Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – April 30, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included renewed talks between Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and the European Union on Iran’s controversial nuclear program; expectations for the upcoming regional meeting on Iraq to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh May 3-4; the showdown between Congress and the White House on a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq; an interview with the lawyer for the Radio Farda reporter Iran is keeping under virtual house arrest; an interview with key women’s activist Fariba Davoodi Mohajer; and ongoing human rights violations against workers, students, teachers and women in Iran.
VOA’s four-hour Persian-language television block expanded to five hours daily on April 29 with the debut of News Brief and the History Channel. This fifth hour of Persian TV opens with the day’s headlines in a segment called News Brief before segueing into various History Channel programs, each of which has been translated and narrated in Farsi, based on a special agreement with the Arts & Entertainment Television Network. The History Channel programming offers intriguing documentaries highlighting events, individuals and inventions that have historically shaped the cultural fabric and political landscape of the United States. History Channel series, including 10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America and Where Did It Come From, will give Iranian viewers insight and wonder as they examine the recent and distant past. This launch featured a biography on Thomas Jefferson.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator met with the European Union’s foreign policy chief this week, but analysts told NewsTalk April 27 they don’t put much faith in the meeting. Ali Larijani and Javier Solana, who met Wednesday and Thursday in Ankara, characterized their talks as upbeat and frank, although they acknowledged that no miracles took place. From London, Keyhan newspaper reporter and VOA Persian contributor Nazanin Ansari said the European Union wasn’t expecting much from these talks – what officials hoped for was to find a mechanism for future meetings. Los Angeles-based journalist Homa Sarshar said the Islamic regime just wants to buy time, adding that she doubts such tactics will do much besides increase Iran’s isolation. Washington-based political analyst Bahman Aghai Diba told News & Views April 28 that when Mr. Solana mentioned a miracle, he is looking to the United States to make one possible. Mr. Diba said Ali Larijani’s comments to Mr. Solana were noncommittal, adding that Iran in no way has agreed to move forward in talks to discuss its nuclear program.
Iraq’s neighbors and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are preparing for a conference on Iraq in Sharm El-Sheikh May 3-4. Germany, Japan and Canada also plan to participate. Ambassador John Limbert, who serves as the Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Sudan, told News & Views April 27 that he expects the conference will be a success if all of Iraq’s neighbors are in attendance. In a phone interview, Mr. Limbert, who was one of the first civilian officials to enter Baghdad in April 2003 with the Organization for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, said Iran needs to attend the meeting and needs to accept that it has a regional responsibility to help Iraq become stable. Iran’s participation, to date, is not yet confirmed. A career diplomat, Mr. Limbert, previously served in Iran. In fact, he was held hostage 444 days in Tehran when the US Embassy was taken over by Iranians nearly 30 years ago.
President Bush said it is definitely possible Secretary Rice could hold bilateral talks with her Iranian counterpart should Iran decide to participate in the conference. News & Views April 25 covered the President’s interview with Charlie Rose (broadcast on PBS April 24) in-depth: “And the message, of course, is going to be, you know, ‘Don't send weapons in that will end up hurting our troops, and help this young democracy survive.’ That's the message of Condi to the Iranians. I'd like, if I could address this issue real quick – if I thought sitting down with the Iranians would – in a bilateral context – would end up causing them not to have a nuclear weapon, which is a priority of mine, and should be a priority of the free world, then I would seriously consider that. I don't believe a discussion with Iran alone, and at this moment in time, would yield the result we want. Our strategy – let me tell you our strategy real quick. Our strategy is to work with an interesting group of nations – the EU, China, and Russia, to send a focused and concerted message to the Iranians that, ‘You have a choice to make. You can either isolate yourself, or you can join the community of nations, and give up your ambitions – enrichment ambitions, that we believe will yield a weapon.’ And I think it's important for – I feel confident that a more effective message to the Iranians is one that is – in which the United States is a part of a chorus, as opposed to singing solo.”
Shahriar Ahy, a key force seeking to unite Iranian opposition abroad, discussed US-Iran relations on Roundtable with You April 24, saying there are five stumbling blocks to improving ties between the two countries: 1) Iran’s support of terrorism, 2) its interference in the domestic affairs of neighboring countries, 3) Iran’s nuclear program, 4) the issue of human rights and 5) Iran’s role in regional stability and peace. Ahy, who is an MIT-educated political adviser to Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, suggested the two issues that will be most difficult to resolve are human rights and US concerns that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. He also noted that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an interview with the Financial Times last week, urged Iran to join her in Sharm El-Sheikh, saying it would be a “missed opportunity” if Iran’s foreign minister did not attend the minister-level meeting. Ahy said the Secretary indicated the United States wants “a change in regime behavior” – not regime change itself.
Journalist Homa Sarshar told NewsTalk April 25 that if bilateral talks take place and Iran agrees to stop its involvement in Iraq’s domestic affairs, then what? Will the United States then help Iranians develop a democratic system? She said the Islamic regime is unstable and Iranian officials are going to want a security guarantee from the United States that Washington won’t seek regime change.
Sohrab Sobhani, president of the Washington-based Caspian Energy Consulting, told NewsTalk April 25 that Iran will be the odd man out if its foreign minister participates in the Sharm El-Sheikh talks. He said Iran doesn’t want a stable Iraq or Afghanistan, and other countries in the region are united in believing the Iranian regime is a destabilizing force in the region.
London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh told News & Views April 28 that he believes Iran will participate in the conference despite increased evidence of the regime’s involvement in providing weapons to insurgents in Iraq.
Los Angeles-based management consultant Shayan Samii told NewsTalk April 28 that the Sharm El-Sheikh conference will help Iran sit at the same table as the West as an equal player. “The regime is using Sharm El-Sheikh to show that Iran is a powerful country. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari even had to go to Tehran to ask Iran to attend the conference.”
Panelists sympathized with the White House when it came to Congressional Democrats putting a timetable on withdrawing US troops from Iraq. NewsTalk April 28 focused on the showdown between Congress and President Bush, with all three guests saying the vote was more about domestic politics than the war. London-based Keyhan newspaper reporter Nasser Mohammadi said US interests would be endangered if security is not first established in Iraq. “If the United States leaves an unstable Iraq, then the US has lost the war against terrorism. It should leave only when the Iraqi government gains control of the country.” Los Angeles-based management consultant Shayan Samii said Democrats know the President will veto their bill, but wanted a vote on the record. He said, “The administration is already under pressure because of the presence of US forces in Iraq. The Iraqi government should try harder to control the violence.”
In an interview with News & Views April 23, the lawyer for Radio Farda correspondent Parnaz Azima said Iranian officials told him this week that Ms. Azima’s passport – confiscated in January – will not be returned anytime soon. The attorney, Mohammad-Hossein Aghasi, said he is not sure when Ms. Azima, who holds dual citizenship, will be able to leave the country. He visited the Security Department of Tehran's Revolutionary Court earlier in the day to reclaim Ms. Azima's passport, but was told her passport will not be returned to her any time soon. Mr. Aghasi quoted officials as saying, “She will remain in Tehran for two or three years.” According to Mr. Aghasi, the officials dismissed all appeals to return Azima's passport. Ms. Azima, who was in Iran to visit her critically ill mother, is based at Radio Farda’s offices in Prague.
Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi told News & Views April 26 that the best way to press governments to respect human rights is to inform people around the world of their human rights abuses. “Information is the best tool,” Ms. Ebadi said. Winner of the Nobel Peace Price in 2003 for her efforts for democracy and human rights, Ms. Ebadi has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children. She said the Iranian government needs to recognize that men and women have equal rights, adding that men who abuse women should be punished under the law. She also said the system should provide for the legal protection of battered women, including the provision of shelters.
Human Rights Watch researcher Hadi Ghaemi told News & Views April 23 that Iran’s judiciary is using national security laws to imprison women’s rights activists for peacefully protesting against legally sanctioned discrimination. Instead of persecuting the activists, he said, the government should get rid of the laws that discriminate against women as second class citizens. Ghaemi said women are at the forefront of the dissident movement in Iran these days, and that they are being arrested accordingly. But he cited a new government tactic as sending a chill into the activists’ community. “Authorities detain people and then release them on bail with an open file, holding the threat of arrest against them to curtail their activities. If they don’t stop, they have to serve their sentences.”
In an interview with News & Views April 23, women’s activist Fariba Davoodi Mohajer said she knows she will likely be arrested upon her return to Iran. Currently in Washington visiting her daughter, Ms. Davoodi was sentenced last week to four years’ imprisonment, three of which are suspended, for acting against national security, propaganda against the state and giving interviews and disseminating falsehoods. Davoodi said what is significant about women’s protests in Iran today is that they are taking place in such a dangerous climate. “But there is always another line of defense,” she said. “The women are showing the government their solidarity and that they are not scared to speak out. They are not fearful of what will happen to them next. There is another cadre of women behind them. And another behind them.” Davoodi said she and other activists are going door-to-door in their campaign to collect one million signatures demanding changes in Iran’s discriminatory laws. She said in addition to collecting signatures, the activists also learn what issues women are most concerned about: the desire for financial independence and an end to domestic violence.
NewsTalk addressed the latest developments in human rights violations in Iran on both April 23 and 24, including an Amnesty International report calling on Iranian authorities to release immediately and unconditionally all those detained in connection with recent peaceful demonstrations. Human Rights Watch researcher Elahe Hicks reviewed the report, saying dozens of teachers have been arrested in advance of a national strike scheduled for next month She said a dozen women activists have been charged with acting against state security in their bid to end discriminatory legislation against women. Hicks added that reports like this one are important because they can modify the way international organizations and governments do business with Iran. London-based women’s rights activist Victoria Azad said Iran’s Islamic regime is “reactionary, backward and ideological,” causing it to forcefully intervene in what clothes women may wear, let alone other human rights. Berlin-based journalist Elahe Boghrat said Iranian officials are divided on a number of issues but always react as a unified group when it comes to defending the regime from workers, teachers, women and students.
Roundtable with You turned the mikes over to viewers on April 23, with many callers expressing anger and frustration with Iran’s new crackdown on women who don’t observe the Islamic code of cloth. Under Iran's Islamic Sharia law, imposed after the 1979 revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures and protect their modesty. Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment. One viewer recalled remarks made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he was campaigning for office, saying as recently as 2005, he denounced those who demanded women wear the chador. The caller said, “His promises are nothing but lies and propaganda.” Another caller suggested, facetiously, that the government must have resolved all of the country’s economic and social problems to have so much time to devote to the issue of women’s clothing. Other callers spoke of human rights abuses, unemployment, inflation and drug abuse.
Roundtable with You looked at heart disease and methods of treatment on April 24 with cardiologist Mahmood Mirhoseini of St. Luke’s Medical Center of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Dr. Mirhoseini developed a new method of treating coronary artery disease that uses a laser to create channels through the left ventricular cavity of the heart. These channels act as conduits to bring the blood supply of the ventricular cavity to the oxygen-starved heart muscle. Dr. Mirhoseini talked about which patients are suitable for this intervention – called Transmyocardial Laser Revascularization – and how it is less invasive than other procedures. Callers inundated the show with requests for advice and treatment recommendations.
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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.