Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – February 4, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included the President’s State of the Union address and his tough remarks on Iran; the Republican primary in Florida and the last week of campaigning before Super Tuesday; ongoing violence in Lebanon; interviews with former diplomat Scott Carpenter and Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation on the State of the Union address; journalist Kasra Naji on his biography of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; Diane Alai, the Bahai International Community’s representative to the UN in Geneva, and physician Kavian Milani, who is active in the US Bahai movement, on increased persecution against Bahais in Iran; Reza Hossein Borr, spokesman for the Baluchistan People’s Front on minorities in Iran; Mohammad Hashemi, president of Daftar Tahkim Vahdat, on unrest at Tehran University; journalist Babak Dad on upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran; journalist Hassan Zarezadeh Ardeshir on the Iranian government’s drive to enforce morals deemed insufficiently Islamic; Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch on ongoing abuses in Iran; Serbian activist Ivan Marovic about democratic movements around the world; history specialist Mehra Maleki on the role of women in the history of Iran; journalist and women’s rights activist Fariba Davoudi Mohajer on women and politics in both Iran and the United States; Toronto-based film critic Shahram Tabeha on the Academy Awards, scheduled for February 24; writer Mansoureh Pirnia on the history of the veil in Iran; and Dr. Mahsa Mohebtash, an oncologist at NCI and Bethesda Naval Hospital and actress Marcia Cross of Desperate Housewives, on breast cancer.
VOA/PNN January 29 provided special live coverage of the President’s last State of the Union address, from 8:30 pm -10:30 pm (5:00 – 7:00 am Tehran time), including a pre-speech discussion with two PNN political analysts, simultaneous translation of the speech and the Democratic response and post-speech analysis. VOA/PNN’s congressional correspondent, Siamak Deghanpour, reported live from Statuary Hall.
News and Views January 29 reported on President Bush’s tough comments on Iran in his State of the Union address: “We’re also standing against the forces of extremism embodied by the regime in Tehran,” he said. “Iran’s rulers oppress a good and talented people. And wherever freedom advances in the Middle East, it seems the Iranian regime is there to oppose it. Iran is funding and training militia groups in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, and backing Hamas’ efforts to undermine peace in the Holy Land. Tehran is also developing ballistic missiles of increasing range, and continues to develop its capability to enrich uranium, which could be used to create a nuclear weapon.” He continued, saying, “Our message to the people of Iran is clear: We have no quarrel with you. We respect your traditions and your history. We look forward to the day when you have your freedom. Our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear: Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment, so negotiations can begin. And to rejoin the community of nations, come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions, stop your oppression at home, cease your support for terror abroad. But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops. We will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.”
News and Views January 29 reported on President Bush’s final State of the Union address, saying he talked at length about the issues that will shape his legacy, starting with the war in Iraq and his decision to send in an additional 30,000 US troops. “Some may deny the surge is working,” he said, “but among the terrorists, there is no doubt. Al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated.” About half the speech dealt with foreign policy, with a heavy focus on the Middle East. “Our foreign policy is based on a clear premise: we trust that people, when given the chance, will choose a future of freedom and peace,” he said. “Palestinians have elected a president who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel. Israelis have leaders who recognize that a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state will be a source of lasting security. This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem, I assured leaders from both sides that America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year.”
News and Views January 28 interviewed former diplomat Scott Carpenter who is now director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Project Fikra, which focuses on empowering Arab moderates and liberals in their struggles against extremism. He said President Bush would be focusing more on the economy than anything else in this year’s State of the Union address, saying he didn’t spend much time on it last year because the economy was doing well. Mr. Carpenter said on Iran, the President would likely take the same approach he has been taking, and say Iran is a threat. He noted that the President made it clear he is committed to peace in the Middle East in the speech he delivered in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago. Mr. Carpenter said President Bush is convinced the peace process will move forward; the question is whether the people around him will be able to help Mr. Bush attain his goal.
Roundtable with You January 29 focused on President Bush’s State of the Union address with Brian Darling, Director of US Senate Relations for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. He is responsible for educating Senators and their staffs about Heritage’s latest research and policy recommendations. Conversation focused on Mr. Bush’s denunciation of Iran’s extremist regime, particularly its nuclear ambitions, its support of terrorism abroad and oppression at home. “Above all,” the President said, “know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops. We will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.” Mr. Darling said, “President Bush is commander-in-chief of the American Armed Forces, he is chief strategist for the remainder of his term, and he will work with [the] Democratic majority [in Congress].” He continued, “In the American political system, Congress has the power of the purse. In this regard, Congress has strong views in the direction of American foreign policy. However, the President is the one who directs and executes.”
News and Views January 29 also reported on the New York Times editorial that ran the previous day: “The longer Iran defies the Security Council and continues to enrich uranium, the closer its scientists get to mastering the skills for building a weapon. Without stronger punishments and stronger incentives, Iran is unlikely to halt its efforts….Russia and the Arab states must also stop trying to have it both ways with Iran….Europe and Persian Gulf Arab states need to stop playing both sides of the coin and impose additional sanctions of their own….Just talking about better relations is clearly not enough to get Tehran’s attention. What is needed [from Washington] is a credible grand gesture, like sending a high-level envoy to Tehran with a concrete list of diplomatic and economic rewards, including a timetable for restoring full diplomatic relations with the United States – if Tehran is ready to deal.” The editorial says there is no way to guarantee Iranian leaders would be interested. But it would “send a strong message to Iran’s citizens about the folly of their leaders’ course. It would give Mr. Bush the credibility to demand that the Russians, the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Saudis, and the list goes on, do more to stop enabling Tehran.”
Roundtable with You January 30 interrupted its program – which was a discussion on the US presidential campaign – to broadcast a live feed of Senator John Edwards’ announcement in New Orleans that he was suspending his presidential campaign. VOA/PNN beat both Fox News and MSNBC in airing the Senator’s remarks. The program host provided simultaneous translation of the Senator’s remarks. Senator Edwards’ departure from the race leaves two Democrats – Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama – and three major Republicans – Senator John McCain, Governor Mitt Romney and Governor Mike Huckabee – as the remaining contenders in the race for the White House.
News and Views January 29 looked at the latest developments in the presidential race, including Senator Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Senator Barack Obama. “I feel change in the air,” Senator Kennedy told a crowd of 4,000 students at American University on Monday. “Every time I’ve been asked over the past year who I would support in the Democratic primary, my answer has always been the same: I’ll support the candidate who inspires me, who inspires all of us, who can lift our vision and summon our hopes and renew our belief that our country’s best days are still to come. I’ve found that candidate.” Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, joined her uncle in supporting Senator Obama. On the Republican side of the aisle, Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney took aim at each other’s campaigns as the Republican primary took place in delegate-rich Florida. The former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, said he may drop out of the race if he doesn’t win Tuesday’s balloting, and polls showed him trailing far behind the two frontrunners.
Roundtable with You January 30 featured political scientist Shayan Samii answering viewer questions about the US presidential primaries. Mr. Samii talked about the importance of Senator John McCain’s victory in the Republican primary in Florida, and why Senator Hillary Clinton’s victory there was of less import. He explained that the Democratic Party refused to allow delegates to be awarded in Michigan and Florida because the states moved their primary calendars up without Party approval. One viewer from Iran wanted to know about the role of delegates at the parties’ national conventions. Mr. Samii said the Democratic candidate will be selected after a series of primaries and caucuses, culminating in the party’s convention, scheduled for August 25-28 in Denver, Colorado. Mr. Samii said the winning candidate needs to win a simple majority, or at least 2,025 of the 4,049 total delegates. If no candidate receives the required majority, the nominee is determined by a brokered convention. Senator John Edwards suspended his presidential campaign half-way through the live program, so Roundtable broadcast his remarks direct from New Orleans.
VOA/PNN interviewed Diane Alai, the Bahai International Community’s representative to the UN in Geneva on January 29 after Iran’s judiciary said it had sentenced 54 members of the Bahai religious community for anti-regime propaganda. Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi told reporters in Tehran Tuesday that, “Three Bahais have been sentenced to four years in prison for propaganda against the regime,” and 51 others received suspended one-year jail terms, providing they attend courses provided by the state Islamic Propaganda Organization. Ms. Alai said the 54 people arrested in Shiraz, “were arrested only because of their faith. They were in Shiraz helping the city’s poor children.” She said there are about 300,000 Bahais in Iran, and that the government has increased pressure against Bahais since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. She said in the last two years, the government has even tried to prevent Bahais from gaining access to higher education and buying real estate.
Roundtable with You February 2 looked at the intensification of persecution against Bahais in Iran with Dr. Kavian Milani, a physician who is active in the Bahai movement in the United States. The Bahais are Iran’s largest religious minority, but their faith is not recognized in the country’s constitution and they have long faced harassment and persecution. This past Tuesday, Iran’s judiciary said it has sentenced 54 members of the Bahai religious community for anti-regime propaganda. Dr. Milani said “Bahai students in Iran are publicly humiliated in order to force them to renounce their faith, but the Islamic regime has to come to terms with the existence of this religious minority like Jewish and Christian communities.” Bahais have no rights in the Islamic republic, he said, even rights that other recognized [religious] minorities enjoy in Iran. “For example, a Bahai teenager cannot enter Iran’s universities. To attend, he would have to lie and say he is not a Bahai, or else be deprived of the right to higher education.” Dr. Milani said that the Bahai faith is progressive, egalitarian and believes in non-violence. “That’s why autocratic regimes are at odds with its basic tenets.”
Roundtable with You February 3 featured the biographer of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, journalist Kasra Naji, who works for BBC, CNN, the Guardian and the Financial Times. Mr. Naji, who lived in Tehran during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, said the Iranian president “wrote a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel asking her to form an alliance with Iran against the victors of World War II. To think that Germany would abandon France, Great Britain and the United States in favor of Iran shows the depth of his ignorance in international affairs.” Mr. Naji said Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election victory in 2005 created a sea change in Iranian politics. “With him coming to power, just about everything changed. His electoral victory represented a wholesale realignment of politics in Iran,” he added. Mr. Naji claims that the Ahmadinejad victory at the polls was rigged, and that his rival, Hashemi Rafsanjani, later said in an interview that six million voter registration cards were manufactured to ensure his victory. Mr. Naji also claims that the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia played a key role in mobilizing Iran’s rural area in support of Mr. Ahmadinejad.
Roundtable with You January 31 focused on and religious minorities in Iran with Reza Hossein Borr, a researcher at the Center for International Studies in London who also serves as the spokesman for the London-based Baluchistan People’s Front. Mr. Hossein Borr said the objective of the Front is to establish a democratic and secular regime in Iran. He said, “We have no relationship, nor do we support the violent behavior of Jondullah (a militant armed group using violence for separation of Baluchistan). Mr. Hossein Borr said, “We work with 15 other ethnic and religious groups in Europe, all struggling for justice and equality in Iran.” Mr. Hossein Borr said on average, at least one Baluchi a day is executed in Iran, and that Baluchis suffered more than 1,000 human rights violations in 2007 alone. He said more than 25 percent of Iranians are Sunni Muslims, but Sunni Muslims cannot be elected to any high position in government. He said they, too, are deprived of basic human rights. Only a small percentage of non-Shia students can attend state universities. He characterized the situation in Baluchistan as “sorry,” with three out of four Baluchis living under the poverty level. He said the same is true in Kurdistan and other places that are dominated by Sunni Muslims.
News and Views January 31 interviewed the director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, Joe Stork. Mr. Stork said there has been no change in the attitude of the Islamic Republic of Iran with regard to the violation of human rights and executions. Of particular concern, he said, were the recent deaths of two apparently healthy young people while in custody in northwestern Iran. Mr. Stork referred to the death of 27-year-old Ebrahim Lotfallahi, who died in the detention center in Sanandaj sometime during the second week of January. He also cited the death of Zahra Bani-Ameri, a 27-year-old physician, who died in October while in custody in the town of Hamedan. Officials said both died of suicide. Mr. Stork said, “The government only heightens our concern by quickly dismissing them as suicides.” When asked about the violation of human rights by various other governments and dictatorships in 2007, Mr. Stork said the United States is among those countries that violate human rights, adding that many democratic countries and those on the path to democracy are violators. The program host challenged Mr. Stork, saying democracy in the United States is an advantage, not a liability, noting that people, institutions and organizations can criticize the government.
News and Views January 30 reported on the visit to Ankara by US Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Stuart Levey. Mr. Levey called on Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) to scrutinize activities by Iranian state-owned Bank Mellat in Turkey, accusing the bank of bankrolling terrorism. He said Turkey should take measures against Bank Mellat. The Turkish government, however, wants to make an inquiry before taking any action against the bank, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity. Bank Mellat, among the banks that US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has accused of bankrolling terror, has been operating in Turkey since 1982. Mr. Levey noted that as Iran has been cut off from larger banks in Europe, it is now seeking alternative outlets to the international system: “Turkey's proximity to Iran, shared history and ties between their people make Turkey a place where vigilance is needed.”
Roundtable with You February 1 interviewed Serbian activist Ivan Marovic about democratic movements around the world. He was a key figure in the Serbian student resistance group, OTPOR, which helped oust former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from power in 2000. Mr. Marovic described the efforts of the youth movement in Serbia, saying, “A generation of mostly 20-year-olds armed with spray paint and the slogan ‘Save Serbia,’ were able to defeat the Milosevic dictatorship….From the beginning, we selected non-violence as the means of our struggle. We did not have arms, nor did we have any desire to resort to violence.” Mr. Marovic continues to champion political and human rights with a video game he helped create, called “A Force More Powerful,” that teaches the tactics of non-violent resistance to others. “The spread of non-violent tactics in Serbia led to mass arrests, but those mass arrests eventually led to the solidarity of the police and armed forces with the masses, who then worked together to overthrow the dictator. Our experience can be used in similar circumstances around the world,” he said, citing the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, where he played a key role.
Roundtable with You January 28 reviewed events in Iran the past two weeks. London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh talked about security forces attacking a peaceful protest by students at Tehran University, leading to the arrest of several students and the injury of many others. He said students had been demanding better food in the cafeteria. The next day, he added, political slogans resounded across the campus, with thousands of students shouting, “We want freedom,” and “Down with the Dictator.” Another panelist, Mohammad Hashemi, president of Daftar Tahkim Vahdat, a student organization at Tehran University, confirmed the arrest of five students in clashes with security forces. Mr. Hashemi spoke of pressure on students “virtually all over the country.” Babak Dad, a journalist in Tehran, discussed Iran’s upcoming parliamentary elections. He said the Ministry of Interior eliminated 3,000 candidates to make the Council of Guardians’ screening easier and less subject to controversy or scrutiny. “They do not want to repeat the worldwide negative publicity of the past election when the Council of Guardians disqualified thousands of reformist candidates,” Mr. Dad said. “All of the candidates must receive Ayatollah Khamenei’s stamp of approval in order to be eligible to run.” Mr. Nourizadeh brought up the resolution drafted last week by members of the UN Security Council and Germany to increase sanctions against Iran. “This is a defeat for the Islamic Republic of Iran and its diplomatic efforts.” he said.
News and Views January 29 reported that Iran has offered to provide Egypt with funds to help with the influx of Palestinians flooding across the border seeking provisions because of the Israeli blockade. The offer came as Iran’s Assistant Foreign Minister, Ali Asghar Mohammadi, delivered a “special message” to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Ali Abu Al-Ghayt, and as the Iranian and Egyptian presidents had their first-ever telephone conversation. Officials in Tehran said diplomatic relations are close to being restored almost 30 years after they were cut over Egypt’s decision to recognize Israel.
News and Views January 30 reported that an Israeli commission was set to release its final report about Israel’s conduct during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. The panel’s interim findings harshly criticized the Israeli government and military’s handling of the conflict. In particular, it accused Mr. Olmert of going to war without a proper plan of action. Many Israelis consider the 34-day war against Hezbollah a failure because Israel did not crush the militant group or manage to free the two Israeli soldiers Hezbollah had kidnapped in a raid into Israel. Mr. Olmert has defended his handling of the war. More than 150 Israelis, mostly soldiers, and more than one-thousand Lebanese, mostly civilians, were killed in the conflict.
News and Views January 31 reported that an Israeli special commission has concluded that the country’s 2006 war with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon was a serious failure. The head of the commission, Eliyahu Winograd, says investigators found failures and shortcomings in the country’s political and military leadership during the conflict, but determined that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the military had acted in what they thought was the best interest of Israel.
News and Views January 28 reported on violence in Lebanon over the weekend, with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora declaring Monday a day of mourning following fatal street violence in Beirut Sunday. Lebanese opposition officials say at least seven people were killed and more than 19 wounded when protests against electricity rationing turned into violent clashes with troops. Demonstrators blocked major intersections with burning tires, and marched through the streets. Army troops arrived and said they fired into the air to disperse the protesters. Seven protesters were later found shot dead, but it is not clear who was responsible for their deaths. The army says it is investigating.
News and Views February 1 reported that Abu Laith al-Libi, one al-Qaeda’s top commanders in Afghanistan and a key liaison with the Taliban, was killed in Pakistan by an air strike. The strike was reportedly conducted by a Predator unmanned drone against a facility in north Waziristan. A web site that frequently carries announcements from militant groups said that al-Libi had been “martyred with a group of his brothers in the land of Muslim Pakistan,” but gave no further details. “We congratulate the Islamic nation for the martyrdom of the sheik, the lion, Abu Laith al-Libi,” said the banner which appeared in a section of the web site reserved for affiliated militant groups and not open to public posting. The message gave no further details about his death. The Libyan-born al-Libi was among the most high-profile figures in al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about President Bush’s State of the Union address, his support for the Iranian people and his distinguishing between the people and their government; reaction to President Bush’s State of the Union address in Italy, France and Turkey; Iranian authorities trying to create a repressive environment as March’s parliamentary elections get closer; how university campuses in Iran are quiet – for the time being – because of strong arm tactics; how international organizations constantly pressure the Iranian government to do something about human rights violations, but get no response; how worker rights are respected in the West; how US laws protect employees from discrimination; how people in the US have the right to protest without fearing detention; how the Iranian government is using force to manipulate voters; how the majlis is impotent since the Council of Guardians, or Velayat-e-Faqih, makes all the important decisions; how the Council of Guardians’ power is absolute; how western governments’ economic interests in Iran prevent them from raising the issue of human rights and elections with Iranian officials; how change can occur in Iran through revolution, foreign intervention or through incremental changes, step by step; how elections in Iran can best be described as a puppet show; how the IRI murdered student Ebrahim Lotfollahi, “buried him in the middle of the night and then cemented his grave”; how special forces broke up a peaceful demonstration of students, entered their dormitories and started beating the students; the government crisis in Italy; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and his comments on Iran; the judiciary’s decision in Iran to ban most public executions; EU support of Turkey’s nuclear program; how Iran has to give up its obstinacy regarding its nuclear program ambitions for the sake of the safety and well-being of the people of Iran; and how President Ahmadinejad spouts anti-Israel diatribes in part because he thinks it will gain him popularity in the Arab world.
VOA/PNN covered the news conference that actor George Clooney held at the United Nations January 31 after being named a UN messenger of peace. The actor was appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his ability to focus public attention on international issues. Mr. Clooney has been waging a campaign to end the war in Darfur for several years, and said he plans to focus his attention on Darfur, although he wants to travel broadly in his new UN role. After the news conference, VOA/PNN’s New York correspondent Nazzy Beglari talked with the actor and asked him if he had any plans to travel to Iran or Iraq. He said that yes, he did plan to travel there, adding, “As a matter of fact, I have a friend from Shiraz.”
Today’s Woman February 2 examined breast cancer with Dr. Mahsa Mohebtash, an oncologist at the National Cancer Institute and Bethesda Naval Hospital. Dr. Mohebtash talked about the importance of awareness and early detection, as well as the advantages of seeking a second opinion once diagnosed with cancer. She said a woman diagnosed with breast cancer today has a number of options at her disposal, including a multidisciplinary approach, involving new surgical and reconstructive surgeries for women who undergo mastectomies. Dr. Mohebtash said there are new targeted therapies which kill cancer cells with less toxicity. She emphasized that support groups are a positive influence for dealing with patients’ sense of loss, saying Iran offers such support as well, referring viewers to the web site, www.sepas.org. Dr. Mohebtash said, “In Western countries, patients are willing to fully participate in their care, diagnosis and prognosis. In contrast, in many European countries, as well as Iran, family members prefer to keep a cancer diagnosis a secret from the patient in the hope to decrease his or her anxiety.” She suggested patients should be fully informed of every aspect of their care.
Today’s Woman also interviewed actress Marcia Cross, star of the television show, Desperate Housewives. Ms. Cross was in Washington to lobby Congress to end “drive-through” mastectomies for women. The campaign has garnered 20 million signatures for its campaign, which advocates that women should be given the choice to recuperate in the hospital for at least 48 hours following a mastectomy. Ms. Cross said she is hopeful the campaign will succeed. “I will be foolishly optimistic, but I really believe that with the new congress and eventually a new president, this bill will finally get heard. It really hasn’t been put to a vote. As Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said, [the Congress] would be hard pressed to vote against letting a woman stay in the hospital 48 hours after a mastectomy.” Ms. Cross said she thought Hollywood would be surprised to know this bill hasn’t yet been passed. “The sad thing is that one out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Awareness is growing, but the disease also is growing….Unfortunately, I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t been touched by it. The question really is, how do we cure it? I know that in some countries there is a shame associated with getting breast cancer. Women don’t go to doctors when they feel a lump, and they don’t understand it. There are a lot of women who are not aware of breast cancer and its symptoms.”
Today’s Woman January 30 focused on the role of women in the history of Iran with Iranian history specialist Mehra Maleki from Palo Alto, California. Ms. Maleki traced the role of women from the Ghajar Dynasty in the 19th century to the present, including the significant role of Fath Ali Akhondzadeh, an Azerbaijani playwright who advocated equal rights for women in several of the satirical plays that he wrote in the 1800’s. One viewer thanked Ms. Maleki, saying, “It is great to be able to learn about our history. We aren’t able to read and learn about people like Akhondzadeh in Iran. Let Iranian women know about people who fought for their freedom and their dignity.” Responding to viewer e-mails, Ms. Maleki talked about the history of the Bahai people during Mr. Akhondzadeh’s time and talked about the hijab and the women’s movement in Iran, in response to an e-mail from a 28-year-old viewer who wrote, “Women’s status in Iran is unfair. Because they are forced to wear the veil, they are unable to express themselves freely. In the work place, management doesn’t care about the capability of women employees. They care only that they follow Islamic dress requirements.”
Today’s Woman January 29 focused on women and politics in both Iran and the United States with journalist and women’s rights activist Fariba Davoudi Mohajer. Discussion touched on the election campaigns underway in both countries, President Bush’s State of the Union address, his comments on US-Iranian relations, and the closure in Iran of the popular women’s magazine, Zanan. Panelists also discussed the history of elections in Iran, the period of time when women started becoming politically active and the diminishing role of women in parliament since the Islamic Revolution. Ms. Davoudi Mohajer talked about the women who serve in the seventh parliament, the growing role of women in politics during the Shah’s rule, and how Ayatollah Khomeini forbade women to stay politically involved. She said parliamentary elections in Iran are not free, “but that should not stop women from trying to strengthen their political voice.” Ms. Davoudi Mohajer said women should continue to demand equal rights in Iran. “We will accomplish nothing as oppressed women,” she said. The panelists also talked about the role of women in US politics, pointing out that there are currently 90 women in Congress: 74 in the House of Representatives and 16 in the Senate.
Discussion on Today’s Woman January 27 focused on the pros and cons of the Internet, beginning with the importance of knowing how to use the Internet and Internet censorship. In China, strict Internet censorship is imposed and “Internet police” may appear on a website as a warning. Panelists talked about Iran, where there are approximately 100 million blocked websites and about 400,000 web logs that the government tries to filter. They said filtering in Iran is a political tactic, but if used correctly, the Internet can be used as a means for freedom. Discussion turned to the college Internet project called Open Net Initiative, which displays the amount of government restrictions imposed on particular countries. Panelists also discussed the phenomenon of Google and the censorship associated with it; for instance, in Iran, searches for words such as “democracy” or “women’s rights” are blocked. They talked about good search engines, including Google, Wikipedia, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. They noted that parents can place restrictions on what their children have access to on the web, limiting misuses of the Internet – as when sexual predators try to exploit popular social networking sites such as Myspace.com. They said the Internet is a useful social networking tool, but users must be cautious of what information they put online.
Late Edition February 1 talked with writer Noshin Shahrokhi about her work since moving to Germany at the age of 22. “I left Iran because of the Islamic Republic’s dictatorship. I couldn’t live in Iran after the revolution. So I went to Germany as a political refugee, and earned my bachelor’s degree in German literature and master’s degree in theology.” Ms. Shahrokhi said it is difficult to live in Germany, but she is doing well as an Iranian-German immigrant. “I’ve published two novels, and have written a number of articles and poems in both Farsi and German. I’ve also founded a web site, www.noufe.com. It’s an electronic magazine on literature.” Ms. Shahrokhi said the web site has many visitors from Iran and is popular among young Iranian students and intellectuals. “I’m disappointed that I can’t publish my work in Iran,” she said, “but that’s the way it is under the Islamic regime in Iran.”
Late Edition February 2 talked with Iranian-American painter Goli Mahallati. Ms. Mahallati started painting when she moved to Los Angeles as a young teenager. “I wanted to express my emotions, and finally found my way as an abstract artist.” She has had a number of exhibitions, but her current solo exhibit at Seyhoun Gallery in Los Angeles is particularly popular with southern California’s large Iranian-American population. “It’s wonderful to see Iranians pay such attention to fine arts, and to appreciate painting so much,” she said. Ms. Mahallati said young artists in Iran these days are doing well because of the Internet and satellite communications. “There is a great cultural movement toward arts, and this is good news for Iranian society and the next generation.”
Today’s Woman January 28 talked with Toronto-based film critic, Shahram Tabeha, about the Academy Awards, scheduled for February 24, and the nomination of Persepolis as Best Animated Feature Film of the Year. Out of a total of 306 animated films this past year, Iranian filmmaker Marjane Satrapi’s film Persepolis was one of three nominated for an Oscar. It also was recognized at the Cannes Film Festival. To date, six Iranians have been nominated for an Oscar, but none have won. Panelists discussed the storyline of Persepolis and the influence of film creator, Marjane Satrapi. Her book of the same name also was successful, with more than one million dollars in sales. Mr. Tabeha said, “The film is important in at least two ways. It gives an accurate portrayal of the Iranian people and it displays the beautiful art form of animation.” With regard to whether or not the film is political or autobiographical, panelists decided there is no distinction between the two because Iranians are inherently political; i.e. the way Iranians dress is a political statement. Panelists discussed the discrimination Ms. Satrapi dealt with as an immigrant from Iran, and the feelings associated with being an immigrant in general. They also talked about the difficulties associated with transforming a book into a film.
Panelists on Today’s Woman January 31 talked about family planning. The most common solution to unwanted pregnancy, they said, is abortion. But before discussing abortion, panelists said there needs to be a discussion on the use and misuse of contraception – something of relevance for both women and men. Panelists discussed the effectiveness of available contraception in Iran such as daily oral pills, the morning-after pill, IUDs and condoms. With regard to oral contraceptives, panelists said it is very important to talk to a doctor about pre-existing medical conditions that could cause health risks. Condoms are one of the best mechanisms for prevention of pregnancy. However, in Iran condom use is very low – at about ten percent. Panelists said more abortions are likely to take place when the gender of an unborn child is known to be a girl because in some cultures, it is preferred to have a boy. They said when a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy, it is crucial she consult an experienced physician who is a specialist.
Today’s Woman February 1 focused on the history of the veil in Iran with Mansoureh Pirnia, a prominent writer and journalist who is author of Lady Minister: Farokhrou Parsay Daughter of Freedom, a Biography and Memoir. The show opened with news of the closing of Zanan, an Iranian women’s magazine and then turned to the pre- and post-hijab era in Iran, where in 1935 it was forbidden for women to wear the veil. Panelists talked about the rights and role of women, and the debate among people who are pro-veil and those who are against it. They also talked about the women in Iranian history who paved the way for women’s liberation, particularly Farokhrou Parsay and her mother. Mansoureh Pirnia talked about women under Reza Shah and the impact of the Islamic Revolution and Islamic dress requirements. Ms. Pirnia also talked about the role of men with regard to the veil. “During the time period of unveiling, men were very supportive of women, but after the Islamic Revolution, men chose to look away,” she said, “and completely divorced themselves from the women’s movement. Along with forced veiling came the loss of women’s rights and their status in society.”
This week’s History Channel segments included a profile of physicist Albert Einstein who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921 for his special theory of relativity, which dismissed the traditional notion that time and space were absolute concepts, suggesting instead that both time and space vary with circumstance. A second segment focused on the Homestead Strike of 1892, when a steelworkers’ union was effectively broken after a fierce 12-hour gun battle at a Pennsylvania steel factory, becoming one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the US labor movement. A third segment looked at the tools of astronomy, including the giant pyramid in the Mayan city of Chichen-Itza being able to function as a giant solar observatory. The week’s fourth segment focused on how scientists broke the sound barrier with the development of jet technology and rocket fuel at the end of World War Two. The fifth segment examined the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 and the ushering in of a new era in American politics when his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, was sworn in as the youngest president in US history.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – answered two viewer e-mails this week. The first question was, “Do VOA/PNN employees, particularly the anchors of your programs, have any political party affiliation?” Mr. Mahmoudi answered, “Like anyone, PNN employees might have political views or be members of a political party. This is their right as citizens. But VOA/PNN employees, based on the VOA journalist code, are not at liberty to express their personal political thoughts on the air. Our guests, however, are at liberty to express their opinions, and our anchors try to balance those comments, if necessary, or another guest on the same program might choose to do so.”
In conjunction with our coverage of the primary elections in the US presidential campaign, a second viewer asked, “Does VOA/PNN serve as the voice of any political party?” Mr. Mahmoudi responded, “As you have witnessed from our coverage of the elections, our correspondents report the news and facts. We are not the voice of any party nor are we the voice of any Iranian political group, which are freely organized and active here in the United States. The news we report from Iran must be substantiated by at least two reliable sources. The news provided to us by the VOA Central News unit also is subject to the same rules of impartiality and balance. As you saw after President Bush’s State of the Union speech, we had two Iranian-American experts who discussed the speech from their two different points of view. PNN anchors asked questions without offering personal comment. Iranian opposition groups do sometimes try to pressure us into taking sides, but VOA/PNN never submits to those pressures. Some critique us for inviting some guests who try to justify the views of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. On such programs, we always have another person with opposing views to provide balance. It is the responsibility of a free medium such as VOA/PNN to broadcast all viewpoints and to let you, the viewer, make your own judgments.”
PNN’s question of the week was, “With the mass disqualification of reformist candidates, do you feel that the upcoming elections are free?”
Out of 8,695 respondents, 6% said yes, 92% said no, while 1% did not know.
An article from the January 23 edition of Mianeh titled “Iranians’ Love Affair with Texting” by Parisa Dezfoulian, was published on www.payvand.com: “Texting is now a potent way of distributing information, critical remarks and above all, jokes about politics. With no censorship and no holds barred, it allows people to break taboos, criticize the authorities, have some fun or chat someone up. In the 2005 presidential election, in which Iranian society was sharply divided, messages originally sent in Tehran were being forwarded to reach the most remote provinces within a matter of hours. Within a few days of the start of petrol rationing this summer, a text message spread across the country like wildfire. The joke read, ‘Ahmadinejad was asked what people without petrol should ride on. He replied that they should ride on the 17 million who voted for him.’ That message was soon up on weblogs in places as far apart as Khuzestan, Mashad, Tabriz, Isfahan and Tehran; it was cited by Voice of America’s Persian service and got a mention from Ebrahim Nabavi, a well-known Iranian satirist living abroad.”
Google Analytics reports that 693 people visited the new blog of NewsTalk anchor Vafa Mostaghim between January 24-31. The blog, which launched January 18, focuses on the day’s program, providing a venue for bloggers to participate in the discussion along with our panelists. Statistics collected by Google included the following: the blog received 1,323 visits from 33 countries; 693 absolute unique visitors, 3,253 page views, 2.46 average page views, 4:11 time on site, and 50.34% bounce rate.
The Persian News Network’s television programming complements its radio broadcasts. VOA has the largest combined radio and television audience of all international broadcasters in Iran, with one in four Iranian households tuning into a VOA show at least once a week. Programs also are streamed on www.voapnn.com.
PNN’s 7-hour program block opens with Today in Washington, a brief look at the latest news developments in Washington, as well as the content of PNN’s upcoming programs. Then we present 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.
PNN INSIDER – VIEWER PERSPECTIVES
From a viewer in Tehran: “It is 06:30 a.m. in Tehran and President Bush’s annual State of the Union address is over. I have been following his speeches for several years, and I am thankful that he acknowledges us as good and capable people. In the past few years, I have witnessed that the president of the United States does not leave out any nation or nationality, and offers solutions for all kinds of problems. He seeks a remedy for financial disorders, [wants to improve] the standard of living, and provide secure borders and security [from terrorism]. And while the president of my country takes a seat under the sign of the Arabian Gulf, President Bush calls this gulf the Persian Gulf. I wish to see the day that the aspirations of both Iran and America will become a reality, and we Iranians rid ourselves from the yoke of this terrorist government.”
From a female student in Karaj: “President Bush’s address on Iran was so exciting to the people of Iran. (Like many others in Iran), I woke up early in the morning to watch the President’s address live. I was very much delighted to see the President admire the history of Iran, making a clear distinction between the Iranian people and the Government of Iran, and especially when he addressed the ‘Persian Gulf’ with its correct, historical name. I stood up in applause. In my opinion, President Bush is the only president who has so much respect for freedom and democracy, and who has supported the Iranian people so much. Convey my regards to him.”
A viewer in Tehran showed how brutal the cold weather continues to be in Iran by sending in several photographs of ice-coated cherry trees in Tehran:
From a viewer in Shiraz: “I am one of the 54 Bahais of Shiraz [sentenced January 29 for anti-regime propaganda]. Thank you very much for your program about the Bahais’ situation [on Roundtable with You February 2]. It was very refreshing for me and my friends and helped us to feel better.”
From a viewer in Iran: “The anchor of Roundtable with You did a very able and professional job when interviewing the German ambassador to America [Klaus Scharioth] on January 27….In my view, the ambassador was trying to evade direct responses to reasonable questions, and he made it quite clear that Germany’s interests in Iran were driven by economics. I think he did a poor job of justifying Germany’s conduct [vis-à-vis Iran]….I’d like to suggest that at the end of each program viewers be invited to grade both the anchor and the guest. The results can be announced on the next program. Believe me, this method will help viewers like me who want to convey our opinions about particular guests, especially when the individual displays demagoguery instead of a humane face.”
From a viewer in Khuzestan Province: “Here are a few pictures from Imam Ali Boulevard in the city center of Omidieh. There are so many issues more important than nuclear energy that we should be paying attention to [in Iran].”
From a regular participant in our weekly poll: “Please accept our best regards and [thanks] for your hard work for our country. Kindly be informed that with regard to the VOA/PNN poll regarding the upcoming elections in Iran, we do not believe they will be free elections. This vote is for two people.”
From a viewer in Tehran: “Please give wider coverage to news of leftist students and the massive arrests of students in Iran.” From a viewer in Iran: “VOA’s web site and many other web sites here are filtered by the government, so I can’t use them. If you could send me a proxy, I would be very grateful. Thank you.”
From a viewer in Iran: “[Because of gas shortages] in residential areas of the larger cities in Iran, and in order to compensate for much needed fuel in this cold season, Iranian authorities have injected non-purified gas (known as sour gas) into the pipes where end-users are residential units. This has been the major cause of silent death among residents in urban areas. Although authorities blame a number of such deaths on the use of ‘non-standard heating devices,’ a reporter of Dastranj newspaper [reformist Iranian website www.dastranj.ir] has been informed that it is the injection of ‘sour gas’ into the gas pipelines in residential areas that has claimed the lives of an uncounted number of residents.”
From a viewer in Iran: “You had [Toronto-based political analyst] Alireza Haghighi on your show [NewsTalk] January 27. He said the regime in Iran can be changed in three ways: by revolution, foreign intervention or incrementally, little by little. He has a right to have his views, but I believe that change comes gradually, over an extended period of time. I also think that change comes from the bottom up, as people ask questions. I think you can help with this on your program by showing – perhaps once or twice a week to start with – how change has come about in other countries. In Russia…in Poland…using these countries as a mirror that we can look at, and choose the parts [that we think will work for Iran]. If people talk, they talk privately and quietly behind closed doors. They don’t rush out to the street and shout ‘Down with this, or down with that.’ We have had enough of revolution.”
From a viewer in Iran: “On the January 27 broadcast of NewsTalk, you had a guest, Alireza Haghighi, who made me mad. If he loves the Iranian government so much, he should come back here and work for his beloved regime. It’s easy to advise us to take to the streets while you’re sitting in the US or Canada. I have to tell you, I won’t be doing so unless it happens to be in my personal interests.”
From a viewer in Shiraz: “On last night’s NewsTalk, Alireza Haghighi expressed admiration for Velayat-e-Faqih. Instead of living and working in Toronto, he should come to Iran and be a candidate for the majlis (parliament). I am sure that the Guardians of the Revolution [who must approve candidates] will have no problem with Mr. Haghighi. Security police repress peaceful student demonstrations. Instead of enforcing peace and calm, they beat up the students. Mr. Haghighi encourages us to participate in the elections. What have we gained from the 6th majlis by participating in elections? This government even rejects people who have served the regime. I respect VOA/PNN that practices real democracy by allowing supporters of the Islamic Republic of Iran to speak. I wish the Islamic Republic would do the same, and allow one of its critics on the air for even one minute.”
From a viewer in France: “My parents and grandparents understand human rights better than I do. Could you do a program on human rights in detail so that people can know exactly what kinds of rights people should enjoy universally?”
From a viewer in Iran: “I am the second child of a family made up of four people. My father used to be the only one of us to watch VOA every evening. The rest of us wanted to channel surf and watch other TV programs. But now all of us are glued to VOA programming. VOA has attracted a lot of people, especially young people in their late teens. In part, that is because you provide news that we cannot get from Islamic Republic of Iran television.”
From an Iranian couple living in Cambridge, England: “My wife and I watch Late Edition every night. We enjoy the show. It makes us proud because you are Iranian and because you are such professionals. We wish you all the best.”
From a viewer in Ahwaz: “I want to deliver some news to you. The ancient city of Hormoz Ardeshir was discovered at one of the gates of Ahwaz. A few months have passed since metro construction came to a halt. But no one from the Cultural Heritage Foundation has shown up with archeologists [to inspect further]. These gentlemen say they are concerned about the whole world – but they certainly aren’t concerned about the history and culture of Iran, which is thousands of years old. I ask that you inform people about this situation before Hormoz Ardeshir is buried under asphalt and cement. Someone in this country should be able to do something. Perhaps you could tell the society of Save Pasargad.”
From an Iranian viewer in Belgium: “I really appreciate the excellent job VOA/PNN did on President Bush’s State of the Union address. I am a translator myself, so I particularly congratulate you for having such a professional team of translators. As is the case with many other Iranian viewers, I have compared VOA’s news presentation with other channels’ and have chosen you as my primary source of information.”
From a fan of Late Edition: “I don't know how many e-mails you receive from Iran, but I just wanted you to know that there are many viewers [here] who adore you and your show without giving any feedback. We are silent viewers.”
From a viewer in Tehran: “Today’s Woman is great. Please know that the program is useful for us men, too. It would have been better if you’d called the show Today’s Woman and Man.”
From a viewer in Iran: “You cannot have your picture with a necktie in an Iranian passport. All passport pictures must be without neckties. But look at the obituary pages of Hamshahri [Tehran newspaper]. All of the dead men have neckties. Isn’t this ironic?”
From a viewer in Shiraz: “My wife and I love you. Today’s Woman has a great impact and influence on both of us.”
From a 27-year-old man in Iran: “Every day at 6:10 pm, I follow Today’s Woman. The program is great!”
From a viewer in Iran: “Thanks for having [historian] Mehra Maleki on Today’s Woman. I really enjoyed watching her on your [January 30] show. She is very knowledgeable and so confident when she speaks. Please have her on the program more often. It is great to learn about our history. We are never able to read and learn about people like Fath Ali Akhondzadeh in Iran.” [Editor’s Note: Ms. Maleki talked about the significant role of playwright Akhondzadeh, who advocated equal rights for women in the 1800’s.]
A viewer in Iran sent in a four page statement from the Iranian Writers Association, written in response to an article originally published in Hamshahri Emrooz magazine on December 9, 2007. The article, titled “A Decline in Intellectual Leadership” and written by journalist Mohammad Ghoochani, criticizes the Association’s “raison d’etre.” The rebuttal says the Hamshahri Emrooz article is filled with “false allegations and frame-ups against the Association and its members.” The Association defended the “dignity and rights of Iranian writers who have devoted their lives and jobs to the search for freedom of expression, tolerance and respect for human rights.” The statement responds to Mr. Ghoochani’s article point by point, refuting his facts and figures.
The German Embassy in Washington wrote about Ambassador Klaus Scharioth’s appearance on Roundtable with You January 29th on its website @ http://www.germany.info/relaunch/politics/new/pol_Scharioth_