Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – August 13, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included demonstrations on three continents protesting the detention of Iranian labor leader Mansour Osanloo; ongoing harassment of journalists and media in Iran; an interview with the new chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, journalist and AEI Senior Fellow James Glassman; an interview with Rep. Joseph Sestak (D-PA), member of the House Armed Services Committee and highest-ranking military official to serve in Congress; an interview with Brookings Institution scholar Bruce Reidel on how best to resolve the impasse between Tehran and Washington; an interview with Stimson Center President and CEO Ellen Laipson on US-Iranian relations; an interview with Ambassador Dennis Ross on his new book, Statecraft; an interview with human rights activist Lily Mazaheri on the high number of child executions in Iran; and an interview with Dr. Ali Rezai, one of the world’s top neurosurgeons who was among the first to use a “pacemaker” for the brain.
Persian News Network focused on labor demonstrations August 9 – from Canadian labor unions in Toronto protesting in support of jailed Iranian labor leader Mansour Osanloo, to a demonstration in Paris outside the Iranian Embassy, also in support of Mr. Osanloo, head of the Syndicate of the Workers of Tehran and Suburb Bus Vahed Company. Authorities brutally broke up meetings of the syndicate and Vahed over the last two years, as well as repeatedly jailing and beating Mr. Osanloo and his supporters. A syndicate board member, Reza Shahabi, told News Talk from Tehran that police arrested at least a half dozen protesters at a demonstration at Mr. Osanloo’s home in the Iranian capital, adding that the syndicate did not yet know the condition or whereabouts of those arrested. He requested international labor unions lend their assistance by requesting the release of the detainees. He also said that the syndicate’s demands – increased pay and fairer trade practices – were legitimate grievances. Mr. Shahabi said the Iranian government doesn’t want trade unions and doesn’t want people to organize.
James K. Glassman appeared as a special guest on Roundtable with You, two months after being sworn in as the fourth chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Live and with audience participation, Mr. Glassman answered viewer questions from across Iran and England, France, Germany and Sweden. Most of the questions and answers focused on the role of the Board, its mission, and international broadcasting’s relationship to US foreign policy. Special emphasis was given toward the Board’s serving as a firewall, or buffer, between government policy and the independence of each broadcasting arm. “We are engaged as never before,” Mr. Glassman said, “in a struggle for freedom around the world. We have to win that struggle, not just for the sake of the people of the world who live under repression but for our own security as well. So our goal is to spread freedom through practicing highly professional journalism and to build on that foundation. The result is what I call ‘journalism with a purpose.’” The new BBG Chief praised PNN’s callers for their courage in participating in Roundtable with You, speaking freely on issues that would otherwise be deemed illegal by the Iranian government.
News & Views interviewed Representative Joseph Sestak (D-PA), member of the House Armed Services Committee and highest-ranking military official to serve in Congress. During his distinguished career in the Navy, Rep. Sestak led a series of operational commands, culminating in overseeing the George Washington aircraft carrier battle group, consisting of 30 US and allied ships, 15,000 sailors and close to 100 aircraft. Under Mr. Sestak’s watch, the George Washington battle group conducted combat operations in Afghanistan and precursor operations to the war in Iraq. Mr. Sestak said the US needs to sit down with Iran in talks. “We need to do this because I am talking about change in strategy, the ability to look Iran in the eyes across all the issues from nuclear proliferation to its role in a stable Iraq and deal with them. Are they doing harm? Yes, they are. But we want to stop them from doing harm, and that means we have to have a lot of influence. When I say deal with Iran, I don’t mean just sit there and talk. You have got to have the benchmarks you want to achieve – but not the preconditions before you’ll talk and listen. And that’s my hard time with the Bush administration. They have been slow to do this.” We have got to say, he continued, “Look, Iran. It is not in our interest, in the region’s interest, in Europe’s interest, for you to have nuclear weapons. We have got diplomatic, economic sanctions that are in this bill. We have plenty of time before you even have to consider a military option. And I don’t believe we should ever put boots on the ground, so to speak, in Iran. There are other options.” I
n an interview with News & Views August 9, Bruce Reidel, a Middle East expert with 30 years of policymaking experience in regional diplomacy and counter-terrorism, said Iran and the US find themselves in a dangerous situation: “They are on a collision course over Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran’s nuclear program. “Both sides need to lower their decibel and rhetoric and work to find ways to engage in a dialogue,” he added. “The security talks in Baghdad were a good beginning, but they need to be followed through at a higher level.” Mr. Reidel, who recently joined the Brookings Institution as a Senior Fellow, said the “absence of face-to-face talks only enhances the prospect for conflict.” In view of positive comments made by Iraqi and Afghan leaders as to Iran’s role in their countries, Mr. Reidel said, “There is indeed a paradox here. Neither of these two countries wishes to see a conflict between Iran and the United States. In case of a military confrontation, they will have to make a tough choice about what side they are on.”
Roundtable with You featured Ellen Laipson, the President and CEO of the Stimson Center, who is an expert on Middle East and South Asian affairs. She said Iran is a top national security challenge for the United States. “The lack of relations between the two governments is at a huge cost to international peace and stability,” she said. “There are some very conservative elements in both countries which see political benefit in demonizing the other side.” Ms. Laipson said she doesn’t think Iran, on a strategic level, wants a chaotic neighbor. Although there are elements within the Iranian government who would like to see the US defeated in Iraq, a stabilized Iraq is in the interests of Iran. She believes the nuclear issue is more troubling: “Iran will keep the two issues on separate tracks,” she said. Ms. Laipson said her research leads her to conclude that Iran is seriously interested in the capability of building a bomb – or in just being one screw away from the bomb. “The Iranian regime is isolated, which is due, in part, because of its ideology, and that makes it feel very vulnerable.” In addition, she said, its neighbors are Pakistan, India and Israel – all of whom already have the bomb.
The New York Times called his new book, Statecraft, and How to Restore America's Standing in the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, June 2007), “important and illuminating.” In an interview with Persian News Network, Ambassador Dennis Ross characterized his book’s information on Iran and radical Islam as a rebuke of the Bush administration’s unilateralist and blundering foreign policy. Currently a Counselor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Mr. Ross championed the roles of negotiation and mediation in foreign policy, cautioning the employment of “good cop-bad cop.” He invoked the foreign policy of the Bush administration as an anti-model, saying talks with Iran, for example, should be multilateral, not bilateral. European nations should be included, he said, if the talks are to be effective.
News & Views highlighted Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to the United States and his joint news conference at Camp David with President Bush on August 7. Mr. Karzai said he and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would meet in Kabul to discuss how their two countries can most effectively carry on the fight against terrorism at home. President Bush said he is confident that with actionable intelligence, authorities will be able to bring top al-Qaeda officials to justice, like those who are plotting to kill President Musharraf. On August 12, President Musharraf told more than 600 Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders in Kabul that the two countries must work together to end the rise of extremism and violence along their border. The Pakistani leader was addressing the closing session of a four-day tribal “peace jurga” in the Afghan capital.
London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh told News & Views that he welcomed the UN Security Council resolution unanimously approved on August 10 that expands the UN role in Iraq. He said the United Nations should not have left Iraq and should go back with full force. Political consultant Bahman Aghai Diba told News & Views that the resolution was a success for the United States and Britain, though the level of UN action in Iraq is not yet known.
News & Views interviewed Embassy of Afghanistan political counselor Ashraf Haidari on President Karzai’s meetings with President Bush. When asked about President Bush’s remarks that he was skeptical about Iran playing a positive role in Afghanistan, he quoted the Afghan president, who has said Iran is playing a constructive role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and that the Afghan government regards Tehran as a partner. He also noted that Iran has hosted millions of Afghan refugees over the years and that his government looks forward to continuing good and neighborly relations with Iran.
News & Views interviewed Nahid Kheirabi, the mother of imprisoned journalist Soheil Asefi. After one week in prison, Mr. Asefi called home and spoke with his mother for one minute. She spoke with PNN about her son’s detention and condition. Mr. Asefi is a long-standing journalist who has worked with many publications, including Rooz Online. She said they still don’t know the charges against her son, and she says no one, including his lawyers, have been able to learn more about the reasons behind Mr. Asefi’s detention. Her one-minute conversation did not add much to the picture. In addition to increased harassment of journalists like Mr. Asefi, Iranian publications also are under fire. Isa Saharkhiz, the outspoken managing editor of Aftab, a reformist monthly, told Persian News Network that it was easy to explain the newest newspaper closure in Tehran: “The government closed Shargh as a means of reducing the voice of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Shargh is the voice of the Kargozaran party. Mr. Rafsanjani is the party’s leader. Closing Shargh takes away Mr. Rafsanjani’s means of communicating with the people.” Mr. Saharkhiz noted that Mr. Rafsanjani’s main rival is Ayatollah Mohammad Mesbah Yazdi – a hardline Iranian Shia cleric and politician, widely seen as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s spiritual advisor. Mr. Rafsanjani served as President of Iran from 1989 to 1997, losing on the second ballot to Mr. Ahmadinejad in the 2005 election.
Persian News Network interviewed journalist Faraj Sarkouhi on the occasion of Reporters Day August 8. Mr. Sarkouhi, who lives in Germany after being imprisoned in Iran, said it is ironic that Iran celebrates journalists even though the regime is cracking down on the press. Mr. Sarkouhi said he the situation is particularly difficult in Iran today. “I don’t think any independent newspaper exists in today’s society. All the existing newspapers in Iran are somehow related to pragmatists, fundamentalists or religious reformists.” Mr. Sarkouhi pointed to the August 5 shut-down of Shargh as yet one more example of the events that are driving journalists and editors toward increased self-censorship.
Roundtable with You began a series on the 101st anniversary of Iran's Constitutional Revolution August 6 with guest Ghafour Mirzaie, a writer, author and contributor to Rahavard, a quarterly publication in Los Angeles. Under Iran’s pre-constitutional society, the King was the state’s central authority, Mr. Mirzaie said; the country was considered his property and the people his slave. “Corruption and injustice were widespread,” Mr. Mirzaie added, “and outside Iran, intellectuals published a number of papers, all discussing the value of freedom and the rule of law.” At the time, the Iranian masses were illiterate – even so, and despite difficulties, the papers were smuggled into Iran and read out loud in teashops and the marketplace. People craved the information. Mr. Mirzaie said today’s Iranian intellectuals want to renew their country’s past glory and to free themselves from the lawlessness of authoritarian rule.
Roundtable with You focused on the execution of children in Iran with lawyer and human rights activist Lily Mazaheri. Ms. Mazaheri said Iran’s government kills more children under the age of 18 than any other country. She singled out Ayatollah Ahmad Janati as particularly deplorable: as head of the Expediency Council, charged with protecting Iran’s Islamic Constitution, Mr. Janati praised a recent wave of mass executions as “the best political and cultural actions of government.” Ms. Mazaheri quoted Amnesty International as reporting that Iran executed 127 people in the first six months of 2007, with many of that number under the age of 18. She said another four people were executed before Roundtable went on the air, bringing the number to over 28 of people executed in Iran in the past 10 days. Amnesty International issued a report at the end of June called Iran: The Last Executioner of Children, citing Iran for its execution of minors and for holding 71 children on death row.
News & Views interviewed Iranian-born neurosurgeon Ali Rezai at Ohio’s renowned Cleveland Clinic about non-conventional deep brain stimulation. Dr. Rezai is one of the leading functional neurosurgeons in the world and was among the first in the country to perform a highly promising neurosurgery procedure involving the use of a “pacemaker” for the brain. He said the device does not cure Parkinson’s disease. “It is a treatment for symptoms, not a cure,” he said. “The disease will still progress. But this device can greatly improve function and quality of life in ways that medication often cannot.”
This week’s History Channel segments included a profile on the tempestuous life and career of the man known and loved throughout the world as the Little Tramp—Charlie Chaplin; a program on “The Homestead Strike” of July 1892, one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the US labor movement; the rise of apartment complexes and the advent of high-rise living in the ancient Italian seaport of Ostia, from ready food to dry cleaners to fire pumps; a profile of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his more famous alter ego, Mark Twain; and a segment on the origins and extraction of coal, oil, natural gas, iron and steel . . . in ancient China more than 2,000 years ago.
History Channel programming opens PNN’s daily six-hour Persian-television block with news headlines followed by various History Channel programs, translated and narrated into Farsi, that illustrate the cultural fabric and political landscape of the United States. News and Views, which debuted in 2003, is now a two 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.
Persian News Network’s six hours of television programming complements the network’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. PNN’s Internet site is at www.VOANews.com/persian.