Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – October 22, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the resignation of Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani; President Bush warning of World War Three if Iran gains nuclear weapons; Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Iranian capital; the meeting in Tehran of Caspian Sea states; an interview with former UN envoy John Bolton on Iran’s nuclear program; an interview with veteran journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave on Benazir Bhutto’s explosive return to Pakistan; an interview with Leiden University professor Touraj Atabaki on the prospect of a Turkish incursion in northern Iraq; the poor state of Iran’s economy despite soaring oil revenues; the use of torture in Iran against recently arrested student activists; the Iranian regime’s continued filtering of PNN’s website; one in six Iranians going to bed hungry despite soaring oil revenues; continued oppression in Iran of students and other political and human rights activists; and Roundtable with You celebrating its 1,000th show on the air.
The Iranian government announced October 20 that its top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, had resigned, a move seen as a victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that could bring about an even tougher stance in ongoing talks. Saeed Jalili, a little-known deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, was to succeed Mr. Larijani as lead negotiator effective immediately. News and Views interviewed Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University, about the resignation. He said it will make negotiations harder. Mr. Zibakalam said it is believed that Mr. Larijani’s resignation was prompted by whatever message Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered during his visit to Tehran, some kind of warning from the West about Iran’s defiance of UN Security Council resolutions vis-à-vis its nuclear program. London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh told News and Views that Mr. Larijani was seen as having a moderating influence on Iran’s nuclear policy, and that he stepped down following prolonged disagreements with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Nourizadeh said the new negotiator, Mr. Jalili, is a hardliner and close confidant of the president, who believes Iran should continue to be unrelenting in its refusal to comply with UN resolutions. Esa Saharkhiz, a journalist and political analyst in Tehran, told News and Views that the conflict between Iran and the West will now intensify without Ali Larijani in the picture.
News and Views covered President Bush’s news conference on October 18 in which he said, “I believe [Iran] wants to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. It’s important for the Iranian people to know we harbor no resentment to them.” The President said he takes the threat of a nuclear armed Iran very seriously, and noted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be destroyed. Mr. Bush said the United States will continue to push for tighter economic sanctions on Iran, adding that those “responsible folks” inside Iran will get tired of isolation and decide Iran’s current policy is not worth it. News and Views said that after meeting with President Ahmadinejad in Tehran earlier in the week, Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed his support for Iran’s nuclear energy program. He also said he saw no “objective data” to prove Western claims that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Mr. Bush said he wanted to get a read-out directly from Mr. Putin about his visit to Iran, the first by a Russian leader since 1943.
News and Views reported October 17 on the Russian president concluding his visit to Tehran with a joint news conference with President Ahmadinejad and with a meeting with Iran’s spiritual leader and highest authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. During the news conference, Mr. Putin said Russia is the only country that helps Iran with its nuclear program, something he characterized as peaceful. Iran’s state news agency quoted a hardline Iranian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, as saying Mr. Putin delivered a message to Ayatollah Khamenei. No details of the message were available, and Russian officials were not available for comment.
Former UN envoy John Bolton talked with News and Views about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran, saying Russia chiefly views Iran as a lucrative market for its conventional weapons. Now a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Ambassador Bolton said although the Kremlin is trying to play the role of mediator between Iran and the West while strengthening its ties with Tehran, it too is worried about Iran acquiring a nuclear capability. Mr. Bolton said a nuclear Iran would be disastrous for stability in the Gulf and would touch off an arms race among Sunni Arab countries. He said it is the Iranian people who are paying the ultimate price for Iran’s nuclear adventurism. “I think we have passed the point where the imposition of sanctions alone could deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons,” he said. “Our options now are very limited and my sincere hope is that the Iranian people can change the regime in Tehran. The West has to help the Iranian public, otherwise we will end up with a theocratic regime with a nuclear arsenal.”
News and Views reported on the meeting of Caspian Sea nations in Tehran. The presidents of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan met with Presidents Putin and Ahmadinejad and agreed never to allow their territories to be used for an attack on a fellow regional state, in an apparent response to speculation the United States could resort to force in its nuclear dispute with Tehran. The group also offered support for Iran’s controversial nuclear program in their declaration, saying any signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful means without discrimination.
David Foley, Director of Public Diplomacy for the State Department’s Near East Division, appeared live on News and Views October 15. He reaffirmed the United States is not against Iran having a nuclear energy program – it is only against Iran producing nuclear weapons. He said Iran still has a lot of questions to answer for the International Atomic Energy Agency. The UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, England and the United States) and Germany are to meet next month to discuss further sanctions, but the Chinese government has reportedly requested a postponement.
News and Views interviewed Touraj Atabaki, a professor of history at Holland’s Leiden University, on the prospect of a Turkish incursion in northern Iraq. Turkey’s parliament authorized an offensive against rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but the government said it won’t immediately follow-up on the authorization. Mr. Atabaki said, “I think this presents an opening for Washington to work in tandem with its ally to diffuse the situation through diplomatic means.” Mr. Atabaki said Turkey has always looked to the West, and particularly the United States, as its protector and guarantor of territorial integrity, but that this has changed since the end of the Cold War. “Turkish foreign policy,” he said, “was always predicated on the Cold War. Now it’s time for Turkey to reformulate its foreign policy in a post-Cold War era.” Mr. Atabaki said Iran and Turkey share common ground with regard to the PKK and its aspirations for an independent Kurdistan – neither want to give up any land to a separate Kurdish state.
News and Views reported on the bipartisan House resolution calling on the World Bank to end disbursements to Iran in advance of the World Bank/IMF annual meeting. Reps. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Steven Rothman (D-NJ) and Rob Andrews (D-NJ) introduced the resolution October 17 asking the Bank’s Board to end disbursements to Iran until the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies Iran’s compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. “The United States and the World Bank should not subsidize Iran’s economic development,” Congressman Kirk said, “while its government enriches uranium in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.” Bank records show $220 million in disbursements to Iran during FY 2007, with another $870 million in the pipeline through 2010. “Why would Iran reconsider its nuclear program,” said Congressman Rothman, “if a US-backed agency continues to send it money without a second thought?”
News and Views also reported on Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a presidential hopeful, who told the Associated Press he prays every night that the United States doesn’t go to war with Iran. He blamed Russia and China for standing the way of a diplomatic solution. “I don’t think it’s inevitable,” he said, “that we’re in a conflict with Iran. But I certainly see it as one scenario that could, and I emphasize, could take place if we are not effective. And I want to emphasize again that there is a whole lot of things we can do before we seriously consider the military option. The Senator said, “The Russians, vis-à-vis Iran, obviously have a market there. They have a close relationship there, and Mr. Putin seems to be interested in sticking his thumb in our eye more than he is most anything else recently. I still say there is only one thing worse that military action against Iran, and that is a nuclear armed Iran.”
On October 19, PNN interviewed Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor-at-large at UPI and a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, on Thursday’s bomb attack in Karachi against Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her homecoming crowd. Mr. de Borchgrave said Ms. Bhutto had invited him to fly to Karachi with her, but a week before her return suggested he not accompany her after all because she was expecting trouble. Over 130 people were killed after bombs ripped through the crowd welcoming Ms. Bhutto home after eight years in exile. Ms. Bhutto told Mr. de Borchgrave in an e-mail that she knew there were going to be attempts on her life, and the Pakistani government was prepared for violence, assigning 3500 policemen to the route into town from the airport. Despite her premonition, Ms. Bhutto told Mr. de Borchgrave she would not let assassination threats change her plans: she still plans to campaign for her old job as prime minister.
Roundtable with You celebrated its 1,000th show on the air October 18. Host Ahmad Baharloo recounted the program’s beginnings and how it has changed over the past 11 years. The anniversary show’s guest was Farbod Talaie, a researcher and student of international security in London who was previously a youth advisor to former President Mohammed Khatemi. “VOA Persian programs,” Mr. Talaie concluded, “have reached the hearts and minds of all segments of the Iranian population. VOA is able to change Iran for the better without resorting to war. In fact, they have created [some] fantastic serials in order to divert people’s attention away from VOA.”
Reporters without Borders issued its sixth World Ranking Press Freedom report on October 16. News and Views interviewed the organization’s spokesman, Reza Moini, who said “Iran, with a worsening report on press freedom, stays at the 166th ranking out of 169 countries covered in the report.”
Iran might be enjoying the highest oil revenues in its history, but economist Siamak Shojaie says one in six Iranians is going to bed hungry. Appearing as a guest on Roundtable with You October 16, Mr. Shojaie, a professor and Dean of the College of Business at Connecticut State University, said despite oil revenue reaching $73 billion and oil prices reaching $88 per barrel, 90% of Iranian women are unemployed and youth unemployment is at its highest level. He said even official Islamic statistics admit nearly 10 million young people are unemployed. Mr. Shojaie said the money is going to investments in Latin America, North Korea and in support of groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Further, he said, “Corruption permeates all levels of the Islamic regime’s hierarchy, forcing the most productive members of society out of the country.” Mr. Shojaie said corruption in Iran has never been worse, with the Revolutionary Guards controlling much of the government.
Roundtable with You’s guest on October 19 was Hossein Ladjvardi, the founder and president of the Paris-based Association of Iranian Researchers. Mr. Ladjvardi talked about the challenges confronting Iranian youth. His most recent survey found that 9.6 million young people are unemployed. Nine out of 10 graduates can’t find jobs. More than 8,000 medical doctors are without jobs. “Eighty-one percent of Iranian youth do not feel secure,” Mr. Ladjvardi said. “Eighty-eight percent of Iranian youth are thinking about leaving the country. Despite oil revenues, 12 million Iranians are living under the level of poverty.”
Authorities are resorting to torture when incarcerating student leaders in Iran, or at least so said Roundtable with You guest Heshmatollah Tabarzadi on October 17. Mr. Tabarzadi, former student leader and Secretary-General of the Iran Democratic Front, is now free for medical treatment after spending the last six years in prison. Despite a pledge to keep silent about his treatment as a condition of his release, Mr. Tabarzadi contacted Roundtable to express his deep concern about the treatment of imprisoned students. “They are experiencing horrible conditions,” he said, and authorities are “obtaining confessions” and getting the “students to say things they have no knowledge about. Torture makes you say what people want to hear. There is a limit to what any human being can endure, short of death,” Mr. Tabarzadi said. Ali Afshari, another former student leader in Iran and now a human rights activist in Washington, agreed with Mr. Tabarzadi’s assessment. Mr. Afshari said students and teachers at Iranian universities today face intolerable conditions: “They risk all if they attempt to express their views freely.”
News & Views interviewed the mother of Yaser Goli, a Kurdish student arrested by security forces outside Azad University October 14 in Sanandaj. Mr. Goli was banned earlier this year from continuing his studies because of his student activism. His mother told PNN a dozen plainclothes agents also searched the Goli residence and hurled insults at her. Mrs. Goli said there is still no information on her son’s whereabouts.
Today’s Woman interviewed Shehnaz Ahmadi, the mother of another jailed activist, this one a member of a women’s association in Iran. Ms. Ahmadi said her daughter, Ronak Saferzadeh, worked on the one million signatures campaign, which calls for an end to discriminatory laws against women in Iran. Ms. Ahmadi has not been able to get any information about her jailed daughter, but says she will continue to fight for women’s rights.
PNN interviewed Saleh Nikbakht, the defense attorney of Emadedin Baghi, a journalist involved in the defense of human rights. Mr. Nikbakht said Mr. Baghi was condemned by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court and ordered to serve a one year sentence that had previously been suspended. Mr. Baghi, who was editor-in-chief of Jomhouriat newspaper until it was closed down in September 2004, was charged with insulting the Islamic Republic in articles he had written in paper. Mr. Baghi is currently chairman of the board of directors of the Defending Prisoners’ Rights Organization.
News &Views interviewed Alireza Javanbakht, spokesman of the Committee for the Defense of Azerbaijan Political Prisoners. Mr. Javanbakht said growing pressure on civic institutions in Iran’s Azerbaijan province continues while dozens of political and social activists remain in detention – without access to attorneys or family members. Further, Mr. Javanbakht said authorities have shut down the offices of two non-governmental organizations and banned two cultural magazines.
News & Views reported October 21 that Amnesty International released a statement saying it is concerned about the health of imprisoned Iranian labor leader Mansour Osanlou, urging authorities to provide him with urgently needed medical treatment. Mr. Osanlou, head of the Union of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, has been detained because of his efforts to build strong trades unions. Reza Shahabi, a member of the bus union’s board of directors, said global support for the union has played an important role in helping the labor movement in Iran.
On Today’s Woman October 19, sociologist Ali Akbar Mahdi, a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, talked about human trafficking in Iran, comparing facts and figures about Iran with those from around the world. He said two countries in the region – Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – have no laws against human trafficking. The State Department has said Iranian women are trafficked internally and in the Middle East and South Asia for the purpose of forced prostitution and forced marriages to settle debts, with as many as 54 Iranian females between the ages of 16 and 25 are sold into commercial sexual exploitation in Pakistan alone every day. Mr. Mahdi said Iranian victims of trafficking have no way back to Iran or their families. One viewer from Tehran, a woman, said she didn’t feel secure going out alone when she heard such news.
Late Edition prepared four music packages in New York. One focused on the CMJ Music Marathon, the largest and longest-running music industry event of its kind, including interviews with CMJ organizer Matt McDonald, Variety Magazine’s Phil Galo, and footage of the band Paperclips performing to a full house. Another focused on jazz legend Miles Davis, including an interview with his youngest son, Erin about the recent release of “Evolution of the Groove” EP featuring Carlos Santana’s guitar remixed with Davis tracks, a books of Davis drawings and the upcoming feature film on Davis starring Don Cheadle. A third package includes an interview – and performance – on the 24th floor balcony of the Beekman Hotel with swing band leader and crooner Johnny Boyd. And a fourth program profiled Nashville-based South African rocker Ilonka, performing in one of the CMJ venues. Late Edition talked with Ilonka about releasing her first CD in the US, and she talked about having been abused as a child, and having been kidnapped at gunpoint along with her mother when she was 16.
Today’s Woman talked about dating in Iran, looking at the ways young people communicate, virtual dating through the Internet, Internet safety, and the reaction of traditional families to these developments. One caller from Tehran said she is remarried via an Internet connection. Another caller from Iran said she is dating a man in the United States via the Internet, but that his family is against their marriage because they know it was spawned by the Internet. A third young woman from Iran said she is dating a fellow university student, but secretly because she is scared they will be arrested for seeing each other.
Today’s Woman October 20 focused on the treatment of women in Iran’s educational system and in Iranian schoolbooks and dictionaries with guest Saeed Payvandi, a Paris-based sociologist. One young man called in to criticize new dictionaries which define women as weak and powerless. A female teacher called in to say people are smart enough to know they shouldn’t believe everything they read, and that there are other views that the conservative Islamic ideology espoused in school books.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – addressed two viewer questions. One viewer asked, “What is PNN’s political position?” Mr. Mahmoudi responded by saying, “PNN, like other VOA services, adheres to a Charter and the principles stated in the journalistic code of VOA. We have no political agenda and are not the spokesperson for any ethnic or political group.” Another viewer asked, “Why don’t you interview those who support the Islamic Republic of Iran?” “It is unfair to say we do not talk or interview those who are in agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr. Mahmoudi said. “We have had many who defended the regime’s positions about the non-military use of nuclear energy, about the removal of sanctions against the government, about the establishment of diplomatic relations with the regime. We encourage debate on all of these things. We welcome the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran to talk with our reporters. We tried hard to get President Ahmadinejad to answer all of our questions a New York news conference last month, but he wouldn’t answer all of them. If any of the Iranian government’s leaders wants to talk with us or respond to some of the criticisms broadcast by PNN, they are welcome. In fact, perhaps they can answer some of the questions sent in by our viewers.”
This week’s History Channel segments included a profile of stage, screen, and television actor Peter Falk; a look at the du Pont family, who built a huge chemical company empire and are said to be the wealthiest family in America; a portrait of surveyor, land baron, farmer, slave owner, Indian fighter, general, first president, and statesman George Washington; a behind-the-scenes look at the successes and easy-going facade of television legend Art Linkletter, who overcame a childhood of poverty and endured a succession of tragedies throughout his life; and part one of JFK: A Presidency Revealed, which traces John F. Kennedy's journey from his privileged roots as the son of a wealthy Irish-American entrepreneur, to his celebrated thousand days as both the first Catholic and the youngest man ever to be elected president of the United States.
Our viewers again complained about the Iranian government censoring PNN’s web site. An e-mail from one viewer in Tehran said, “As you might know, your site has been filtered in Iran, so you are gently requested to send me the address of your anonymizer (tool which allows users to surf the Internet without detection).” Another viewer wrote, “I want to have an anti-filter to access your website. I don’t want to show [Iranian authorities] my identification.”
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.