Radical change on Afghanistan's airwaves

A young man sings on 'Afghan Star' on Tolo TV.

TEXT OF STORY

LISA NAPOLI: Almost five years after the fall of the Taliban, The reports we see from Afghanistan don't show much change there. But if you listen to the local media, you get a different story. Miranda Kennedy takes a look.


MIRANDA KENNEDY: Not long after the Taliban were ousted from Afghanistan, Saad Mohseni, an Australian stock broker, came back to his native Afghanistan. He and his brothers invested in the country's first radio license.

Arman FM filled a cultural void. It quickly created an Afghan Top 40 playlist — ranging from American pop to classic Afghan crooners.

SAAD MOHSENI: Demand drives what we put out. And I think one of the reasons why we're popular is because we satisfy the demands of the public.

Saad and his brothers built on their radio success to create a mini-media empire. A year back, they launched Afghanistan's first private TV channel, Tolo.

Suddenly, Afghans were seeing only slightly censored J-Lo videos and getting the homegrown equivalent of Oprah, a show called "Woman" that solves real life problems.

There's still only five million TV sets in the country, but 60% of them are tuned to Tolo, so every company worth its salt advertises with them.

The newsroom is filled with young, trendily-dressed reporters. The average age here is 24 and 30% of them are women.

Alian Behros, a shy 21-year-old, seems an unlikely sports anchor. Especially since in Afghanistan, being a female on the air means getting regular death threats from Islamists.

ALIAN BEHROS: In Taliban regime, men had not seen women for five years. So now when they see women on TV, it's a bit new for them.

The women on TV always wear headscarves. But in Afghanistan, even female radio announcers get threats, for co-hosting programs with men. But Saad doesn't shy away from controversy.

MOHSENI: People talk a lot about our music programs but what's more controversial is probably our current affairs programs. I think on most major issues we've taken the lead, talking to the Taliban, we were the first ones to talk to them, questioning the government's wisdom in terms of key appointments.

Tolo has made its mark. Since its launch, three new Afghan channels have cropped up, offering similarly spicy fare. That's making advertisers happy, but not conservatives.

In Kabul, I'm Miranda Kennedy for Marketplace.

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