Saturday, September 25

The founder of Afghanistan’s 24-hour news channel: “The Taliban are using the media”

Saad Mohseni, along with his brothers, is the founder of Afghanistan’s first private radio station, Arman; from one of the most watched television channels in the country, Tolo TV; and from Tolo News, the first 24-hour news channel. “It has been a great blow and there is a lot to process … At the moment we continue to broadcast and we have to navigate in this environment in the best possible way,” he told about the Taliban victory.

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Although he normally lives in Dubai and travels every two weeks to Kabul, he currently follows events from London with uncertainty. On Monday the Taliban They entered the offices of the news network and took the weapons of security personnel delivered by the Government. A day later, one of its spokespersons sat on the set to be interviewed by one of the network’s journalists, something unthinkable 20 years ago.

“They are smart and they know that the media has a large audience. They are using the media to deliver their messages and we are using that opportunity to talk to them. If that means anything for the future, I don’t know, but I think we shouldn’t. get too excited yet, “he says.

With the passing of the hours – and despite friendly statements to the international media – his intentions are becoming increasingly clear. This Wednesday the Mohseni channel broadcast a two-woman debate on the victory of the Taliban, but meanwhile, on the public channel, the fundamentalists have not allowed journalist Shabnan Dawran to work. “The regime has changed. Go home”, report what they have told you. Another journalist from public television, Khadija Amin, has also denounced that she has been fired.

In a statement from Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) notes: “We will establish a legal framework for issues of clothing and that women are not disturbed on the street or in their jobs. But until these written provisions are approved, I ask you to stay home without stress. and without fear. I assure you that they will return to work. ”

“It is impossible to really know if they have changed. We will find out in the coming weeks. We have to judge them by their actions, not by their words,” says Mohseni. “At the moment they are not interfering in Tolo. But they are still in the process of taking power and organizing themselves. I think they do not have the capacity to address anything else. In the next few weeks they will probably pass laws for the media. I think things will change, but right now they have other more important things to do. ”

Reasons for fear

Mohseni was born in London in 1966, where his father worked as a diplomat for Afghanistan. At the age of three, the family returned to their country and when he was 12, his father was posted to Japan. A year later, in 1979, the USSR invaded Afghanistan, the father resigned and requested asylum for himself and his family. Mohseni spent 23 years without returning to his country. At that time, the Soviets had retreated in defeat after a long war and the Americans had overthrown the Taliban, who ruled between 1996 and 2001.

“It was a very difficult time because there was no electricity and the infrastructure was bad. But there was an opening to create a media company. There was good will towards the new media,” he says. With the Taliban, television was prohibited and the only radio that existed was ‘Voice of Sharia’, which only broadcast propaganda and religious programs. One of the first employees of ‘Arman’ was Massood Sanjer, who was previously an English presenter for the Taliban broadcaster.

“One mistake, one wrong word and you could end up locked in a container”, declared Sanjer to AFP. Today is Channel Manager Afghanistan at Moby Group, the conglomerate that brings together the Mohseni companies. He then went from reciting the news of Mullah Omar, a former Taliban leader, to play songs by Shakira or Madonna. It is not very reassuring that the Taliban have renamed a Kandahar station as ‘Voice of Sharia’.

“It is inevitable to be afraid of how unpredictable the Taliban are. But the key with our workers is that they may be afraid, but they are brave and carry on with their work. They report the facts and cover events despite the risks and the risk. uncertainty, “says Mohseni.

There are more than good reasons to be afraid. In the past five years, 13 Mohseni employees have been killed. “We have been very independent. We were, for example, the first to focus on civilian deaths caused by the American bombings and we support women’s rights and other values ​​that conservatives do not like.”


In 2015, after publishing information critical of the fundamentalists, Tolo was declared a military target by the Taliban. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan does not as of now recognize Tolo and 1TV as media, but designates them as military targets for their disrespectful and hostile actions against the Mujahideen nation of Afghanistan,” they pointed out in a statement. Three months later they kept their word and a suicide attack against a bus full of workers from Tolo killed seven of them.

“Thanks to almighty God and his support and with the prayers of the Muslims harassed by the spies of Tolo, the attack was successful. The vehicle was destroyed and swallowed by fire with all its spies and its corrupt passengers were killed,” said then the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. The same man who now sends communications to RSF: “We will respect freedom of the press because it will be useful for society and will help correct the mistakes of the leaders.” “They can criticize us so that we can improve,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Regardless, Mohseni believes that the Taliban now have “a chance” to do things “properly.” “As a media company, we have to help both parties understand each other and understand how the country has changed. If we were given the opportunity not to close, I think that this is going to be one of the main challenges,” says the businessman. .

Afghanistan has at least eight news agencies, 52 television channels, 165 radio stations and 190 print publications, according to RSF. According to data from the Afghan Federation of Media and Journalists, there are 12,000 journalists in the country.