The New Yorker Profiles ‘Afghanistan’s Rupert Murdoch’

By Alex Weprin 

In a fascinating read, The New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta, profiles the man who some call “Afghanistan’s Rupert Murdoch,” Saad Mohseni.

Mohseni is the founder of the Moby Group, the most powerful and successful media company in Afghanistan. The company produces the country’s number one show, “Afghan Star” (essentially an Afghan take on “American Idol”) as well as news on its Tolo Channel.

The news it produces is having a major impact in the country:

Still, an estimated one-third to one-half of the population of Afghanistan watched a Presidential debate last August on Tolo TV, and cameras from Tolo have been repeatedly banned from parliament and the government ministries after the network broadcast stories of government ineptness or wrongdoing. Its news programs exposed stuffed ballot boxes and other examples of fraud in the August Presidential election. Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, visited Mohseni in late March, and told me, “Our guys tell me that Tolo news blew them away. In this entire region, no one else is doing this kind of work. That’s on TV. On radio, they also blew them away.”

The article also discusses Mohseni’s relationship with the former Viacom CEO Tom Freston, who now sits on Moby’s board of directors:

[H]e introduced Mohseni to a galaxy of Western media figures: Rupert Murdoch, Jon Stewart, Charlie Rose, Google C.E.O. Eric Schmidt, and Joseph Ravitch.

The introduction to Murdoch was particularly fruitful. He and Mohseni have certain things in common-roots in Australia, a desire to spread free media, and an instinct for making money-and at their first meeting, in 2006, they talked animatedly. They agreed to work together to form Farsi1, which now beams Turkish and Latin-American soap operas and action shows like “24” to a hundred and twenty million Farsi speakers in Iran, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. The channel is half owned by Murdoch’s News Corp., and its C.E.O. is Zaid Mohseni.

As Auletta notes, the business Mohseni is pursuing is something of a throwback: “In Afghanistan the old media are still new.”

With television banned under the Taliban’s rule, and radio dedicated to serving the greater religious good, there was no real independent news organization in the country, let alone programming like “Afghan Star,” which has drawn the ire of religious clerics for featuring women.