Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – October 8, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included a ruling by a US Federal Court against the Iranian government; child labor practices in Iran; an interview with Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council; an interview with AEI resident scholar Michael Ledeen; an examination of homosexuality in Iran as a social phenomenon; a status report on the Iranian opposition movement; how second generation Iranian-Americans are working to preserve their cultural traditions; and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson on how he’d handle the stand-off with Iran.
Persian News Network broadcast an exclusive interview October 8 with Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, on the current situation in Burma as well as Iranian involvement in Iraq and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Mr. Johndroe said the United States wants a peaceful transition to democracy in Burma and wants the junta to talk with dissidents and the opposition, moving toward a time when Burma is free – not just a restoration of Internet access, but when the Burmese people can march in the streets, and when they can say what they want without fear of being detained or taken from their homes. He said the US wants to see a free and prosperous Burma – soon. On the ongoing detention of five Iranians by American forces in Iraq, Mr. Johndroe said, “Right now, the United States has evidence that these people were engaged in activities that were not constructive nor positive for the people of Iraq –not only did they engage in activities that were dangerous for American soldiers, the bringing in of explosive devices, the training of militias, that sort of thing is dangerous to American soldiers, coalition soldiers, and innocent Iraqis have been dying at the hands of Iranian intelligence operatives that have come into Iraq. He also said President Bush is committed to diplomacy as the best way to solve the impasse over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. President Bush said the same thing himself in an interview with al-Arabiya October 5, in which he denied the US is planning to attack Iran and said he remains committed to working diplomatically to resolve the standoff with Tehran over its nuclear program.
News and Views reported on the European Union’s push for Iran to live up to its commitment to the International Atomic Energy Agency. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told a meeting of the EU in Brussels on October 3 that the EU should broaden its financial sanctions against Iran, adding that the world cannot afford to wait for the results of Iranian-IAEA cooperation. In a letter to his EU counterparts, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner asked that they discuss further sanctions in a meeting scheduled for October 15. Mohamed El-Baradei, head of the IAEA, told London’s Financial Times that he has communicated the urgency of fully answering key questions about its uranium enrichment program before the end of the year if Iran is to avoid new sanctions. He said he expects Iran to clear up suspicions over its acquisition of advanced centrifuges before he reports to the IAEA governing board on November 22. Mr. El-Baradei told the Financial Times that if Iran failed to deliver on a pledge to provide those answers it would “backfire in their face”. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said new resolutions and sanctions would not stop Iran from enriching uranium and Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, told the Financial Times that Iran has reached such an advanced stage in its nuclear program that talking of enrichment suspension is pointless.
News and Views reported October 1 on Governor Bill Richardson’s appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation program. “An American strike on Iran would be another disastrous foreign policy decision” for the United States, the US Democratic presidential candidate said after a report in The New Yorker magazine claimed that the Bush administration has ordered the Pentagon to update its attack plans. “It would be enormously unwise for the Bush administration to start another war before ending this tragic war we’re in today,” Governor Richardson said. “And it does sound like the administration is ramping up – you can just see it.” The White House says in addition to enriching uranium to build nuclear weapons, Iran is supporting anti-American forces in neighboring Iraq. “But calling them names, labeling them terrorists, drawing up military options is just making the situation worse and inflaming the Muslim world at a time when we need in the Persian Gulf, in the Middle East, and in Iraq a political solution,” Governor Richardson said. He said if he were to become the president, he would engage Iran. “But I would go around Ahmadinejad,” he said. “I would go to the moderate Muslim clerics, Islamic clerics. I would talk to students. I would talk to university professors, business leaders.”
Roundtable with You October 4 focused on the case of Gholam Nikbin v. the Islamic Republic of Iran with Mohammad Parvin, an adjunct professor at California State University and director of the Mission for Establishing Human Rights in Iran. The suit charged that “agents of the Islamic Regime of Iran tortured the plaintiff, Gholam Nikbin, who served three years in jail for his conversion to the Mormon faith and for permitting dancing at his wedding.” Mr. Parvin, whose MEHR was instrumental in the filing of the lawsuit, said the US Federal Appeals Court made a judgment September 28 in favor of Mr. Nikbin against the Iranian government, awarding Mr. Nikbin $2.6 million for damages and medical expenses caused by his treatment in prison. Mr. Parvin said Revolutionary Guards arrested Mr. Nikbin – and most of his guests – on the night of his wedding because men and women were dancing together. “Mr. Nikbin was arrested and received 50 lashes and was sent to prison. His biggest crime was to change his religion from Islam to Mormon,” Mr. Parvin said. “During three years in prison, he was subjected to all kinds of torture and became severely sick.” Mr. Nikbin himself called in to the program saying, “My goal in pursuing this case is to free Iran from the terrorists who rule it.” Mr. Parvin described the ruling as an historic event: “It is the first time that a ruling regime is held liable for torture.”
Political analyst Hassan Massali talked about the opposition movement in Iran on Roundtable with You October 3, giving them a poor report card. He said opposition parties are in competition with each other, and that most figures are daydreamers “who live in the past.” Mr. Massali said many claim to be democratic, but that they spend much of their time trying to figure out how to destroy each other – leaving the Islamic Republic to thrive. He described Iranian Marxists as “a joke” as far as their bringing radical change to Iran. The biggest obstacle to achieving success is organization, he said. “Respect for all views, along with healthy debate, will have to become the norm if people’s trust is to be gained and human rights restored in Iran.”
American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Michael Ledeen was the featured guest on Roundtable with You October 1 where he talked about the state of US-Iranian relations. Unlike Mr. Massali, Mr. Ledeen said even Iranian government figures indicate 70-80% of the Iranian population is against the country’s rulers, “so it’s inconceivable to think that any democratic movement cannot succeed with Western moral support.” Mr. Ledeen said Iran’s clerical regime would pose problems for the West even it didn’t support terrorism and discontinued its nuclear program “because it systematically tramples the human rights of its citizens, especially women.” Commenting on President Ahmadinejad’s remarks in New York City last month that Iran’s women are amongst the freest in the world, Mr. Ledeen said he’d like to take Mr. Ahmadinejad on a tour of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison “where he could meet women whose only crime was to get signatures for an equal rights campaign.” Mr. Ledeen said Secretary of State Rice needs to ask for regime change in Iran, not just for a change in Iran’s behavior. He also said electronic technology could be the key to ridding Iran of its clerical rulers: “In order to bring about a peaceful transition to a democratic government in Iran, the United States needs to take advantage of technology. We need to provide laptops to Iranians and communicate with democratic activists through e-mails. There is no need for a military attack to topple the government.”
Roundtable with You broke new ground October 7 by talking about a taboo subject. The program looked at homosexuality in Iran as a social phenomenon in the wake of the brouhaha created September 24 when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking at Columbia University, flatly denied the existence of gays in his country. Roundtable’s guests were psychiatrist Amir Afkhami, a professor at George Washington University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, and Farid Haerinejad, a producer with Canada’s CBC television network. Dr. Afkhami, as a medical expert, argued that homosexuality is not a choice. “A lot of my patients tell me if they had a choice, we’d rather not have homosexual feelings because in society we have to deal with a great deal of stigma, including from family members who do not accept us as we are. But we don’t have a say in the matter as our orientation is predetermined. When we look at this phenomenon,” he continued, “as some kind of disease, then we just create more angst among gays, which leads to more depression and suicide. Unfortunately, the rate of suicide amongst gays who are not accepted by family and society is pretty high.” Mr. Haerinejad, who traveled to Iran and made a documentary about Iranian gays for the CBC, said “We need to raise awareness for those who don’t know much about this issue. I hope that we can do that with this show on VOA. Homosexuality, whether we like it or not, exists in Iran and it’s not something that we can sweep under the carpet.” Dr. Afkhami explained just how abhorrent homosexuality is considered in Iran with this concluding statement: “Unfortunately, pedophilia is more acceptable in Iranian society than consenting homosexual behavior.”
Roundtable with You looked at human rights violations against children in Iran October 5 with Susan Bahar, chairperson of the Stockholm-based Association for the Abolition of Child Labor in Iran, whose mission is to aid and protect street children in Iran. Ms. Bahar also is editor of Darvag, a Persian language publication for children. Ms. Bahar said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran is without question one of the greatest violators of human rights.” She said Iranian law prohibits children from working under the age of 15 – but she said the law is not enforced. “Thousands of Iranian children are employed in the Iranian carpet industry, working long hours without benefits and no educational opportunities.” She said the children of Afghan refugees in Iran are living under “very difficult conditions, and for the most part, are also deprived of educational opportunities.” Ms. Bahar said an estimated 600,000 children between the ages of 10-14 are engaged in employment in Iran. One viewer, a woman from the city of Qazvin, about 100 miles northwest of Tehran, called in to talk about her daughter’s treatment at school at the hands of “Islamic fanatics.” Ms. Bahar said children’s books, especially literature, are of poor quality and almost entirely Muslim-oriented. She said the Ministry of Culture commonly censors non-Islamic literature.
Workers in the southwestern city of Shoosh went on strike this week, having not received any wages for more than two months. News and Views reported that security forces brutally confronted workers of the Haft Tappeh sugar factory on the sixth day of their protest. One worker, Jalil Ahmadi, told PNN that a few of his colleagues were arrested during the confrontation but were released shortly afterward. “We are determined to continue our protests,” he said, “until our demands are met.”
News and Views interviewed Saeed Peyvandi, a professor of sociology in Paris who specializes in Iran, on the opening of a female-only university in the city of Ghom (also known as Qom), located about 100 miles southwest of Tehran. Ghom is considered to be a holy city in Shia Islam and is the largest center for Shia scholarship in the world. Mr. Peyvandi said the opening of the university could be the beginning of segregation not only in education, but in other sociological areas as well. The university, Hazrate Masoumeh University, will open next month with an initial enrollment of 165 students. Officials say school segregation will improve the students’ quality of education.
Roundtable with You looked at how the Iranian diaspora in the United States is saving their historical heritage with historian and Persian antiquities specialist Shokoh Mirzadegi. Program host Ahmad Baharloo said second generation Iranian-Americans are preserving cultural traditions in a variety of ways. He used the celebration of Mehregan by the Iranian Students’ Foundation at the University of Maryland as an example. The student group will be celebrating the fall festival October 13 with an evening of modern and traditional poetry, music and dance performances, and an authentic Persian dinner. Ms. Mirzadegi described in great detail the systematic destruction of ancient sites in Iran, from irreplaceable ancient churches, built before Islam, to Zoriastrian places of worship. “This is all part of a calculated policy of the present government,” she said, “to destroy everything before the advent of Islam.” Ms. Mirzadegi said the International Committee to Save the Pasargard – a group she founded to save the Pasargard Valley and tomb of Cyrus the Great from being destroyed by a newly constructed dam – is working with people living near historical sites to campaign against “this destructive policy of the Islamic Republic.”
History Channel segments this week included a profile of Los Angeles, an unruly and eclectic city with an array of engineering and construction marvels that rivals any city in the world; a profile of the motion picture with the complete story of the feuds, mistakes, ingenuity and success that made movies possible – and kept Edison at the front of the investors’ pack; a detailed look at the Internet as the fastest growing form of global communication in history; a profile of Las Vegas hotels, the city built on indulgence and wish fulfillment whose hotels house the world’s biggest gambling playgrounds; and a profile of Mt. Rushmore, and the incredible story of how Gutzon Borglum created the world’s largest sculpture by carving the faces of four US presidents into the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The first hour of Persian News Network’s daily 7 ½ hour Persian-television block opens with news headlines followed by 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 original 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.
PNN’s newest program, Today’s Woman, had its debut September 27, 2007. The one-hour program features influential women from around the world discussing a full spectrum of topics, including social, medical, human rights, legal, sports, and business. The show includes international call-ins, original reports, a male perspective, and profiles of women who make a difference.
With 30 minutes of news breaks interspersed during a seven hour clock, Persian News Network’s 7 ½ 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. VOA has the largest combined radio and television audience of all international broadcasters in Iran, with one in four adult Iranians tuning into a VOA show at least once a week. Programs are also streamed on our website, www.voapnn.com.