Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – May 14, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included coverage of US operations in the Persian Gulf from the USS Nimitz, including an interview with Nimitz Strike Group Commander Rear Admiral John Terence Blake; Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit to the USS Stennis, also deployed to the Gulf; ongoing and increased violence by authorities in Iran against peaceful protesters, including last week’s detention of a prominent Iranian-American scholar from the Woodrow Wilson International Center; analysis of France’s presidential election and its ramifications for Franco-Iranian relations; and Iran’s controversial filmmaker, Massoud Dehnamaki, whose new movie Ekhrajiha (“The Outcasts”) is breaking box office records in Tehran despite the director’s disenchantment with the authorities whose edicts he once embraced..
Two VOA Persian correspondents, along with a German television reporter, were the first journalists to visit the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier since it arrived in the Persian Gulf in late April to relieve the USS Eisenhower. The Nimitz and its battle group of destroyers and guided-missile cruisers are supporting operations in Iraq, the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan. Rear Admiral John Terence Blake, Commander of the Nimitz Strike Group, told VOA that the ship’s main mission is to bring stability and peace to the region. Admiral Blake said there is no plan to attack Iran, but added that the Nimitz’s pilots can fly to any destination in the region if instructed to do so. The Admiral said just as President Bush has previously stated, he, too, prefers a diplomatic solution to the increased tensions with Iran. During their two days and one night on the Nimitz, VOA covered “Operation Freedom” flights to Afghanistan, interviewed other officers – including a female pilot – and flew on a military aircraft to an Arabian Sea location 100 miles south of Pakistan. The correspondents plan to file live from Dubai this week.
News & Views May 11 reported on Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit to the USS Stennis – now deployed in the Persian Gulf – where he said the international community will not let Iran dominate the region. Mr. Cheney said the United States and its allies will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, close off vital sea lanes for oil supplies or control the Middle East. The Vice President said having two carrier strike groups in the Gulf sends a clear message to friends and adversaries in the region. Mr. Cheney’s comments came just days before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes his own trip to the Gulf.
NewsTalk guests May 11 said Iran’s Islamic regime is using increased violence to quell demonstrations by students, teachers, workers and women in a bid to silence all opposition in the country. Ali Afshari, a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, said the demonstrations make the government edgy, with officials now commonly using violence to force false confessions from students. Kazem Alamdari, a sociology professor at California State University, Los Angeles, said this violence is entering a new phase. “Officials are using violence to deflect people from the bad economy and other problems,” Mr. Alamdari said. “They use systematic pressure, especially accusations in the name of national security. The domestic situation in Iran is getting worse. On the one hand, the government needs crises to survive. On the other, they need to control the crises, and are doing so with this serious crackdown.”
News & Views reported May 9 on Haleh Esfandiari, a prominent academic at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was incarcerated the previous day at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. Over the past four months, authorities repeatedly interrogated Ms. Esfandiari, a dual Iranian-American national, about her work at the Wilson Center, where she is director of the Middle East program. She had traveled to Tehran in late December to visit her 93-year-old mother, but officials confiscated her passports and spent the past months interrogating her on her work. Ms. Esfandiari is a Potomac resident, and in a joint statement, Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) urged Iran to make a “gesture of goodwill” by releasing Ms. Esfandiari. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL) also called for her release. Senator Obama said the “Iranian government’s detention of this 67-year-old grandmother and scholar shows its complete disregard for basic rights.” In his statement, Senator Obama said, “If the Iranian government has any desire to engage the world in dialogue, it can demonstrate that desire by releasing this champion of dialogue from detention.” Senator Clinton released a statement saying, “This imprisonment contradicts the very essence of her work, which focuses on ensuring the promise of democracy and freedom to those who live under tyranny.” Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said he plans to call on his congressional colleagues to pass a resolution demanding Ms. Esfandiari’s “immediate and unconditional release.” He said the imprisonment “shows a gross disregard for the rule of law and belies statements by Iranian government officials that Iran would like to improve relations with the United States.”
News & Views reported May 8 on supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again clashing with politically active students at Tehran’s prestigious Amirkabir University. Bijan Pouryousefi, a student at the university who is a member of an Islamic society, told News & Views that students believe the latest developments on campus are in retaliation for the president’s visit to the university last year, when he was roundly booed and embarrassed. Many of the protesters are members of Islamic societies – legal student groups whose members publish papers and hold demonstrations. Many of their members are blacklisted and prevented by the government from continuing their studies. Some, including two at Amirkabir in the past week, have been detained and are being held at Evin Prison.
Hami Taghavi, spokesperson for the Independent Teachers Trade Association in Iran, told News & Views May 8 that hundreds of teachers rallied in front of parliament on behalf of detained colleagues before being “crushed and arrested by security forces.” Mr. Taghavi said every time teachers chanted the slogan “jailed teachers must be released,” security forces would strike and beat them and then detain even more teachers. The association has called for fundamental change in Iran’s educational system, from pay increases and improved textbooks to more qualified teachers and the resignation of the country’s education minister.
L.A. radio host Manook Khodabakhshian, the featured guest on Roundtable with You May 10, focused on the Iranian regime’s increasingly severe crackdown on students, teachers, women and workers. “There is always a crackdown at the beginning of summer,” he said, “as women start wearing more skimpy clothes because of the hot weather. But the present campaign in the streets of major cities is the toughest such crackdown so far, raising fears that hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intends to re-impose tough Islamic Revolution-era constraints on women’s dress to play a political game.” Mr. Khodabakshian said the arrest and/or harassment of Ms. Esfandiari, Radio Farda reporter Parnaz Azima, former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Moussavian as well as many other Iranian journalists, intellectuals, students, and advocates for women’s rights, are a part of an inner fight at the regime’s highest levels. He said the clash is between those who want negotiations with Washington and those who believe a military clash is possible, even likely.
Mehrdad Mashayekhi, a Visiting Assistant Professor at Georgetown University, talked about his new book, “Towards Democracy and a Secular Republic in Iran: Essays in Political Sociology,” on Roundtable with You May 8. Mr. Mashayekhi, who joined the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in 1989, said a new secular republican paradigm is still in the making in Iran. “In a sense, what has happened is that the failure of the two earlier paradigms in Iran has resulted in a new synthesis: non-violent and civil in its methods of creating social change, while seeking fundamental structural changes in the economic, political and cultural institutions.” Mr. Mashayekhi said this new emerging republican model is associated with “secularism, democratization, human rights, non-violent resistance, non-ideological politics, emphasis on civil society forces, pragmatism, the right of self-determination for nations and ethnic minorities, and resistance to sexism – and provides the clearest guideline and vision for Iran’s transition to democracy.”
Farhad Ameli, professor of international law at the Sorbonne, analyzed France’s presidential election and its ramifications for Franco-Iranian relations on Roundtable with You May 7. Mr. Ameli said the main reason Nicolas Sarkozy won the election was his complete break from the politics of Jacques Chirac and Francois Mitterrand while subtly shifting to the right in order to attract the supporters of ultranationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen. He said Mr. Sarkozy’s campaign promise was to have zero immigration: “Mr. Sarkozy is intent on making France’s immigration policies more selective so that more desirable immigrants are granted residency in France.” However, Mr. Ameli said a plank in Mr. Sarkozy’s campaign platform was to introduce the equivalent of affirmative action in France to facilitate the assimilation of immigrants. Mr. Ameli said France’s opposition to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons will be even more pronounced under the Sarkozy government. He also pointed out that in a recent interview, Mr. Sarkozy emphasized his support for Israeli security and made clear he is willing to differentiate between the Iranian people and their government.
Siamack Shojai, Dean of the Business School at New Jersey’s Georgian Court University, told Roundtable with You May 9 that things are not looking good on the economic front in Iran. He said when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office, he promised to raise the standard of living for those living in poverty. “Many of those people who voted for him did so in the expectation that he would create jobs, curb inflation and alleviate poverty.” But things haven’t turned out that way: “Inflation has risen, there has been no decline in unemployment and there have been huge price increases in the housing sector. The gap between rich and poor,” Mr. Shojai continued, “has shown no sign of narrowing.” He said another result of inflation is that goods made in Iran have become more and more expensive, making it impossible for Iran to compete with foreign-made goods. Mr. Shojai said this is why such an “extraordinary number of factories are closing their doors and going bankrupt, not able to even pay their workers.”
Marriage and family therapist Azita Sayan told Late Edition – VOA Persian’s youth oriented program – that “it is important for a woman to love herself more than she loves any man, a heady edict for Iranian women who are legally treated as second-class citizens under the Islamic regime. Dr. Sayan, a Los Angeles-based psychologist, said it is vital for a woman to honor that love before any customs, traditions or opinions of others. Otherwise, he said, “she will sell herself out to find approval and validation.”
The president of Orange County’s Persian Cultural Arts Council, Maryam Molavi, talked with Late Edition about the Council’s work promoting and expanding the knowledge of history, culture and arts from ancient Persia to today’s modern Iran. Ms. Molavi said that the Council, which works out of the Bowers Museum, promotes Iran’s contributions to world civilization through lectures and other events at the museum. “We are committed to passing on this rich heritage to future generations,” she said, noting that Southern California is home to an estimated half-million Iranian-Americans.
Hormoz Hekmat, Managing Editor of Iran Nameh, talked about his magazine on News & Views May 11. The publication, which was founded 23 years ago, is a quarterly published by the Foundation for Iranian Studies. Mr. Hekmat said researchers, universities and students subscribe to the magazine from all over the world. The magazine is supported by their subscriptions and by a founding gift from Ashraf Pahlavi, the twin sister of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the late Shah of Iran. Mr. Hekmat discussed at length a recent story in Iran Nameh on legendary Iranian poet Simin Bebahani.
Los Angeles-based film director and screenwriter Massoud Assadollahi discussed Iranian cinema in post-Revolution Iran on Roundtable with You, focusing on Massoud Dehnamaki – for years known as a feared enforcer of conservative rules under Iran’s Islamic regime, but best known now for his controversial films. In 2005, the International Herald Tribune said Mr. Dehnamaki “has emerged as Iran’s Michael Moore,” having directed a documentary on the taboo issue of prostitution and another on soccer as a metaphor of political struggle. Both films focused on poverty and despair at the heart of Iran’s social problems. Mr. Assadollahi quoted the paper, saying, “After the war ended in 1988, Dehnamaki helped found the extremist Islamic militia Ansar Hezbollah, which is best known for its attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators. But he grew increasingly disenchanted with the course the revolution had taken and quit the group after eight years.” Mr. Assadollahi criticized Mr. Dehnamaki’s first feature film, now filling cinemas in Tehran. It is an irreverent comedy called Ekhrajiha (“The Outcasts”). By portraying a gang of thieves and junkies as war heroes, it apparently took authorities by surprise. Mr. Assadollahi questioned why Iranian authorities permit Mr. Dehnamaki to make movies – critical or not – when so many other filmmakers’ work is banned.
In its first full week of broadcasts, History Channel programming ran four original shows. Topics included profiles of author Ernest Hemingway, tennis legend Andre Agassi, explorer Christopher Columbus and a program on deep sea exploration, which included reports on the discovery of new species, geological phenomena and the wreckage of the Titanic. Original shows are broadcast Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with the first three shows rebroadcast on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
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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.