Emerging Afghan Media Triggering Change Media is starting to lead social change in Afghanistan. Television in particular is used to entertain and inform. And a private television channel, Tolo TV, has been critical of the government's policies.

Emerging Afghan Media Triggering Change

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In Afghanistan, it's now possible to watch the news. We've just heard Jackie Northam report and news closer to home on television.

Yes, one result of driving out the Taliban is that the few folks who had TVs could get them out of hiding and start watching. Six years later, Afghans may still be mired in war and poverty but they have lots more TVs and lots more programs.

To find out more, we turn to Saad Mohseni. He's one of the three Afghan-Australian brothers who founded Afghanistan's top television channel, Tolo TV.

Good morning.

Mr. SAAD MOHSENI (Founder, Tolo TV): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, one telling, kind of a fascinating statistic about Afghanistan at the moment is that more houses have television than public electricity. So I'm guessing that during primetime, people all over the country are flipping on their private generators to watch it.

Mr. MOHSENI: Yeah. And I think a lot of people also go to friends' houses or relatives' houses. We have communal TV sets. But for most people, it's very important to have a television set or at least have access to a television set at least once or twice a week.

MONTAGNE: Now, your network Tolo TV airs everything from serious news to soap operas. What are the shows that have got people there hooked?

Mr. MOHSENI: In the West, people watch the news more or less out of, you know, it's more of a hobby than anything else. You don't need to know the news. But in Afghanistan, you need to know what's going on. It impacts your life. So the news is very important to people. We obviously have soap operas. We bought a whole bunch from Star Television in India. People have been, you know, to an extent deprived of all the good things that you Americans have been exposed to like soap operas, like comedy shows and that's the thing.

I'm not sure if you agree with me but for the public - for the general public in Afghanistan, I mean, really their lives, we need to look forward to something. So, entertainment is really important. We've recently purchased "24" from Fox, from News Corporation.

MONTAGNE: "24" lot of the villains there are Muslim. I'm wondering how that goes over there?

Mr. MOHSENI: That's what we thought but it was interesting that people weren't turned off by that. If anything, they saw the villains as non-Afghans - Arabs or whatever.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Well, because it's an interesting subtlety to much of the rest of the world. I mean, this is not like people think these guys are such great heroes.

Mr. MOHSENI: Yeah. And to most Afghans they're not. There was a recent report Put put by the U.N. Over 50 percent of the suicide bombers are foreigners. I mean, most Afghans believe that 90 percent are foreigners.

MONTAGNE: Tolo TV and your popular radio network, Arman FM, have both tested the bounds of what's socially acceptable in Afghanistan. For instance, something as simple as putting a man and a woman together on the air even on the radio, do you see yourself - yourselves as playing a role in some kind of social change?

Mr. MOHSENI: Absolutely not just us but I think media in general has led social change in Afghanistan. And it's very interesting that, you know, sometimes you have your finger on the pulse and you actually need to know as to, you know, what the public may feel. But certainly other times you need to actually act on your instincts. For example, putting a man and woman - research told us we shouldn't do it but we nonetheless did it. And it's amazing how quickly people adapt to that and accepted the new format.

MONTAGNE: What are the limits? What's the absolute limit as far as you know?

Mr. MOHSENI: We have been very careful. I mean, if anything Afghanistan has gone backwards unfortunately. For example, when we first set up a television station, we felt that within six to twelve months, you know, we wouldn't require to - our female presenters to wear a headscarf but, you know, now, I mean when we think about it we know that's virtually impossible because Afghanistan has become a lot more - people have become every wary of the increase in the role of the fundamentalist within Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: How much pressure have you come under from the government for criticizing its policies or reporting on insurgent attacks? I gather that the government hasn't really loved that the Taliban gets a fair amount of exposure from your reporting.

Mr. MOHSENI: No, but I think it was important. I mean, two years ago we did reports on the Taliban and it wasn't so much promoting the Taliban, it was why they're becoming more popular. And, of course, the government, as always, was not happy and wanted to kill the messenger, so to speak.

MONTAGNE: Well, have they, though - I mean, has the government - have they cracked down?

Mr. MOHSENI: Yes, I mean, we've come under attack. We've had people - our people who've been locked up by the intelligence agencies, by the police because the government, to a large extent, relies on foreign funding. I mean, of course, it's a lot more careful than it would be if it was completely, yeah I supposed had a free reign. But I think if the government have the opportunity it would certainly clamp down on the media organizations.

MONTAGNE: Saad Mohseni is one of the founders of Afghanistan's first private TV channel Tolo TV. Thanks very much.

Mr. MOHSENI: Thank you.

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