Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – September 10, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the release of Woodrow Wilson scholar Haleh Esfandiari and her return to the U.S.; a potential breakthrough between Iran and the IAEA concerning Iran’s nuclear program; an exclusive interview with Christine Levinson, wife of Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since March 8; a timely interview with Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI); the election of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to head the important clerical council, the Assembly of Experts, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights attends a conference of the Nonaligned Movement in Tehran.
PNN reported on the long awaited release from Iran of scholar Haleh Esfandiari. Esfandiari, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, was incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin prison on May 8, 2007, on allegations of endangering Iranian national security. During her lengthy 105-day confinement in prison, she was denied access to her legal defense team and to independent monitoring bodies such as the ICRC and was allowed only limited contact with her family. Dr. Esfandiari left Iran on September 2. The United States welcomed on Tuesday the release saying it hopes to see more positive movement from the Islamic Republic. "We certainly hope we'll see the other American citizens who've been detained in the same circumstances as soon as possible," said State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey.
PNN reported that US ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, is calling on the United Nations nuclear agency to send a "clear message" to Iran about Tehran's controversial nuclear activities. He also said there was potential merit to the recent cooperation of Iran with the IAEA and that Iran needs to resolve outstanding questions about its nuclear program, cooperate unconditionally with the IAEA, and suspend activities of international concern. Iran is required to answer outstanding questions about past sensitive atomic activities by a rough deadline of year-end under the "work plan", which faces critical debate at a meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board of governors next week. Schulte said the plan between Iran and the IAEA outlines a "potentially important process" for clarifying what he called historical questions, if it is implemented fully and quickly. The head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, has urged Iran to stick to its promises to be more open with the agency. Meanwhile, Russia has denied Iranian claims that the two countries have agreed on a timetable for delivery of nuclear fuel and operation of Bushehr power plant.
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and moderate figure in Iranian politics, was picked Tuesday to head a powerful clerical body, the Assembly of Experts, in another defeat for the current president's hard-line faction. Rafsanjani's election as chairman of the Assembly of Experts means the charismatic cleric will oversee the secretive body that chooses or dismisses the Islamic Republic's ultimate authority, its supreme leader. In an interview with PNN, David Foley, the State Department’s Deputy Director of Press & Public Affairs, Near East Asia, commented, “we would like to see a change in the attitude of the Iranian regime and for it to comply with the UNSC resolutions. We have no problem with Iran having peaceful nuclear energy, but there are serious concerns about it being diverted to nuclear arms proliferation. The international community has offered a good package to Iran in return for it to answer questions about its past activities and stop uranium enrichment. The regime is not cooperating and is resisting and we hope Hashemi Rafsanjani can make a difference. There is a long history of trying to resolve issues with Iran after the revolution but they have not been successful. We would like to see that change and to see good relations with Iran.”
Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI), a former FBI agent and the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee’s Terrorism Subcommittee, spoke to PNN exclusively regarding his recent online National Review piece, Waking Up to the Iranian Threat: Is America paying attention yet? Rogers told PNN, “The pursuit of nuclear weapons in Iran is real and they are aggressive about it. My concern is that if they do not have their efforts go in a better direction we will have an Iran that is destabilizing to the Middle East and it will spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.” Rogers spoke directly to the issue of sanctions stating, “Unfortunately, or fortunately, sanctions work. The problem is that Iranians will pay a price for their government not being cooperative with the rest of the world. We saw that in Iraq…one lesson we took from Iraq is that we slowed them down significantly…I believe that internationally based sanctions that are tough will slow down their (Iran’s) nuclear program…and may in fact stop it.” Rogers also noted the longstanding friendship between the Iranian and American people saying, “The great thing is that the Iranian people and the American people have a longstanding relationship and respect for each other.”
Iran blocked a request from the United States to allow Swiss diplomats to go to Kish Island to look for the luggage or other traces of missing former FBI agent Robert A. Levinson, according to U.S. officials and the Levinson family. In an exclusive, PNN interviewed Christine Levison, Mr. Levinson’s wife, who said that she has written to Iranian officials both in Tehran and the United Nations mission, but her letters have gone unanswered. According to Ms. Levinson, Iranian authorities have told the Swiss embassy in Tehran that they have closed her husband’s case and they are not looking any further into his whereabouts. “I’m trying to ask them to reopen the case,” she said. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said “whether our citizens are in the mainland of Iran or the Kish Island, the Iranian government ought to be able to provide us with some information about them.” Christine Levinson pleaded to the Iranian public to pass on any information about her husband to the Swiss embassy in Tehran or contact a Web site that was set up for her husband: www.helpboblevinson.com.
PNN covered UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour’s trip to Tehran to attend the Nonaligned Movement’s conference on human rights and cultural diversity. During the visit, Arbour met with an Iranian delegation headed by Iran's Judiciary Chief Advisor Mohammad-Javad Larijani. Arbour also met with human rights activists including Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. A number of families of political prisoners lined up outside of the UN office in Tehran to meet with Arbour but were unsuccessful. PNN interviewed Hossein Mahoutiha, a member of the Iranian Human Rights Defenders in Europe and North America who insisted that Arbour meet with victims of the Islamic Republic lest her trip be misinterpreted as an endorsement of the government’s policies.
Following up on the ongoing story of jailed student leaders at Amir Kabir University, PNN covered the visit of several family members of jailed students who visited Iran’s Judiciary Ministry. PNN interviewed Nariman Mostafavi, a member of the Islamic Association at Amir Kabir who said, “A month after the spokesman of the Judiciary promised to investigate the students’ torturing allegations, nothing has changed. The students are still being jailed and are under pressure.” An investigating judge in the case said the jailed students would be tried unofficially and without their lawyers present. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a lawyer representing the students told PNN, “A month after the spokesman of Judiciary promised to investigate the students torturing allegations, nothing has changed and the students are still being jailed and under pressure”
Iran’s “brain drain” has been a long running topic of discussion on PNN’s programming. The term refers to the phenomena of intellectual, professional, cultural and scientific expertise fleeing the country since the Islamic Revolution. The numbers are estimated to be in the millions. Farbod Talaie, a researcher and PhD candidate at Reading University in England discussed the problem on A Roundtable with You and specifically the authoritarian education system that does not allow for a free flow of intellectual thought and research but benefits from the fruits of its knowledge, such as the latest in scientific and technological advances. Mr. Talaie cited an IMF report that stated the cost of the intellectual departure has cost Iran an estimated $11 billion (US) dollars. Mr. Talaie also thanked the American people for providing the platform of VOA from which he could speak.
PNN’s Turkish stringer Ali Javanmardi reported that Turkey's Parliament ratified the membership of a new government Wednesday in another boost for the Prime Minister, a devout Muslim, after months of confrontation with secular elements. The new government includes politicians with Islamist and secular backgrounds, as well as some with reformist streaks, underscoring the government's commitment to winning entry to the European Union. Parliament voted 337-197 in favour of Erdogan's government. His party, Justice and Development, holds 340 of 550 parliamentary seats. Turkey’s military commanders pointedly failed to show up at a reception that was attended by foreign envoys in honor of the new president. The Turkish press interpreted this as a snub, Mr. Javanmardi added. In an unrelated development, Turkish authorities discovered a large shipment of narcotics in the eastern part of the country, reportedly being shipped in from Iran.
On the Record with Dr. Mahmoudi answered several e-mails and telephone calls to the PNN regarding our target audience. Dr. Mahmoudi explained that PNN’s target audience is Iranians living inside Iran. The programming is also available to the public through the Internet. PNN has received complaints from some in our audience in Europe and the United States regarding the participation of guests in our program, NewsTalk. The viewers outside of Iran were under the mistaken impression some of our shows repeat guest multiple times throughout the week. Dr. Mahmoudi explained the purpose of NewsTalk and its mandate to have guests serve as objective analysts and not political activists. However in Roundtable, guests typically express personal opinions on political matters and are balanced by the host or another guest.
On another topic, Dr. Mahmoudi addressed the amount of Inside Iran news broadcast on News & Views versus the amount of broader international or U.S. news. Dr. Mahmoudi again explained to complaints from audience members outside Iran that our Iranian viewers typically get news inside Iran from their own domestic media outlets. He stated that a majority of our audience inside Iran expressed a strong desire for more U.S., international news and the views of the U.S. government.
He also addressed concerns about the launch of another new show, Face to Face. Several viewers complained about the booking of the inaugural guest, Mohsen Sarzgara. Dr. Mahmnoudi explained that the purpose of the program was to interview a prominent person and to explore his or her biography as it relates to extraordinary political, cultural or historical circumstances. Finally, Dr. Mahmoudi discussed the impending launch of PNN’s new Women’s View program at the end of the month.
A sampling of recent viewer e-mail
Farzin from Tehran writes “…I want to thank your team hard working and inform you that most of your viewers think that the talk News is one of the best and important program of VOA news because opens a very new way for deeply understanding of what is really happens and especially opens the blind eyes of whom, that are the advocated of this government.”
Bijan from Kermanshah writes “Thank you so much for reading my e-mail on air yesterday in the program [News & Views]. I gained confidence in myself. I have been one of your viewers since I was four or five years old. I have a dream of coming to the U.S. and working as a host for VOA…I am in love with VOA.”
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 & 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 & 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.