KABUL • The head of a burgeoning Afghan media empire looked down at his new BlackBerry, vibrating against a table in Washington earlier this week. "Afghan civilians injured in Gereshk suicide bombing," read the e-mail headline.
Another day, another suicide bombing in another town. Another too-typical news event for Saad Mohseni's (pictured) stations to broadcast across a country where prime-time programming is scheduled to fit the nighttime hours when electrical generators are switched on.
Mohseni, director of the Moby Media Group, was in Washington for meetings at the State Department and with US media and business counterparts. His five-year-old company - which got start-up help from the US Agency for International Development - owns two of the most-watched television networks in Afghanistan, an FM radio station, a video production house, an ad agency, a music label and a small magazine.
In addition to his nightly news programme and a "Good Morning Afghanistan"-style talk show, Mohseni's Tolo TV network runs popular Indian soap operas, has a singing-contest show a la "American Idol," an amateur stand-up comedy show where comics get laughs in Persian Dari, a satire programme that shows lawmakers in embarrassing situations and will, this fall, begin showing dubbed episodes of the Fox thriller "24."
In some ways, Mohseni, 41, is the Rupert Murdoch of Afghanistan.
Not only is he an entrepreneurial media lord with Australian roots who buys his soap operas from Murdoch's Indian Star TV network, his programming has been criticised as sensational, lowbrow and corruptive to the culture - much as Fox's "The Simpsons" was panned when it hit the US airwaves. And, like many of Murdoch's programmes, Mohseni's are wildly popular.
Both points of view came through in interviews on the streets of Kabul this week.
"Tolo TV is one of my favourite TV networks," said Wahidullah, 37, a former teacher. "I like most of its programmes, especially the evening news and 'Dahlez Ha' " - a current affairs programme - "which has already disclosed many secret things." On the other hand, Amanullah, 43, a car salesman, said: "Tolo TV ... encourages people to immodesty and is really in contradiction to Afghan culture. My children are not allowed to watch it. If I had the ability to stop it, I would have stopped it very early."