When Afghans turn on
their televisions, they do not want to be regaled with current affairs or
debates on the Koran. Instead, they want Indian soap operas, complete with
sari-clad women and convoluted love stories.
Tolo TV, the country's
most popular broadcaster, was quick to learn this lesson. The Indian dramas
which dominate peak time get 10 or 11 million viewers; news programmes cause a
auditions for Tolo TV's Afghan Star, a Pop Idol inspired singing talent
Afghan television is
the most visible symbol of the country's transformation since the Taliban's
downfall in 2001.
The ancien regime
condemned television as "un-Islamic", closed down every broadcaster
and publicly crushed thousands of TV sets with bulldozers.
Today, Afghanistan has
13 stations, yet the old suspicion of television as a corrupting, Westernising
influence remains strong. Saad Mohseni,
head of the Moby Media Group which includes Tolo TV, said the authorities were
"not tolerant or relaxed at all".
"President Karzai himself has been quite tolerant and if push comes to
shove, he'll defend the free press. But the government is not one individual,
it's a number of movements, parties and ideologies.
the government are not happy with the free media and they have put obstacles in
our path and we've probably suffered more than any other station. But we're
Anyone running a TV
station in Kabul
encounters challenges found nowhere else in the world. Mr Mohseni must generate
his own electricity - the mains supply only four hours of power on a good day -
and hire his own armed guards in a city plagued by violence.
He believes his
viewers are deeply disillusioned by the state of Afghanistan. "The level of
frustration has reached boiling point," said Mr Mohseni.
"It's not because Afghanistan
hasn't improved. It has improved. But relative to expectations, what people
were promised hasn't been delivered."