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Friday, June 17, 2005

Radio Freedom

Afghan brothers head home to launch radio station

By Carolyn Webb, The Age

Christina Aguilera music videos, female newsreaders, political dissent - these are all things Afghanistan did not have under the Taliban. But they do now.

Two years ago, three Afghan-Australian brothers, Saad, Zaid and Jahid Mohseni, all aged in their 30s, gave up cushy careers in Melbourne to found Afghanistan's first commercial radio station.

It's a youth-oriented station similar to Fox-FM, and is called Arman, meaning Hope.

If Afghans want to listen to the latest hit from the Turkish heart-throb Tarkan they can tune in, or they can ring talkback to whinge about their local politician or the garbage in their street.

All this was unthinkable under the Taliban, who ruled for six years until December 2001.

The brothers say they are "always in trouble" with Afghanistan's hardline clerics, who have twice lobbied the Government to close Arman FM down.

Last October (2004), the Mohseni brothers also opened a commercial television station, called Tolo, or "Dawn". Its programs, in either the Dari or Pashtun languages, include the investigative 6.30 Report, a music video show called Hop, and a comedy show called Moments.

The addition of satellite technology last month means Arman FM and Tolo broadcast all over Afghanistan and into Iran, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

The Mohsenis also started Afghan Scene, a monthly magazine for English-speaking expatriates in Kabul.

Last year the brothers published, online, Afghanistan's first Yellow Pages directory. It has 1000 entries.

The Mohsenis' father, Yassin, was a diplomat under the Daoud regime of the 1970s.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Yassin Mohseni resigned as second-in-charge at Afghanistan's Tokyo embassy, and in 1982 the family, including the boys' sister, Wajma, now 30, and mother Safia, migrated to Australia. When the Taliban fell in late 2001, Saad was a stockbroker, Zaid a lawyer and Jahid a financial analyst.

Saad and Zaid flew to Kabul four months later to have a look at the place Saad had left at the age of 12. Zaid was 9. They were shocked by the ruin, says Saad, and "people walking around like zombies".

The Mohsenis' house, which they still owned, had been illegally occupied by a "local thug".

The Mohsenis paid the Government just $US2000 ($2600) for their radio licence, but have put hundreds of thousands of their own money into building up Arman FM.

The brothers have since flown to Kabul more than 100 times. Saad and Jahid have wives and children, and Zaid has a fiancee, who live in Melbourne because of health and safety reasons.

Jahid says being away from family is hard, particularly with his daughter, Aaliyah, just 15 months old.

But he hopes to achieve something beneficial for both the family and the country.

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