Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – June 25, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included new talks between the European Union’s foreign policy chief and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator; an interview a member of the Afghan parliament recently suspended for criticizing fellow parliamentarians as warlords and criminals; two interviews with opposition leaders, one with Mohsen Ghaem-Magham and another with Daryoush Homayoun; a meeting in Tehran of foreign ministers from the five countries bordering the Caspian Sea; US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on ways the US is financially isolating Iranian companies; and US and Russian legislators talking about presenting a united front against Iran. Plus, VOA Persian launched a new program called “On the Record with Dr. Mahmoudi,” designed to initiate a dialogue between the Persian Service and its audience, with Dr. Mahmoudi – the Persian Service chief – serving as an on-air ombudsman.
News & Views reported on the weekend meetings in Lisbon with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. Both described their talks on Tehran’s nuclear program as constructive and that they would continue a second day. Their meeting came after Mr. Larijani met Friday in Vienna with Mohamed El-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Political analysts Alireza Nourizadeh and Bahman Aghai Diba told News & Views they believe Iran is using the talks only to buy time – so that it can continue its nuclear program while trying to avoid additional UN Security Council sanctions. NewsTalk on June 23 looked at Mr. Larijani’s meeting with Mr. El-Baradei and those with Mr. Solana. Political scientist Shayan Samii said Mr. El-Baradei reported Tehran is still preventing the IAEA from inspecting nuclear sites in Iran, but that Mr. Larijani promised to cooperate fully with the IAEA and expressed hope that all questions about Iran’s nuclear sites will be resolved within the next two months. Mr. Samii said Mr. Larijani’s promises cannot be believed. “Iran’s promise to cooperate” shouldn’t impact the UN’s sanctions timetable. Rather, he said, “We should expect further and more serious sanctions against Iran by the Security Council.”
News & Views reported June 21 that General David Petraeus, in an interview with The Times of London, said captors of British civilians in Iraq are linked to Iran. “They are trained in Iran, equipped with Iranian [weapons], and advised by Iran. The Iranian involvement here we have found to be much, much more significant than we thought before. They have since about the summer of 2004 played a very, very important role in training in Iran, funding, arming.” Iran did not react to the charge.
VOA Persian’s congressional correspondent covered the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s joint meeting with several members of the Russian parliament to discuss democracy and human rights on June 21. The chairman of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, said he was open to a suggestion from Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that Russian and US lawmakers try to visit Iran together for meetings with the Tehran government. Mr. Lantos has tried in vain to get a visa to Iran and he appealed to Mr. Kosachev for help. Mr. Lantos said “Russia and the United States must cooperate to put the vice grips on the Ahmadinejad regime. And hopefully we are united in this singularly important global endeavor to have a regime which threatens other member-nations of the United Nations with extinction, and that the United States and Russia will present a united front.”
Meanwhile, VOA Persian’s congressional correspondent also covered US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson who told the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee on June 20 that the United States would sanction more Iranian companies if it receives hard evidence of wrongdoing. He said the United States is “applying targeted financial measures against narcotics trafficking, terrorism threats and to counter the threat of proliferation, particularly the threats posed by Iran and North Korea. We have used our authorities to financially isolate entities central to the financing of terrorism and proliferation, such as Iran’s Bank Sepah and Bank Saderat….When we can go and show people that we have got hard evidence, then it is a lot easier to get the kind of support we’re getting from around the world, which I think is isolating Iran from the global financial system.”
News & Views reported on the House of Representatives voting on a resolution calling on the UN Security Council to charge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the United Nations Charter because of his calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtenin (R-FL) said, “His demand for the death of Jews violates the genocide convention which states that those who commit or incite genocide shall be punished whether they are rulers, government officials or private citizens.” Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) said, “Today you have Indonesia unbelievably standing in the way of a simple resolution of condemnation again Ahmadinejad’s genocidal statement to destroy Israel. We cannot let this madman, Ahmadinejad, threaten America’s greatest ally.”
Roundtable with You focused on two prominent Afghan women: Malalai Joya, who was suspended last month from Afghanistan’s parliament after she accused several colleagues of being “warlords” and unfit for service in the new Afghan government. The program also featured parliamentarian Yazdan Parast, a former professor at the University of Balkh in northern Afghanistan, who fled the country in the late 1990s and has refugees status in the Netherlands. She appeared on Roundtable via phone from Rotterdam while Ms. Joya joined the show from VOA’s New York studio. Ms. Joya discussed her three-year suspension, blaming the parliament’s action as a reprisal for calling members of parliament “criminals,” “drug smugglers,” and as “worse than a zoo.” She accused those in power in Afghanistan of committing crimes in the name of Islam while extolling the virtues of women’s rights and democracy. “They don’t believe in human rights, and in that respect, they are like the Taliban,” she told VOA. “That’s why the situation in Afghanistan is reaching a crisis point, because those in power are a bunch of criminals from the Northern Alliance.” Ms. Yazdan Parast challenged Ms. Joya to produce evidence that she was threatened for her comments and disrespected by other members of the Afghan parliament. The two had a heated exchange, but agreed that Iran is not playing a helpful or constructive role in their country.
Roundtable with You focused on opposition groups in Iran on two programs this past week, looking at the groups’ ineffectiveness in mounting a serious challenge to the country’s clerical rule despite increased international isolation and growing domestic problems such as soaring inflation and corruption. Mohsen Ghaem-Magham, a physician and a member of the Executive Board of the National Front in the Iranian Diaspora, was the featured guest on one Roundtable. Mr. Ghaem-Magham said the Front and its most prominent leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, brought a great deal of credit to Iran by nationalizing the Iranian petroleum industry in the early 1950s, adding that they fought for the right of self-determination and pluralism for the Iranian people. Mr. Ghaem-Magham criticized the Shah’s regime, saying his suspension of the constitution led the Front to establish an initial allegiance with religious forces in the early days of the revolution. He said the Front fell out of favor with the clerics when it opposed their draconian Islamic penal code. He said opposition groups have successfully raised international awareness about human rights abuses in Iran and on occasion, have been able to blunt Tehran’s domestic crackdown on dissenters by applying pressure through human rights organizations.
Daryoush Homayoun is one of the most influential Iranian opposition leaders in exile. He is a journalist, author, intellectual and politician. In exile, he became one of the founders of the Constitutionalist Party of Iran. As the featured guest on Roundtable on June 21, Mr. Homayoun said opposition groups have to set aside the past and concentrate on being the voice of the women’s movement, student movements and worker movements. He said opposition groups are not capable of toppling the regime from outside, and that at the current time, are not an alternative to the regime. Mr. Homayoun said the only work the groups can do is to support movements inside the country. He said there really isn’t any need for military action against Iran and that helping Iranians in Iran is the best way to achieve regime change.
Human Rights Watch issued a statement June 20 calling on Iran to immediately suspend the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by children under age 18. Iran is known to have executed at least 17 juvenile offenders since the beginning of 2004 – eight times more than any other country in the world. NewsTalk focused on the report June 21 with guest Homa Sarshar, a journalist and author, who questioned why watchdog agencies inside Iran have been quiet about this issue. She said journalists have been reporting on the child executions but Iranians remain silent. Elaheh Boghrat, a freelance journalist based in Berlin, said Iran’s Sharia laws don’t differentiate between adults and children. “Women, children and minorities live under constant pressure with this regime. Anything against human rights can happen, and the regime can make it look okay.” Ms. Sarshar said Iran is more concerned with its portrayal in the film 300 and in Britain’s granting knighthood to Salman Rushdie than it is with the poor treatment of children and women.
Foreign ministers from the five countries bordering the Caspian Sea – Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan – met in Tehran June 20 to discuss preparations for a summit meeting later this year. Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki addressed the inaugural ceremony of the meeting, held at the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Political and International Studies. VOA Persian covered the day-long meeting and reported that Iran expressed the desire to have more authority over the Caspian while Russia’s Foreign Minister said he was in Iran only for Caspian-related issues, not to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and the ongoing dispute with the UN Security Council on Iran’s enrichment of uranium. That said, the minister, Sergei Lavrov, said a UN Security Council resolution on Iran should only be pursued after the International Atomic Energy Agency formally condemns Iran’s nuclear record. With regard to US plans for a defensive shield in Europe, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Russia dismisses the need for such a shield: “Russia says the claim that Iran is a threat is not acceptable.”
News & Views reported on the arrest of eight students at Amirkabir University and their confinement at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. The program interviewed activist Ismail Salmanpour, a member of the Islamic Student Association at Amirkabir University. He said, “Students are going to abandon their final exams” as a sign of protest, “primarily because authorities are not being responsive to student demands.” The detained students have had no access to legal counsel and have been denied visits. News & Views also talked with Morteza Eslahchi, secretary of the Students Islamic Association at Allameh Tabatabaee University. The university’s disciplinary committee suspended four more students this past week in their ongoing crackdown against student activists. Mr. Eslahchi, who is also suspended himself, said the committee’s suspension orders are growing stricter.
VOA Persian has launched a new program called “On the Record with Dr. Mahmoudi,” a weekly segment hosted by Service Chief Kambiz Mahmoudi, designed to initiate a dialogue between the Persian Service and its audience on news programming and editorial decisions. Each week, Mr. Mahmoudi will begin by explaining and clarifying the mission, charter and journalistic code of VOA and the Persian Service. He also will clarify mistakes and/or controversies which may arise in programming and then respond to viewer e-mail, serving as an on-air ombudsman.
Women in Society profiled Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who has set a good example for women worldwide, especially those who want to become leaders of their own countries. That Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf has set a precedent by becoming Africa’s first woman president will make it possible for other female politicians, particularly those in Africa, to be treated more kindly, especially in Muslim countries. In Muslim countries like Mali and Senegal, less than 1% of the population has cast ballots for women. With the exception of Liberia, West Africa has no other female leaders, a handful of women cabinet ministers and a few female legislators.
Late Edition interviewed journalist Iraj Fatemi on his work in Paris as a political lyricist. “I have written many political lyrics in the last couple of years. And I have worked with different Persian singers all around the world. I am very proud of my work, and I believe they are among the lyrics considered most popular in Iran – songs focusing on resurrection, elections, democracy and human rights.” Late Edition also talked with Iranian-American singer Mahvash Azhir. Based in San Diego, Ms. Azhir was born and raised in Iran and completed her studies at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Tehran. Her interest in musical theatre took her to England where she completed her post-graduate studies at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. She now performs Iranian folk and contemporary music throughout the United States and Canada.
History Channel programming included four segments from the series “Where Did it Come From?” featuring a program on modern ship building in ancient Greece, another on modern medicine in ancient Egypt (where all the things we associate with the practice of modern medicine were actually introduced by the ancient Egyptians more than 5,000 years ago), a third program on iconic structures in ancient Egypt, where such monumental masterpieces as the Great Pyramid, the Library at Alexandria, the Temple of Karnak and the Sphinx were designed and built using only the most primitive tools and brute labor, and a fourth segment on the personal weapon in ancient China, where the missiles, machine guns, smart weapons and clever strategies of today’s modern armies were invented thousands of years ago on the other side of the world. The week’s fifth program was a profile of tennis legend Pete Sampras.
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History Channel programming opens VOA’s daily five-hour Persian-television block with news headlines followed by various History Channel programs, translated and narrated in Farsi, that illustrate the cultural fabric and political landscape of the United States. News and Views, which debuted in 2003, is an hour-long program featuring correspondent reports, interviews and the top news stories from Washington and around the world. News and Views is followed by Roundtable with You, Late Edition and NewsTalk, all one-hour shows that together constitute a five-hour daily block of Persian-language television broadcast by satellite to Iran. Roundtable with You, which debuted on television in 1996, takes calls from viewers and features a wide variety of guests discussing issues ranging from popular culture to politics. Late Edition, a youth-oriented program which first aired in July 2006, looks at major world events and issues of interest to young people. NewsTalk, which went on the air in October 2006, opens with a brief recap of the day’s top headlines followed by a panel of experts discussing the day's top news stories. NewsTalk features in-depth discussions of the issues of greatest concern to Iranians and closes with a segment on worldwide media coverage of Iran.
VOA's Persian television shows complement VOA Persian's daily radio broadcasts and Radio Farda, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, youth-oriented radio program that is a joint project of VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. VOA's Persian language Internet site is at www.VOANews.com/persian.