Valor Economica (Brazilian national business daily newspaper) – Sao Paulo, Brazil 22-24 June 2011 “Media In Afghanistan, the revolution has begun”

Farrell Meisel, an American executive, manages the television network in Kabul, that produces political debates and programs about abused women: “even among young people, many Afghans do not believe in equality, ” says Meisel.

By Diego Viana, São Paulo

Sitting in front of the Studio’s door, the woman waited for the time of the recording. Shrunken against the wall, holding a carton of juice, she cried copiously. When given the time, she stood up and walked into the room to appear on the program “The Mask” (“Niqāb”). Created by Sami Mahdi, 28 years old, a former lawyer, “Niqab” is broadcast by the 1TV channel from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Sitting still, behind a blue and white mask that protects their identity and gives them courage, women recount their experiences of domestic abuse within the country.

The importance of these invited guests and the impact of the repertoire of the program, is among the achievements, which American Farrell Meisel, Chief Executive Officer of 1TV is most proud. The channel launched in 2010.
Meisel, who is based in Kabul, just spoke at the 12th Annual Brasil Forum about the experiences in making “television free and open.” With great certainty and a sense of purpose, the executive discusses his experiences in Afghanistan, “working through his first year, and experiencing his first spring in the country” his wife, Vered Kollek, a filmmaker, describes his seriousness, and commitment in Kabul, yet, emphasizes the aspects of life and the risks he is taking surrounding heavy security. “I adapt. I do not go to places that are under alert,” Meisel explained with emphasis.

He started his international career in 1992 after working for years in American broadcasting, when he launched and founded TV6 Moscow, the first private TV station, after the fall of the Soviet Union. The year he made the change saying he was tired of the direction of American TV. “Everything was the same, the market showed no promise and quality greatly diminished.” Since then he has managed channels and media companies in Turkey, Poland and Singapore, among other locations. Then, he launched the Alhurra Television Network (“The Free One” in Arabic), funded by the U.S. Government.” The project paved the way to create more freedom for viewers who were deprived of their rights, from years of Arabic state TV monopolies.

In Afghanistan, Meisel said the initial vision of the channel has come from founder Fahim Hashimy, who is 30 years old. His vision is to unite all the people. Television in the country began in 1974, but was banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2002. Today, the media is expanding rapidly, with channels created quickly, with nine channels probably viewed out of 20 and radio according to a research report on “Afghan Media 2010”, sponsored by the American USAID (United States Agency for International Development). The annual growth of operators is around 20%.

“He (Fahim) chose the name, Yak, or 1 in Dari (Afghan Farsi), which Fahim wanted, in order to unite the people of the country. Fahim attaches great importance to this mission,” Meisel said. Among the other channels, Tolo-TV is still the leader, but it was founded in 2004. Every country needs competition and multiple voices in a democracy. We produce a variety of uncensored programs. We have cable TV coming from neighboring countries, such as Iran and India and programs are closely monitored and censored by the Ministry of Information and Culture. 1TV broadcasts objective news and investigative programs. In the debates, there is heavy discussion, with no exception. ‘The Mask’ is very well received. However, even many Afghans don’t believe in equality at this point. One of our female presenters of the program was forced to quit because of pressure from her family,” Meisel stated.
The 1TV CEO is committed to public service and wants to see more of these programs. “We want programs that can stimulate, inform and entertain, and we’ll get results”, Meisel said.

There are about 65 channels around now, maybe 25 new ones launched in the last few years. Media advertising expenditure for TV are around $30 million, but those estimates are questionable. Advertisers, according to the USAID study include wireless companies such as the UAE’s Etisalat, government agencies, the U.S. Government, NGO’s and multinational institutions. At 1TV, there are 300 employees. Television and Radio are by far the largest outlets to reach the public – about 40% coverage.

Illiteracy is very high among Afghans – approximately 30% of the nearly 29 million Afghans can’t read – 43% are men, 12% are women. The figures bring out the social role of television and the channel’s mission. The debates and “The Mask,” are defining the channel’s identity, in particular to empower women,” says Mahdi, on the tape projected in the presentation, and he created this with the thought of his mother: “To help women. If I’m helping women, I’m helping my mother, “Mahdi said.

These initiatives are important to the country where regulations and “ad hoc” legal rules are enforced by authorities. “We have to work with many groups, including government ones to improve people’s lives. Yet, people here deserve to have their freedom. It is a process,” said the American executive, who is dedicating his career by entertaining and training Afghans with Western values by using commercial television to reach the masses.

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