Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – October 15, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the debate on whether Congress should further democracy funding for Iran; European views on increasing sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program; interviews with human rights activists Akbar Ganji and Mina Ahadi on a dramatic increase in the number of executions in Iran; an international labor group pressuring Tehran to release two imprisoned union leaders; the Iranian government’s continuing crackdown against Kurds and the country’s Sunni minority; and student protests in Iran, including one at Tehran University where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was speaking.
Roundtable with You October 13 focused on the debate over US democracy funding for Iran with two political activists who hold opposing views on whether Iranian society is ready for democracy, and within this context, discussed the merits of US funding for democratic transformation. Korea and Germany, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, were cited as successful examples of the transition to democracy. Iran is still in play. Akbar Atri, the former leader of a major student group in Iran, supports renewed funding. “Those in Iran who favor receiving foreign assistance and consider international solidarity and cooperation essential to the success of Iran’s homegrown civic movements cannot speak freely,” he said. “If they do, they will be subjected to immediate retaliation by the Iranian regime…Those who are so righteously opposed to the funding might have us believe that if it were not for American support, Iranian activists would not be facing intimidation, imprisonment and torture today. But since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian regime has been systematically imprisoning, killing and otherwise silencing civic actors.” Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, a journalist and blogger, said US financial aid to Iran’s NGOs and civic groups would make them likely targets of retaliation by the regime and its security apparatus. Because “it would give the regime a pretext for labeling these groups as foreign agents intent on a velvet revolution,” Mr. Mirebrahimi said he thinks all of the democracy funding monies should be earmarked for government-sponsored broadcasting to Iran. A portion of an interview given to Radio Farda October 12 by David Denehy, head of the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs, was used during the show to reflect the US government’s point of view. Mr. Denehy said Washington does not agree with those who say its democracy program has hurt pro-democracy forces in Iran. E-mails and phone calls received during the program were supportive of US funding and critical of those proposing an elimination of democracy funding for Iran, particularly lobbying efforts by the National Iranian American Council. One good example of these e-mails was from a physician in Iran: “I myself have learned how to express my beliefs from VOA programs, especially Roundtable, NewsTalk, News and Views, and even from English-language video. Your budget is supplied via USA government. Therefore, in my opinion, it is important that this budget continue. [It is necessary if Iranians are going to try democratic behavior, which should start by] finding a way to encourage people in Iran to watch programs such as these. What’s important is that every Iranian have access to these programs.”
Roundtable with You focused on sanctions against Iran because of its controversial nuclear program October 10. Ali Karbali, a reporter with one of Italy’s leading newspapers, Corriere della Sera, said the greatest opposition to Iran within the European Community comes from Italy while Germany is reluctant to take a strong position on sanctions. However, both countries, he said, although they have different positions, are both motivated by economic factors. Mr. Karbali said he believed France’s advocacy of stronger sanctions is likely to win the day and change the direction of Europe’s action toward harsher sanctions. He said the two rounds of sanctions already imposed by the United Nations against Iran have had an impact on Iran’s economy, but said Iranian authorities want war because they believe war will prolong their hold on power.
News and Views interviewed Justin Vaisse, an Affiliated Scholar at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe, on the meeting of French President Nicolas Sarkozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Mr. Vaisse said he does not believe there has been a major shift in France’s position since Mr. Sarkozy took office in May. “Mr. Sarkozy, like his predecessor Mr. Chirac, does not wish to choose between two unpleasant options, going to war with Iran or a nuclear Iran.” Mr. Vaisse said he thinks there is a third way forward, and that is continuing talks with Iran so that it will eventually comply with the demands of the international community to suspend its enrichment of uranium. He said France has no desire for Iran to come under military attack for its defiance. “We hope that Iran accepts the incentive package that the European Union has put forward,” Mr. Vaisse said, “Otherwise, Iran should expect more severe sanctions in the near future.” Mr. Putin is to meet in Tehran with Iranian leaders in the coming week.
While in Tehran, Mr. Putin will participate in a summit of the five states bordering the Caspian Sea: Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. They are to determine the final status of the division of Caspian waters, an issue that has troubled their relations since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, primarily because of the energy/economics questions involved. News and Views October 14 looked ahead to the summit and debated the odds of the Russian leader throwing in his lot with the west or with Iran. The European Union and the United States want Russia’s support in the UN Security Council next month to impose harsher sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program.
News and Views reported on the visit to Tehran by a team from the International Transport Workers' Federation to investigate the case of Mansour Osanlou and Ebrahim Madadi. Mr. Madadi, vice president of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Vahed) Union, was arrested two months ago while trying to visit the family of Mr. Osanlou, the imprisoned leader of the union. Both are charged with acting against national security because of their work. Reza Shahabi, a member of the union, told News and Views that the ITF team was not allowed to visit the imprisoned syndicate leaders, but said their visit infused the union’s members with hope. Hanafi Rustandi, Chair of the ITF’s national coordinating committee in Indonesia and President of the Indonesian seafarers’ union, said the union leaders’ families and the union’s members were glad the two men hadn’t been forgotten by the outside world. Mr. Rustandi described the mission as a “test case for the friendship between our two Muslim countries,” adding that “Iran should show its commitment to international labor standards and universal human rights. We hope this problem can be settled and [they] can be released due to the good ties between our two countries.”
News and Views interviewed Christina Gallach, the spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. She said European Union policy is identical to the UN Security Council’s. “We are trying a two-track policy of continuing dialogue with Tehran and at the same time applying more international pressure so Iran complies with the demands of the UN Security Council. . . Our incentive package to Iran is still on the table,” Ms. Gallach said. “Unfortunately, Tehran did not accept this offer. We hope Iran is able to clarify some obscure aspects of its nuclear program by November 22. If Iran is not able to clear it up, then there will be a higher likelihood for additional sanctions imposed on Iran. The Middle East is a critical region for international peace and security, and we have to make sure it is devoid of any weapons of mass destruction.”
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Tehran University on October 8, and received as cold a reception as he received at Columbia University last month. News and Views talked with Rashid Esmaeli, a graduate student at the university who was suspended because of his activism. Mr. Esmaeli said Mr. Ahmadinejad’s performance as President and his domestic and foreign policies have taken away his credibility among students. An estimated 100 students staged a demonstration at Tehran University Monday, calling him a “dictator” and scuffling with hardline students. Mr. Ahmadinejad, who was giving a speech to a select group at the university to mark the beginning of the academic year, ignored the chants of “death to the dictator.”
Iranian student leader Ali Vefghi talked about student activism in Iran on Roundtable with You October 11. Mr. Vefghi, a member of the central council of Daftar Tahkim Vahdat (DTV) at Sharif University of Technology, said security police and basij (religious volunteers) used tear gas to disperse over 1,000 student protesters. The DTV, which means Office to Foster Unity in Farsi, is Iran’s largest student organization, and is made up of individual Islamic student associations from over 60 of the country’s universities. Mr. Vefghi said the group gathered to ask why President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won’t allow students to express their views freely, but said they were barred from entering campus. Another guest on the program, political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh, said university presidents in Iran are now appointed irregardless of their academic backgrounds and faculty members who disagree with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s pronouncements are dismissed.
Students suspended from Allemeh Tabatabaee University staged a peaceful sit-in in front of the schools of Economy and Social Science. News and Views talked with Soleiman Mohammadi on October 9 about campus unrest. Mr. Mohammadi, spokesman of the Committee for Defense of Education Rights at the university, told PNN that suspension orders by disciplinary committees are illegal.
News and Views interviewed human rights activist and one of Iran’s leading investigative journalists, Akbar Ganji, on October 10, World Day against the Death Penalty. According to the International Coalition against the Death Penalty, Iran has executed 265 people in the past 12 months – a dramatic increase over the previous year. One of the country’s most prominent political dissidents, Mr. Ganji said we should not accept figures given by Iranian officials, and that the real number of those executed could be higher. “The reason these hangings are done in public squares,” Mr. Ganji said, “is to create an atmosphere of fear. And in those countries where the death penalty is carried out, they have been trying to do it with less cruelty. But in Iran, the opposite is true. The important point here is that we should strive to eliminate the death penalty from our penal code altogether.” He said, “The regime in Iran does not allow a public debate to take place about the death penalty in the national press. If someone writes an article about this, his writing could be labeled as sacrilegious or blasphemous, which carries a one-to-five year prison sentence.” Harsher penalties are meted out, he said, for “apostasy or being involved in regime change activities. “There were two instances,” Mr. Ganji said, “when the death penalty was issued to two political activists.” He said the sentences were revoked because of an international outcry.
News and Views also interviewed Mina Ahadi on World Day against the Day Penalty. Ms. Ahadi, who now lives in Germany, is founder and head of the International Committee against Execution. Ms. Ahadi said continuing efforts by the defenders of global human rights and their staging of worldwide protests could help minimize the number of executions in Iran. She said prisoners on death row in Iranian prisons – including many political prisoners and human rights activists – have every reason to believe they will indeed be executed as the Islamic regime uses capital punishment to terrorize people and intimidate them into obedience in order to save their rule. Ms. Ahadi’s husband was executed by the Iranian government soon after the 1979 revolution when security forces raided their home and arrested him and some of their friends.
Journalist Masood Kurdpour, who works in Kurdistan province in northwest Iran, told News and Views October 11 that security forces attacked hundreds of Iranian Sunnis who had gathered in a mosque in Saghez to celebrate a religious event. More than 300 people were arrested. Mr. Kurdpourt said the Iranian government has been cracking down on the country’s Sunni minority since President Ahmadinejad took office in a bid to prevent them from exercising their religious traditions in the Kurdish region of Iran.
News and Views talked with Taghi Rahmani, a political activist in Tehran, about security forces and police attacking and arresting some worshippers during Eid al-Fitr prayers in the Iranian capital on October 13. Mr. Rahmani said not only are Sunnis and other religious minorities the subject of official repression these days, so are non-governmental Shias. “The Islamic Republic is seeking to monopolize religious belief in Iran,” he said.
News and Views daily covered developments in US-Turkish relations which deteriorated after a US Congressional panel passed a resolution calling the massacre of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire “genocide.” Turkey recalled its ambassador for consultations. And the United States warned Turkey against taking unilateral military action to pursue Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq after Ankara approved a possible incursion. Coverage included soundbites from President Bush; White House spokesperson Dana Perino; State Department spokesman Sean McCormack; Turkey’s Ambassador to the US, Nabi Şensoy; a faculty member at Bahçeşehir University, Cengiz Aktar; and Egemen Bağış, a foreign policy adviser to Turkey’s prime minister.
Patrick Clawson is deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He was the guest on Roundtable with You October 12. After giving an overview of US-Iranian relations since 1979 and the disruption of diplomatic relations, Mr. Clawson talked about issues of the day. He said Iran tries to foment instability in Iraq in the hopes of forcing a US withdrawal, which would be a victory for Iran. He said Iran also feels instability in Iraq is beneficial to Tehran. On Iran’s nuclear program, Mr. Clawson said Iran’s ambitions have created an arms race in the Middle East. The nuclear program also has caused many domestic economic problems, with high inflation and unemployment. Despite Iran’s pronouncements, Mr. Clawson said he believed Iran had mad very little progress in enriching uranium.
Our newest program, Today’s Woman, has focused on a number of topics in its first two weeks on the air, including the “One Million Signatures” campaign to protest Iranian laws which discriminate against women; the human rights situation in Burma and Sun Suu Kyi’s campaign to stop human rights abuses; women and driving in Iran versus women and no driving in Saudi Arabia; a discussion of Mehregan (the fall festival); women in sports, with profiles on Iranian tennis players, Iran’s kayak team, and Olympic hopefuls; the crackdown on NGO’s in Iran; secularism in Turkey and the head-scarf problem there; AIDS in Iran; the plight of Afghan women refugees in Iran; the challenges and taboos of adoption in Iran; women in politics and the empowerment of women; and figures on domestic violence in Iran and how to prevent domestic violence. Today’s Woman has already generated significant audience response. One of Iran’s most famous film directors, Tahmineh Millani, contacted PNN to offer us her contact information, volunteering to collaborate with us on a project. Ms. Millani, who has been imprisoned because of the controversial nature of some of her award-winning work, has produced many influential movies in Iran, including Doh Zaan (Two Women) and Nimeh Penhan (Half Hidden). A sampling of some of the other e-mails we have received:
From Solmaz: “Thank you for your wonderful program. My family continued the discussion about domestic violence that you started in your program until 2 am.”
From Ghane, in London: “Your program is one of the best on 24-hour satellite TV. Ever! Two programs in particular touched me. One was with Lian [Rozbih] from VOA Afghanistan [and her story as a refugee in Iran]. She is someone everyone should learn from. The second one was your interview with Azita Sayan, who is one of the most helpful psychologists / agony aunts we know on TV. Can we have a program dedicated to women who live in silence and suffer for years for the sake of children and [groups who oppose divorce]? With Azita as the guest again, please.”
From Soheila: “I thank you for Today’s Woman, and I have some suggestions. Can you please look at women’s issues from another view? The topics that you present in the show are interesting and will definitely increase women’s awareness about themselves and their situation. From my point of view, the obstacles that women face come from the male dominance that is rooted in our culture, religion and norms. However, women are also responsible for allowing these problems to exist.”
From Fereshteh: “Would you please discuss marriages between Iranian women and foreigners, because women who marry them have no rights in Iran. However, an Iranian man who marries a foreigner has rights.”
From Mehrnoush: “Yesterday’s discussion about domestic violence is an issue that frequently occurs in Iran. In Iranian society, nobody talks about this issue. As you said in your program, there needs to be public awareness in order to combat domestic violence. I sincerely thank you and I’m ready to work with you on this issue.”
From Mehdi: “If it’s possible, invite more successful Iranian women to be on your program in order to build the confidence of women who currently live in Iran.”
Roundtable with You October 4 focused on the case of Gholam Nikbin v. the Islamic Republic of Iran with Mohammad Parvin, the director of the Mission for Establishing Human Rights in Iran and William Pepper, Mr. Nikbin’s attorney. The US Federal Appeals Court had just ruled in favor of Mr. Nikbin against the Iranian government, which jailed Mr. Nikbin for three years for becoming a Mormon and permitting dancing at his wedding. Mr. Nikbin wrote to PNN October 8 thanking us for the show. He also said that Mr. Pepper “felt there was a tremendous impact generated by the interview not only in Iran, but at Oxford University, where he received many [supportive] phone calls and e-mails.”
History Channel segments this week included a profile of observatories with unforgettable film footage and expert accounts on astronomy’s most mind-boggling discoveries; an exploration of the rich history of one of the world’s greatest technological achievements: harnessing the power from Niagara Falls; the story of medical imaging, the technology that allows us to see inside the human body; 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; and a profile of Art Linkletter, a television pioneer whose programs remain the longest-running shows in broadcasting history.
The Persian News Network’s television programming complements our simulcast 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.
PNN’s 7 ½ hour program block opens with one hour of cultural programming translated into Farsi from A&E Television Network’s The History Channel. We intersperse 30-minutes of news breaks throughout our original programming, which includes the following shows:
Today’s Woman, PNN’s newest program, 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.
News and Views, PNN’s existing flagship, is now 2 hours in length, and features live news coverage of the latest headlines from Washington, Iran and across the globe.
Roundtable with You is a talk show with expert guests, featuring discussion of current events, politics, popular culture and global health. Viewers and listeners from Iran and around the world participate in the show via phone calls and e-mails.
Late Edition begins with a wrap up of the day’s news and a close look at the day’s top story. Targeted to a younger demographic, the show also features segments on health, technology, sports, entertainment and culture.
NewsTalk is a new journalists’ roundtable discussion program that features a news update followed by an examination of the day’s top stories and an in-depth look at issues relating to Iran.