Afghanistan gets first 24-hour news TV channel
July 7th, 2010 - 10:51 UTC
by Andy Sennitt.

A home-grown 24-hour TV news channel has been launched in Afghanistan by Saad Mohseni, the country’s biggest media mogul. The politically connected Moby Media Group chairman last week launched a CNN-style news feed to what he expects to be about 1 million viewers shaping Afghanistan’s future, from government to foreigners and even the resurgent Taliban.

“For me, 24-hour news was a no brainer,” Mohseni told Reuters in an interview. “In Afghanistan, you need to know what’s going on. If there’s a bomb blast in Karte-Seh and you’ve got your kids going to school there, you need to know which roads are closed, if security forces are in control of the area.”

A strong critic of President Hamid Karzai, Mr Mohseni and his brother Jahid control a modest but growing media empire based out of a cluster of dilapidated houses at the end of a barricaded cul-de-sac, guarded by a dozen men armed with AK-47s. From a small upstairs office walled with flatscreens and curtained off from the street, the fast-talking ex-banker has in 5 years gone from owning a single Kabul FM radio station to cutting deals with News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch to beam-in Persian-language programmes to 120 million people in Iran and central Asia.

Mohseni’s Tolo (Dawn) 24 began broadcasting at a vital time in Afghanistan, with new US and NATO forces commander General David Petraeus arriving to take command of the fight against a Taliban at their strongest since their 2001 overthrow. At the same time, President Karzai is under pressure to match a US troop surge meant to turn the tide of the war with improved governance and development, including a crackdown on the entrenched corruption driving support away from his government.

Mr Mohseni, raised largely in Australia and a strong supporter of the American presence in the country, said the new channel aimed to inform Afghans and allow debate, providing the public with different policy alternatives and possibilities. Afghanistan’s 30 million population is on track to reach 100 million by 2050, with 60 percent under the age of 20 and rapidly urbanising. The capital is set to grow from 5 million people to 8 million by 2014, bringing new opportunities for Mr Mohseni’s Tolo.

“We are going to be grappling with a very young nation, much bigger than it is now, and we have to move forward,” he said. “Corruption is a major issue, but we all have a role to play in that. We have all made mistakes. People bribe on a daily basis. Ultimately I’m optimistic, or I wouldn’t be investing all this money here.”