: “People get exhausted working in Kabul,” where security questions arise even around the question of where to eat lunch. “You’re always concerned about safety.” Ten per cent of Moby’s budget is devoted to security, and Mohseni’s S.U.V. is followed by one or two cars with armed bodyguards who have not been told where he’s going. “Not because I don’t trust them,” he said, “but because they might inadvertently tell someone.”
A sentry waited by the steps of the second-floor landing while Mohseni paused to talk with three writers—Trudi-Ann Tierney, Muffy Potter, and Sean Lynch—who work on developing series. Although the vast majority of Moby’s employees are Afghan, these three writers are Australian; when Mohseni started Tolo, scriptwriters and experienced production people were scarce in Kabul, so he imported them. “I want you to see the treatment I wrote,” he told Tierney. He described a sitcom based on an inept government minister, his nay-saying deputy, and another aide who always says yes. The minister’s job is to deal with garbage. “The idea is that this minister is dealing with crap all the time. That’s the symbolism. You can write it just by putting writers in a room and coming up with one-liners!” The writers laughed; it was unclear if they were just humoring the boss.
Although Saad Mohseni is a mogul in Afghanistan, compared with media companies in the developed world his operation is a pushcart. Moby’s audience is clustered in Kabul and a few other major cities, where electricity is more reliably available. The Afghan private sector is still in its infancy; the country’s gross domestic product is only eleven billion dollars. His biggest advertisers, six Afghan banks and four mobile-phone companies, pay a top price of five hundred dollars for a thirty-second ad. (A similar ad on the Super Bowl sells for about six thousand times that rate.) Mohseni makes sales calls himself. He will not provide precise figures, but says that Moby’s revenues are in the twenty-million-dollar range and are growing fifty to seventy per cent annually; it is now modestly profitable. The company employs seven hundred people in Afghanistan and forty in its offices in Dubai. Mohseni complains that government-subsidized services like the BBC and Voice of America hijack his reporters, because he can’t afford to match their salaries.
Still, an estimated one-third to one-half of the population of Afghanistan watched a Presidential debate last August on Tolo TV, and cameras from Tolo have been repeatedly banned from parliament and the government ministries after the network broadcast stories of government ineptness or wrongdoing. Its news programs exposed stuffed ballot boxes and other examples of fraud in the August Presidential election. Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, visited Mohseni in late March, and told me, “Our guys tell me that Tolo news blew them away. In this entire region, no one else is doing this kind of work. That’s on TV. On radio, they also blew them away.”
Moby’s entertainment programs may have an even greater impact, particularly in urban areas. The status of women in Afghanistan is being transformed by the media. Young girls watch soap operas and assert themselves at home, or refuse to wear burkas or accept arranged marriages. Tolo’s life-style shows have introduced boys and girls to modern fashions and hair styles, and to modern standards of personal hygiene. Forty per cent of Moby’s employees are women, and Mohseni believes that, when his radio and TV stations placed women on the same set with men, “the format allowed people to think a woman can have a conversation with a man. Maybe women have views. And maybe women are smart. It elevated women to an equal status with men. And it allowed men not to be so judgmental of women.”
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, describes the tension between Mohseni’s values and those of Afghan traditionalists: “The country is highly illiterate, highly religious, and highly traditional. And Saad is appealing to and creating a new young group of people in the urban areas. There’s a brilliance to what he’s doing, but it’s also risky. It’s a drama. I can’t imagine any other country in the world where it would be played out with this much intensity.”
This helps to explain the influx of American capital. Aside from the Mohseni family, the biggest contributor to construction costs for Arman radio and Tolo TV was the U.S. Agency for International Development. A portion of Moby’s advertising budget comes from foreign governments and N.G.O.s; recruitment ads for the Afghan Army and police are designed by Lapis, Moby’s ad agency, and paid for by the U.S. through the Afghan government.
Mohseni insists that there is only one such sponsor, the International Security Assistance Force, among Tolo’s top fifteen advertisers. But without the U.S. government’s financing for infrastructure Moby would not exist. (The State Department has budgeted seventy-two million dollars this fiscal year for “communications and public diplomacy” in Afghanistan.) U.S.A.I.D. sponsors “On the Road,” a weekly reality show. The show, which airs Saturday nights on Tolo, is hosted by an affable twenty-two-year-old named Mujeeb Arez, who travels through Afghanistan by jeep—often on highways freshly paved by U.S.A.I.D. funds—talking with residents and exploring local customs, delicacies, and indigenous commerce. (In areas where it is too dangerous to travel by jeep, U.S.A.I.D. has supplied a helicopter to ferry the crew.) Mohseni is quick to point out that U.S.A.I.D. sponsors only this one half-hour program out of a hundred and twelve hours of weekly prime-time programming on his two TV channels. Next season, however, the State Department will pay for another program, about “cops who may be tempted by bribes but don’t take them,” David Ensor, the director of communications and public diplomacy at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, says. A major reason for the Karzai government’s unpopularity is the perception that corruption is condoned, particularly among the police. The show, Ensor explains, is meant to help recruit police by demonstrating “that cops can be heroes.”
Mohseni’s grandparents on both sides were landowners and successful businessmen, and his relatives’ pictures are prominently displayed in his Kabul office. His parents, Yassin and Safia, were university-educated, and they and their four children lived comfortably. Saad, the oldest, was born on April 23, 1966, in London, where Yassin served in the Afghan diplomatic corps. Before Saad turned three, the family returned to Afghanistan, where Safia worked for the United Nations. They were “moderate Muslims,” Mohseni says, and spoke Dari at home. “My father was a tough guy,” Mohseni recalls. He was stingy with compliments and liberal with criticism. “He didn’t want us to be spoiled,” Mohseni says.
Because of Yassin’s diplomatic career, the family moved often—London, Kabul, Islamabad, Tokyo—and Mohseni lived outside Afghanistan for five of his first twelve years. He disappointed his father because he was more social than studious. He loved American movies; by the time he was a teen-ager, he had seen “The Great Escape” five times, and he can recite dialogue from “The Godfather.” Later, he got hooked on American television, and says that he’s seen every episode of “Seinfeld,” “The Sopranos,” “Cheers,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Mohseni was twelve when, in 1978, his father was posted to Japan as Deputy Ambassador. Not long after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the following year, Yassin Mohseni resigned and sought asylum; in 1982 the family fled to Australia.
Zaid, Jahid, and Wajma graduated from Australian universities. Saad did not; instead, in 1985, he apprenticed at a bank, where he learned how financial markets functioned. Three years later, he became a commodities trader and a manager of investment portfolios. “I had no shame ringing the biggest fund managers in Australia,” he says. He moved to London to oversee fixed income, derivatives, commodities, and currency trading. On weekends, he sometimes flew to Paris, and on a 1993 trip there he met a woman of Afghan-French heritage, who became his first wife.
They moved back to Australia and had a daughter. Mohseni, bored with his work, quit his job and distracted himself by playing golf. He says that he longed to “do something real, not notional.” He had cousins in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and had heard tales of a great-uncle there who was one of the first exporters of karakul hats, of the type now worn by President Karzai. His brother Zaid, a lawyer, shared his interest, and in October, 1995, they went to visit.
At the time, Tashkent, a bustling city with an active night life, was just emerging from Soviet domination. Mohseni stayed for four years, establishing a business that traded everything from TV sets to cooking oil and flour. He managed a few restaurants. He was signing checks, worrying about cash flow, delivering products—learning how an actual business operated. Meanwhile, Mohseni and his wife divorced, and he grew restless again. He had been away from his family and missed them. He met a woman from Uzbekistan, and they moved back to Australia, married, and had two children. He became head of equities, investment banking, and corporate finance for a small company called Tricom Equities. The company grew very fast, and he was earning, he recalls, five hundred thousand dollars a year.
By then, many of the Afghans he had met in Tashkent were fighting the Taliban as part of the Northern Alliance. Mohseni developed a relationship with Ahmed Shah Massoud, its most influential leader. “I had enormous respect for the man,” Mohseni says. “I was one of the people he bounced ideas off.” He “reached out” on behalf of Massoud and the Alliance to Western governments, trying to help “convince the world that they were viable, that they were moderate and could get the job done.” (Suicide bombers sent by Osama bin Laden assassinated Massoud two days before 9/11.)
After the fall of the Taliban, Mohseni and his brothers turned their attention to Afghanistan, starting a company they called Moby Capital. The country was devastated by three decades of war and lacked the basic infrastructure—electricity, water, sanitation services—to support a business. But Mohseni and Zaid flew to Kabul in February, 2002, and held meetings, including one with the new minister of information and culture, who said that radio licenses were available. “I always liked the media, because you can really influence people, particularly younger people,” Mohseni says.
But to start an FM radio station would require half a million dollars, and the Mohsenis at that time could put up only three hundred thousand. Still, Mohseni mentioned his interest to his friend Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author. Rashid was having dinner a few days later with Andrew Natsios, the administrator of U.S.A.I.D., and said that he would pitch the idea of investing. Rashid recalls, “I told Natsios about this great Australian who wanted to rebuild Afghanistan and spend his own money.” He was impressed that all the siblings were willing to leave Australia and set up a business. “They were ready to ditch everything, unlike most expats who wanted to visit for six months,” he says.
The U.S. has a long history of funding foreign media to further its policy aims. During the Cold War, the C.I.A. secretly funded Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, which were beamed into the Soviet Bloc. In Afghanistan (as in Iraq), the State Department and U.S.A.I.D. have openly supported independent media, in the hope of uniting the country. U.S.A.I.D. officials eventually met with the Mohsenis and agreed to invest two hundred and twenty-eight thousand dollars in building the infrastructure for a radio network.
Over the next few years, the Mohseni family invested an additional million dollars. They spent nine thousand dollars per month on staff and took no salary themselves. Arman would be the first privately owned radio station in the country. Under the Taliban, all musical performances and TV were banned, as were cricket matches and independently reported news. Aside from some daring citizens who listened to shortwave radio, there was only state-owned radio, Voice of Sharia. “Everything you take for granted in the West”—electricity, computers and people who know how to use them, transmitters, announcers trained in speaking into a microphone, a music library, transportation, security—“we had to supply ourselves,” Mohseni says.
Arman went on the air in April, 2003, with a crew of twenty people. Mohseni filled in as a radio voice, and his driver became a traffic reporter. Among their first employees was Massood Sanjer, who had been the English news broadcaster for Voice of Sharia. At seventeen years old, with a beard and a turban, he had read the news for fifteen minutes each night, earning ten dollars a month. Sanjer, who is now thirty-two and clean-shaven, recalls, “It was a tough job. Making a mistake could cost you jail. It was Taliban news: ‘Mullah Omar announced today . . .’ ” He was hired, at fifty times his old salary, to be the voice of Arman radio. From 9 A.M. to noon, five days a week, he played Shakira and Madonna, mixed with Afghan and Bollywood movie music. The station did not offer religious programs. “Most people believe they don’t have to hear about religion on the radio,” Mohseni told a reporter in 2003.
Under the Taliban, Afghan women had been barred from work and school and could not leave the house without a male relative. “We had male and female disk jockeys talking to each other in light banter,” Wajma Mohseni recalls. “The government issued warnings. They said, ‘You can’t have this kind of station.’ They threatened to shut us down.” Sanjer wound up running Arman radio, and today co-hosts a variety show each morning with a woman known as Sima. Fearful of becoming a target, she declines to give her last name or to be photographed. “She’s very popular,” he says. “Wherever I go, people say, ‘Is she beautiful? What’s she like?’ ” Arman is now on twenty-four hours a day.
In order to expand, Moby required management, which is not one of Mohseni’s strengths. “Saad is not a details person,” his brother Jahid says. “He’s more a dealmaker, bringing in partners.” Jahid was working in economic development for the Afghan government, and in January, 2004, his siblings recruited him to manage the company. They were intent on expanding into television. By 2005, although only fourteen per cent of the population had electricity, an estimated two-thirds watched TV, usually in groups and sometimes outdoors.
Mohseni needed money for transmitters and infrastructure; U.S.A.I.D. granted him a total of two and a half million dollars. The Mohsenis mortgaged their homes and sold property in Australia in order to invest another three and a half million for operating expenses. Saad was in charge of programming, Wajma handled marketing, and Jahid oversaw engineering, with help from Zaid, who was still working as a lawyer in Australia. They named the network Tolo, which means “dawn” in Dari. “I was in a huge rush to launch,” Saad Mohseni says. “We did it in six months”—lining up programs, teaching Afghans to operate cameras and computers, training announcers to look into the camera and relax. Tolo TV’s first broadcast was in October, 2004, and the programming consisted mostly of news and a few life-style programs like “Waves,” a makeover show in which clumsy young men were transformed into heartthrobs. In the Afghan elections that fall, Mohseni was a vocal advocate of Hamid Karzai. Soon after Karzai was elected, Mohseni persuaded him to grant his first interview to Tolo.
Mohseni had spent more than half his life outside Afghanistan, and Western popular culture had shaped his taste. In Tolo’s early days, he launched “Hop,” an MTV-like music program, with female v.j.s sometimes shedding their head scarves, and videos featuring gyrating women. The spokesman for the country’s Supreme Court proclaimed, “Watching a woman with half-naked breasts and a man and a woman sucking each other’s lips on TV, like on Tolo, is not acceptable.” The chief justice warned that “Hop” would “corrupt our society . . . take our people away from Islam and destroy our country.” Shakeb Isaar, a popular music-video presenter, was physically and verbally assaulted; ultimately, he fled to Sweden, where he had been granted asylum.
Mohseni insisted, “If the public uses these programs with enthusiasm and they are popular, then obviously the public seems to be ready for these types of programs.” He now says, “One can be accused of being arrogant, of imposing something alien. From time to time, we would make the mistake of doing that.” But, he says, “I grew up listening to women on the radio. I don’t think it was alien. I think the Taliban period is an aberration in terms of our culture and history.”
By 2008, there were seventeen private TV stations operating in Afghanistan, and they all needed programming. Afghanistan had no studios, few actors, directors, or screenwriters, and almost no entertainment experience. The stations had to import their programs, but couldn’t afford to pay for shows from America or Europe. Jahid negotiated to buy Bollywood soap operas, half-hour dramas of romance, rejection, and sexual tension. The most popular one chronicled the travails of Tulsi, a priest’s daughter who marries into a rich family that looks down on her. At one point her husband fathers a child with another woman because he has amnesia.
Though the soaps were not nearly as steamy as those produced in Latin America or the U.S., women did not wear veils and sometimes exposed their waists, unrelated men and women appeared together, and characters referred to the Hindu faith. The Ulema Council, which advises the federal government on proper Islamic behavior, condemned the soaps as un-Islamic, and the parliament voted to ban them. In April, 2008, the minister for information and culture, Abdul Karim Khurram, told Tolo and its competitors to take them off the air. Several stations eventually complied, but Tolo refused. “I just feel there’s no need to kowtow to the religious establishment,” Mohseni says. “I wanted a station that would appeal to all sects.”
Khurram told me Mohseni said to him at the time that “if I would not disagree with his programs he would have some programs that favor me.” Mohseni disputes this: “It’s bullshit. I did offer to work with him and his ministry on what was acceptable and unacceptable,” but the Minister was unreceptive. Khurram said that he told Mohseni, “The way you make money has harmed society. The parents complained to me that in these days when there are only a few hours of electricity, when the TV comes on the children don’t study. They watch TV.” For his part, Mohseni warned of “the re-Talibanization” of the country, and insisted that the Minister’s order violated the free-speech clause in the Afghan constitution.
The attorney general, Abdul Jabar Sabet, brought criminal charges against the offending TV networks. Mohseni challenged the charges in court, while adopting what he describes as a “rope-a-dope strategy,” granting small concessions in the hope of winning the fight. He made sure that Tolo electronically obscured bare midriffs, shoulders, and cleavage. Although he found it ridiculous to think that a glimpse of Hindu idols would entice Muslims to convert, he pixellated those as well.
Nevertheless, Sabet continued to prosecute. Later in 2008, Mohseni paid a visit to President Karzai. He believed that the President was stalled, unwilling to offend either fundamentalists or the millions of constituents who watched the programs nightly. When he arrived at the Presidential Palace, Mohseni recalls, Karzai displayed irritation about the controversy, and immediately asked, “What about the soap operas? They are not in accordance with our traditions.”
Mohseni responded, “Mr. President, if this show brings a smile to millions of Afghan faces on a nightly basis, what right does the government have to take away those moments of joy from the people?”
Karzai just “brushed it aside,” Mohseni says. He was offended by Karzai’s unwillingness to challenge fundamentalists. “We know when to step back and compromise,” he says. “But we will not compromise principles.” This spring, the government and the Ulema Council relented and dropped the charges.
Khurram, who was replaced in December as information and culture minister, remains resolutely opposed to Tolo’s programming. He is forty-seven, short and round, with a black beard flecked with gray. When we met, he was wearing a black pin-striped suit jacket over a light-colored shalwar kameez, and clutching two cell phones, a common practice in Kabul, where cell-phone networks are unreliable. “Channels like Tolo are showing programs that are against Afghanistan culture,” he said. “They are deceiving Westerners that they are working for democracy and freedom in Afghanistan, while they harm democracy and freedom.” He said that, by showing “half-naked women,” Tolo “gives a false picture” of Afghanistan. “They say this is democracy and freedom. We don’t want it. For example, in these soap operas a woman who has three husbands is against Afghan culture. People don’t like it.”
Why, then, do so many Afghans watch the shows?
“First of all, only a small number of people watch these soap operas in Kabul,” Khurram said. “And they are not all Afghans. Some people have come to my office and told me that these soap operas are like drugs. We know it’s harmful for our families. Teachers have come to me to complain. You don’t see any art in these soap operas. . . . You are making people ignorant. This is cultural dumping.” Khurram thinks that too many TV channels in Afghanistan are supported by foreign money—from the U.S., Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. “Every country has a TV station here,” he said. “They realize that the media is more effective than guns and tanks.”
Khurram believes that a civil society requires a free press, which he said is blossoming in Afghanistan. But he cautioned, “It can be misused.” He thinks that Tolo “is serving America’s interests,” and cited Mohseni’s Farsi programs, which, he says, are meant to be “against Iranian clerics.” At the same time, he said that Mohseni’s programs are helping the Taliban: “The Taliban actually show some of these programs to people in villages and say, ‘These programs are anti-Islamic and they are infidels.’ In fact, these kinds of programs increase soldiers for the Taliban. . . . Saad will be in Dubai or America, and Afghanistan will be in the hands of the Taliban.”
Khurram’s TV watching, he said, consists of “good movies, but unfortunately there are not many.” He also watches news and public-affairs programs and listens to “good music,” especially classical music, on the radio. He has three children. “I try to warn them to watch good things,” he said. “They don’t watch soap operas. They watch cartoons. They watch programs on animals and historical films and Koran soap operas from Dubai.”
I asked if he ever watched the Indian soap operas, and he said proudly that never once had he watched an entire episode. But, he said, “I have followed some of the scenes.”
The former Minister has supporters, even in the media. Masood Farivar is the Harvard-educated general manager of Salam Watandar radio, an NPR-like network that supplies programming to forty-two local Afghan radio stations; all are partially funded by U.S.A.I.D. Unlike Tolo and most Afghan media, Farivar said, he accepts no American-funded ads to recruit for the Afghan Army or police. He defended Khurram: “I went one day to his office and told him, ‘Look, as a journalist I am against censorship. At the same time, I share your views on soap operas and the effects they can have on children and society. Instead of censoring these soap operas, you should start a debate about their content.’ ” For Farivar, the debate would start this way: “In a religiously conservative society, when you see multiple marriages and children born out of wedlock, do you want your children exposed to that kind of thing? For Afghans, respect for your elders is an important barrier. When your children are exposed to children just lying around when parents walk in, the children can imitate that. That’s not something we want for our children.” Jokingly, he added, “Sometimes my wife calls me the Taliban!”
Mohseni’s newscasts have often irritated Afghan officials, and sometimes Americans. When the state-run television network declined to broadcast pictures of Americans brutalizing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Tolo TV aired them. In April, 2007, Attorney General Sabet was upset by a Tolo report on parliamentary testimony that he had given about problems in the nation’s prisons. Sabet called Mohseni and complained that Tolo had misrepresented his comments, making it seem as if he were blaming the Karzai government.
Mohseni recalls, “I said, ‘It’s not a four-hour program.’ I thought we covered his remarks fairly. He went berserk.” Sabet called the reporter who had covered his testimony and ordered him to come to his office and apologize. The reporter declined, and Sabet called in the police. Fifty armed policemen raided Tolo’s offices, assaulted staff members, and dragged off three employees. Four A.P. employees who were observing the raid were also assaulted. “My brother Zaid,” Mohseni recalls, “he’s a lawyer but he’s a tough son of a bitch, and he said, ‘Let’s sever this relationship once and for all.’ ” Tolo continued to report on the controversy, and Sabet planned to arrest Mohseni, who was flying from Dubai to Kabul with Tom Freston. “I may be arrested,” Mohseni whispered to Freston on the plane. But, before they boarded in Dubai, Mohseni had phoned the Vice-President to alert him. “The Vice-President, who is a dear friend, sent twenty bodyguards to the plane,” he says. “There was a standoff at the airport between the police and the bodyguards. The police backed off.” Eventually, so did the Attorney General.
A year earlier, one of Tolo’s reporters interviewed a Taliban commander, and the Karzai administration demanded that he reveal his sources and apologize for giving exposure to the Taliban.
“The next evening, we got a call from the intelligence agency asking if our reporter could come in. He does, with the head of the TV station and Tolo’s lawyer, and Zaid decides to go. They arrest them and hold them overnight.” Tolo threatened to go live with accounts of the arrests, to bring in legal experts to explore whether the government was violating the country’s Mass Media Law and its free-speech guarantees.
Mohseni called the intelligence chief, who, according to him, said, “ ‘I had no choice. The President asked me. They are our guests for the night.’ ”
Mohseni demanded to talk with the President, and he met with Karzai and some of his cabinet ministers the next morning. He remembers Karzai arguing that the Taliban were unworthy of a news story. (Karzai’s spokesman did not respond to requests for an interview.) Mohseni thought his response erratic, the more so when the President veered off onto other subjects and nearly two hours elapsed. Exasperated, Mohseni asked, “Mr. President, are you going to release my brother?”
Mohseni recalls that Karzai said, “ ‘You better fix up your TV station!’ ”
“When you fix your cabinet, I’ll fix my TV station,” Mohseni said.
“Your TV station should be easier!” Karzai said, sardonically, which elicited the first smiles of the meeting. Zaid and the Tolo employees were released. “It was a good lesson for us about how vulnerable we were,” Mohseni says today.
Still, Freston worries that Mohseni can be reckless: “He treats his personal security almost too casually.” Sarah Takesh, his Iranian-born third wife, whom he married in 2007, worries about his safety. “The odds of something happening to him are high,” she says. Other TV and radio outlets in Afghanistan have also put themselves at risk by reporting on official corruption and the mistreatment of women. Media Watch Afghanistan, a press-freedom organization, reported in 2006, “Intimidation and harassment against media outlets and media practitioners continues unabated.” In the past four years, ten journalists have been murdered in Afghanistan, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Mohseni says that a few years ago Tolo was offered a hundred thousand dollars not to air a particular news story. Tolo ran the story, but, Mohseni said, if someone is powerful enough to offer a substantial bribe, “what stops him from killing someone?”
In July, 2009, on the eve of a Presidential debate hosted by Tolo, Karzai refused to appear, claiming that the network was biased and that he hadn’t had sufficient time to prepare. His campaign manager, citing an Electoral Media Commission report, asserted that fifty-nine per cent of Tolo’s coverage of Karzai in the previous week had been negative. Mohseni was angry. Even the Taliban talked to Tolo, he argued. During the broadcast of the debate, Tolo left Karzai’s lectern empty in the center of the studio.
Karzai is correct, however, in seeing Mohseni as a vociferous critic of his administration. He regularly proclaims that Karzai “does nothing” to combat corruption, to diminish the power of warlords, to reform the police force, to prosecute the Taliban. Mohseni wants the U.S. to press for greater reforms by “placing more conditions on its assistance.” Although Tolo made no editorial endorsement in the Presidential election, Mohseni’s friends knew that he favored the candidacy of the former foreign minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Once a fervent supporter of Karzai, Mohseni now says, “My views have changed. I no longer feel the government can bring about reform.”
In August, as voting began, Tolo reported that many votes cast for Karzai were fraudulent. (Later, an electoral commission invalidated nearly a million votes for Karzai, and more than three hundred thousand for his opponents.) The station aired dramatic footage of uniformed electoral officials at voting stations literally stuffing ballot boxes. Mohseni proudly says, “We were so far ahead of everyone else in coverage. We showed no fear. We informed people. We entertained them.”
However accurate Tolo’s reporting may have been, Karzai was not alone in believing that the network’s coverage was sometimes biased. Another Presidential candidate, Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, praises Mohseni for trying to create a freer society, but says, “Saad, in the Presidential campaign, favored one candidate. He tilted. He became partisan.”
By American standards, such an outspoken owner—whose news director asks him to approve stories, who recruits advertisers as clients for his ad agency while his news divisions monitor their businesses—would invite criticism. By Afghan standards, Mohseni is advancing the cause of a free press.
Tolo’s biggest hit is “Afghan Star,” the most popular show in the country. Every Thursday night, an estimated one-third of Afghanistan’s thirty million citizens gather in front of television sets to watch. In rural places without electricity, people fill generators with gasoline or hook up their TVs to car batteries. The show, which was shepherded by Jahid and Wajma Mohseni and débuted in 2005, is a Central Asian version of “American Idol.” In a season-long competition, Afghan citizens—many in traditional costumes—appear on a silver-colored stage to sing in front of a frenetic studio audience. Thousands of contestants apply each season; three finalists compete for a five-thousand-dollar prize and a recording contract. The music sounds foreign to Western ears, with hand drums and exotic scales, but other aspects of the production are familiar: three or four judges, dancing spotlights, and a host looking into the camera to ask “Are you ready to find out who won this round?” before pausing for a commercial. (Moby co-produced a documentary about the show, which won two awards at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, and was shown on HBO.)
As on “American Idol,” winners on “Afghan Star” are determined by the judges, the audience, and text messages sent from mobile phones throughout the country. Before the show aired, Mohseni made a deal with Roshan, the country’s leading mobile-phone company, and ran promotional ads on Tolo and Arman instructing citizens how to place a vote. (The text messages cost voters about seven cents, the equivalent of a loaf of bread; three hundred thousand votes were cast in the final week.) With suspicious egalitarianism, the finalists have often been from each of the three main Afghan ethnic groups: Tajiks, Pashtuns, and Hazaras. At first, losers reacted badly on the air, smashing stage equipment and claiming ethnic prejudice, but, because their tantrums were so public, they were humiliated and seen as dividers.
In the third season, one of the finalists was Lema Sahar, a Pashtun woman from Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban. Religious leaders were outraged that a woman was allowed to perform in public, and Sahar received death threats. In the “Afghan Star” documentary, she said, “We hide the songbooks and other things at night. If the Taliban come at night, we have a special place to hide the computer. If they find something, they kill you.” She was undaunted. “If I do not sing, what else can I do?” she said. Sahar’s performances on the show demonstrate a somewhat tenuous relationship with pitch and rhythm, but she was a crowd favorite. Mohseni told a reporter at the time, “They all realized how it was for her to come from Kandahar, and we all want to root for the underdog.” The text-message voting did something else, Mohseni says: It “has changed Afghanistan in ways you could not imagine ten years ago. It has given people power to vote someone off.”
Moby and the other media have been part of sweeping changes in Afghanistan. Ghani says, “The majority of the population is under twenty-two. They behave differently. Women have overcome gender segregation. I know a dozen young women who want to be President one day.” Women are more assertive, according to Zahra Mousavi, Moby’s manager of current affairs. “I am so full of hope about that,” she says. “They believe in women’s power now. In our shows and news, we have a lot of women. It’s normal.”
Arezo Kohistany, who is twenty-one, fled with her family to Virginia, in 1997, to escape the Taliban. After graduating from college in Virginia, last fall she returned to Kabul, where she is the marketing manager for the Azizi Bank. Except for the scarf she wears outside, she looks and talks like an American coed. The media “has opened Afghan women’s minds,” she says. “Over here they were told they can’t do this, they can’t do that. Even though people say there has been no improvement in Afghanistan, eight years ago women were not allowed to go to school. They were not allowed to go out of the house without a man. Now you see women having a career any man can have.”
Mohseni says, “One of the reasons Afghanistan has not exploded is that the media give people an outlet.” Cyrus Oshidar, who once worked for Tom Freston at MTV India and now works for Moby Group in Dubai, says that in poor countries like Afghanistan and India the media allow people to escape their misery. “It’s why Bollywood movies are three and a half hours.” The media “takes you away,” he says. “It provides hope. New images. It’s escapism.”
Even Fazel Ahmad Manawi, the spokesman for the Ulema Council, concedes the media’s impact. Manawi, who is forty-three, is a respected former Supreme Court justice who was appointed by Karzai in April to chair Afghanistan’s Election Commission. He remains opposed to “Afghan Star” and the “immoral” Indian soap operas. “It is not allowed, according to our religion, that girls appear onstage and perform in front of people,” he said. But he praises the newscasts, including Tolo’s, which have “played an effective role in modernizing Afghanistan” and educating the public. He was sitting on one of three black leather chairs in a bare-walled office whose windows were covered and whose doors were guarded, because, he says, the Taliban have murdered up to “fifty members of the Sharia.” To his left were shelves filled with religious books. To his right was a small television.
“I have the TV, and it is on always,” he said. He has two sets at home, and he and his four sons are devoted to Tolo’s broadcasts of “24.” His two young daughters watch cartoons and children’s shows, and he conceded that television often “improves the way people behave. When my little daughter faces a problem, she calls out, ‘Help.’ She learned that from TV. Before, she would just cry.”
Television has become part of Afghan life, he said. “If the Taliban came back to power, they could not ban television.” Manawi does not oppose men and women talking with one another on television or radio—“as long as the woman has the hijab,” or head scarf—but he was still amazed to see the former foreign minister for the Taliban, who now lives in Kabul, “sitting next to a pretty female on television.”
“The media is a huge success story,” Masood Farivar said. “It’s contributed to nation building and democracy by educating the public.” The day before the August, 2009, election, he said, “the Minister of Foreign Affairs directed that the media not report on violence in the election. It was ignored by most media.” Today, he continued, the public “takes it for granted that their leaders should be elected and held accountable. That is not an expectation people had ten years ago.”
Zahra Mousavi is unsure how long the Afghan government will tolerate the freedom that she has at Tolo. “Sometimes they order us,” she says of the government. “Sometimes they say ‘please.’ They say ‘please,’ but it’s like an order for us. Sometimes I worry if in the future it will be better or worse.”
Afghanistan is an Islamic state by constitutional writ, and there is a fundamental tension between a constitution that protects freedom of the press yet forbids content that is “contrary to the principles of Islam.” Television and radio are subject to government license and easier to shut down than satellite or Web-based media, which operate outside a nation’s borders. The presence of Western money and media would be a deterrent, but not an insurmountable one. The U.S. has said that it will begin removing soldiers in 2011, and, as in Iran or Burma, reporters can be expelled. With little Internet presence, the social media that boosted the Green Revolution in Iran are not potent. E-mail and blogging are limited by widespread illiteracy.
Even in countries where new media have taken root, governments have had surprising success in restricting the Internet. In the past few years, China has successfully pressured Google to censor search results for the Dalai Lama, Tiananmen Square, and information about Chinese leaders, and has blocked blogs, scanned text messages, and broken into the e-mail of suspected dissidents.
But, often, economics proves stronger than politics. Joseph Ravitch, the media investment banker, recalls that, earlier this year, the Chinese government tried to curtail screenings of “Avatar” and replace it with “Confucius,” a biography of the philosopher. The edict was largely ignored. Citizens demanded to see the movie, and theatre owners did not want to be denied ticket sales. With governments and corporations increasingly dependent on the Internet and cellular communications, Ravitch believes, “no one—unless you want to take your society back to the Stone Age, as Pol Pot and Mullah Omar tried to do—can afford to cut themselves off from the electronic age.”
The economic incentives that worked against censoring “Avatar” also work against a media crackdown in Afghanistan, which is desperate to build a private economy that creates jobs and growth. Moby Group, along with the rest of the country’s vibrant media sector, must be counted a business success. According to the Afghan Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the country now has thirty-one private TV channels and ninety-three radio stations. Jeanne Bourgault, the executive vice-president of Internews Network, a nonprofit that has supported local media in seventy countries, including Salam Watandar’s network, gives a measure of credit to the Karzai government, which, she notes, “has been more open to media than many other countries. We haven’t gotten the pushback we have in other countries.” But, of course, should the government reach an accord with the Taliban, the kind of independent journalism and entertainment programming championed by Saad Mohseni could be portrayed as subversive.
Of all the business cards that Mohseni has collected, perhaps the most important one belonged to Tom Freston. In the early seventies, Freston left the advertising business to travel through Europe and ended up in Afghanistan, where he established a clothing-design-and-manufacturing business. He returned to the U.S. soon after the Communist government took power, and helped found MTV, eventually rising to become C.E.O. of the parent company, Viacom. Freston met Mohseni through Sarah Takesh, and, with Mohseni, he returned to Afghanistan for the first time in 2007. He soon became a member of Moby Group’s board, and he introduced Mohseni to a galaxy of Western media figures: Rupert Murdoch, Jon Stewart, Charlie Rose, Google C.E.O. Eric Schmidt, and Joseph Ravitch.
The introduction to Murdoch was particularly fruitful. He and Mohseni have certain things in common—roots in Australia, a desire to spread free media, and an instinct for making money—and at their first meeting, in 2006, they talked animatedly. They agreed to work together to form Farsi1, which now beams Turkish and Latin-American soap operas and action shows like “24” to a hundred and twenty million Farsi speakers in Iran, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. The channel is half owned by Murdoch’s News Corp., and its C.E.O. is Zaid Mohseni.
Moby has hired a hundred Afghans who speak Iranian-accented Farsi to dub the programs that it broadcasts to Iran. To try to avoid offending Iranian sensibilities, Farsi1 offers no news, and it screens its programs, erasing or blotting out kissing and sex. Still, last month the chief of Iran’s state-run television denounced Farsi1 programs on the ground that they promoted moral corruption, and Kayhan, a hard-line daily newspaper, accused it of “promoting dysfunctional families and adultery and portraying unmarried relationships and abortion as normal.”
Farsi1’s offices are in Dubai, in Studio City, a tax-free industrial park in the middle of what was once desert. Mohseni spends about half his time there, and he and his siblings work within shouting distance of one another. On the whiteboard across from the desk in his small glassed-in office are the words “Yemen,” “Pakistan,” “Jordan,” “Iraq,” “U.A.E.,” “Palestine,” “Sudan,” “Somalia,” “Uzbekistan,” and “U.S. Muslims.” Asked to explain their meaning, Mohseni said that he sees some of the world’s most troubled places as good media investments. “In our part of the world, old media still works,” he said. “Despite the dangers, if you have enough diversity it’s a good business to be in.” If Moby can have TV platforms in seven or eight countries, he said, it can reduce its programming costs by running the same content translated into the local language.
“The Arab markets are a virgin market” for local television, Mohseni said. “There are no viable TV stations in these countries—Yemen, Iraq, Jordan.” He sees advertising spending doubling every five years in some of these countries. Like Afghanistan, all have populations bursting with young people. In five years, he predicted, Iraq will become the second-largest oil producer in the Middle East, creating a vast consumer marketplace. Jordan, he said, is a two-hundred-million-dollar ad market, with little of this money going to television. And, because these countries will be at the forefront of international “hearts and minds” efforts in coming years, N.G.O. and government spending will also rise. In Afghanistan, Mohseni estimates that U.S. spending for media development, training, advertising, and programming will be a hundred and forty million dollars over the next three years.
Mohseni acknowledged that there is “a glut of Arab-language channels delivered by satellite,” but he thinks that most lose money and overspend for programming; he is betting that the sheikhs who bankroll them will lose interest. Although Farsi1 is less than a year old, he hopes that it will soon turn a profit. Oprah Winfrey, a friend of Tom Freston, has verbally agreed to air some of her daily programs on the network.
I asked Mohseni about the entry on the whiteboard that read “U.S. Muslims.” “There are no TV programs for Muslims in the U.S.,” he said. “There are five to seven million Muslims in the U.S. I think there’s enormous opportunity there.” Mohseni is consulting with Joseph Ravitch, the investment banker, about getting access to a cable channel, or some other means of distribution, but this remains an abstraction.
For Moby to succeed, Mohseni said, the programming must feel local, in both language and sensibility. He does not envision broadcasting news in other countries as he does in Afghanistan, because it would be too easy to offend politicians. “That is our mantra,” he said. “We don’t get involved in local politics.”
But one female Iranian television executive in Dubai said that there is no escaping the political implications of entertainment. In Iran, one of the most popular programs in recent years was “Victoria,” a Latin soap opera about a fifty-year-old woman who, after her husband takes up with a younger woman, falls in love with a thirty-year-old man. Like other Iranians, the executive was an enthusiastic fan: “Since politics and religion are mixed together in our country, these soap operas are a social revolution. The government is against shows like ‘Victoria.’ They don’t want to let people become aware of anything.” Because Farsi1 avoids broadcasting news or commentary, the Iranian government has found it difficult to take legal action without risking the anger of its citizens.
In Afghanistan, Mohseni is already deeply embroiled in politics. Last week, General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, criticized the Obama Administration in a Rolling Stone article, and the question of whether he would be forced to resign was widely discussed. Mohseni, who recently had dinner with McChrystal, wanted him to stay. Tolo ran a live interview show that highlighted the General’s achievements and, with the permission of CBS, rebroadcast a sympathetic “60 Minutes” profile of him. On Wednesday, McChrystal was replaced by General David Petraeus, who Mohseni said was “the only general who insures that Afghanistan will remain an American priority.” Tolo was the first in the country to report the news.
In the long run, though, Mohseni’s influence on Afghanistan’s politics and culture may owe less to news reports than to makeover shows, soap operas, and music videos. As he puts it, “You don’t have to be didactic to facilitate social change.”
Sunday, 11 July 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AFGHANISTAN’S FIRST 24-HOUR NEWS CHANNEL LAUNCHED
July 9, 2010 – TOLO News, the first dedicated news and current affairs channel in Afghanistan, was launched last week in response to a growing demand for greater and more accessible Dari and Pashto news content in the region.
A part of the MOBY Group network of channels in Afghanistan, the 24-hour satellite channel will reach a potential viewing audience of 120 million Dari / Farsi speakers and 40 million Pashto speakers in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Europe, Asia and parts of North Africa. TOLO News offers a variety of local and international news and current affairs programs including regular news bulletins, documentaries, political commentary, investigative reports, debates and in-depth interviews.
Mujahid Kakar, head of TOLO News said “TOLO TV has built its reputation on delivering credible and gutsy news programs which resonate with audiences around the country. We have a dedicated team of over 100 journalists, researchers, producers, technicians and camera people, who churn out a range of programs on a daily basis. TOLO News is an extension of what is already on the TOLO and LEMAR channels, but will offer additional programming that is fresh and relevant to viewers. All of this will now be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
The launch is timely as Afghanistan approaches its second parliamentary elections in September 2010.
TOLO News is available on SESAT2 in Afghanistan, Europe, Asia and north of Africa.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tolonews.com.
Satellite DetailsAsia and Middle East
Symbol Rate: 2,1430
FEC: 3/4 (QPSK)
Frequency: 11613,7500 (MHz)
Satellite: SESAT2 53° East, Steerable 1
Symbol Rate: 2,1430
FEC: 3/4 (QPSK)
Frequency: 11659,9050 (MHz)
Satellite: SESAT2 53° East, Fixed Beam
About MOBY Group
MOBY Group is a young and dynamic organization whose first major initiatives have developed a now thriving media and entertainment industry in the nation of Afghanistan. MOBY Group has developed the leading TV, radio and entertainment brands which have brought to the nation gripping locally produced drama and revived performing arts with programs such as Afghan Star, a talent quest, that has united Afghans around their ancient culture’s shared love of music and song. MOBY Group’s skill is developing world-class integrated media industries in developing nations.
+93798 136 980