International

Saad Mohseni Is Afghanistan's First Media Mogul

Saad Mohseni, the chairman of Moby Group, is one of the most powerful men in Afghanistan. He owns radio and television networks, an advertising agency, and a movie production company, among other businesses.

To compare him to Rupert Murdoch — a man with whom Mohseni works, as a matter of fact — wouldn't be unfair.

Ken Auletta, who profiled Saad Mohseni for The New Yorker magazine, told NPR's Renee Montagne that, "in Afghanistan, new media is old media — television and radio.  And in that world, Saad Mohseni and his Moby media group is dominant."

How dominant, you ask?

The Moby Group produces Afghan Star, which isn't unlike American Idol. They have the same format and attract huge audiences.

"About a third of the people of Aghanistan, roughly 30 million people, watch Afghan Star," Auletta said. "It's very popular."

After decades in exile, Mohseni returned to Afghanistan in 2002, throwing his support behind the Northern Alliance. Realizing that media ownership would divine a great deal of power in post-Taliban Afghanistan, he raised money to buy radio licenses.

$200,000 of the $500,000 he needed came from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

"Without United States support, Saad Mohseni could not have succeeded at what he did," Auletta told Montagne.  "He needed that infrastructure, that capital expense that the government supported."

Although Mohseni's empire includes news programs, his portfolio of entertainment programs may be even more influential.

Through reality TV, dramas, and soap operas, Afghans are able to see things they hadn't been able to watch for years.  Women talking to men, for instance. (That was forbidden when the Taliban controlled the country.)

According to Auletta, something like that "has a more profound impact than a newscast about a story in Kandahar."

Mohseni's success has put him and his coworkers at risk. Many Afghans think he is broadcasting immoral, offensive material.  Ten percent of Mohseni's budget goes to security. When he travels, Mohseni is met at the airport by three sport utility vehicles filled with gun-carrying guards.

In his article, Auletta uses Mohseni to highlight a growing cultural divide in Afghanistan:

"One of the things that's fascinating is this built-in tension between a constitution that declares you will have freedom of expression and, at the same time, that same constitution declares that you will have an Islamic state," Auletta said.

The definition of what is an Islamic state allows many people, fundamentalists particularly, to claim that what he is doing is un-Islamic.

You can read the entirety of Ken Auletta's profile, "The Networker: Afghanistan's first media mogul," here.

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