Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – April 21, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States; follow-up to the April 12 explosion at a Shiraz mosque; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi receiving increased death threats; an exclusive interview with Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA), senior military advisor to Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, focusing on her reason for low-level talks with Iran; the debate between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in advance of the April 22 Democratic presidential primary; Akbar Ghahary, on politics and the US presidential race; lawyer and activist Mehrangiz Kar on Amnesty International’s release of its annual death penalty report; with academician Davoud Hermidas- Bavand on what the future holds for reformists in Iran; human rights specialist Elahe Hicks on rape in conflict; Paris-based economist Jamshid Asadi on the mismanagement of Iran’s economy; Sweden-based women’s rights activist Maria Rashidi; and with writer Partow Nooriala on the women’s movement in Iran.
News and Views April 14 interviewed Reza Taghizadeh, a professor of Political Science at Scotland’s Glasgow University, about the blast at a local mosque in Shiraz that killed 12 people and wounded more than 200. Mr. Taghizadeh said it is no coincidence that the explosion took place at that specific mosque. He said that is where different groups with the Revolutionary Guards get trained to fight Bahai and Wahabi followers. Iranian authorities were quick to blame Iran’s Sunnis and the Bahai community for the blast, but Mr. Taghizadeh said the explosion cannot be attributed to Bahais, saying they have been accused of spying, but not of bombing. He said the Islamic regime cannot say it is the Mujahedin, because the Mujahedin acknowledges its attacks. “Whether this is an internal matter, an inside job or the work of outside sources remains to be seen. But the regime’s response has been slow and contradictory.”
VOA/PNN April 16 interviewed veteran Iranian political analyst Hassan Massali on the explosion at the Shiraz mosque. He said the incident could not have been carried out by opposition figures inside or outside of Iran. “That would only target innocent people without hurting the government,” he said. Mr. Massali also said, “The current flow of events only benefits the Revolutionary Guard and those who want to militarize the country.”
News and Views April 14 talked with Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent journalist in Tehran, on the Shiraz blast. He said Iranian authorities have now stated that the deadly blast was not a terrorist act. They said negligence may have caused the explosion since an exhibition of achievements of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980’s had recently been held at the site. Mr. Shamsolvaezin said, “If the authorities believe that the exhibition caused the explosion, then the relatives of the people who were killed in the blast may file a legal complaint against the responsible authorities.”
Roundtable with You April 15 featured London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh discussing Iran-related news of the past week. The explosion in the southern city of Shiraz April 12 was a major point of conversation. Mr. Nourizadeh said although the Iranian government has ruled out any act of sabotage, and called the blast an “accident,” he believes some extremist groups are trying to take the advantage of the situation to go after the Bahais and Sunnis. He also noted Iran’s presence in Iraq and the way the US views it as a threat to Iraq’s stability. Iran’s nuclear program dilemma, death threats against Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi for representing Bahais, and religion intolerance also were covered.
Roundtable with You April 18 talked about Pope Benedict XVI beginning his US tour with Stephen M. Colecchi, Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Mr. Colecchi, who appeared on News and Views immediately following the reception given by President Bush in the pontiff’s honor at the White House, said the Pope’s invitation to visit the United Nations was extended by the UN Secretary-General for the Pope to come and spread his message of peace and justice among US countries. “The Pope’s visit is important in two ways. One is his message of peace to the world and [the other is] building peace through justice and caring for the poor and the most vulnerable.” Mr. Colecchi added that the Pope chose the name Benedict because the last Pope whose name was Benedict tried to avert World War I and after the war started, tried to help end the carnage. Mr. Colecchi said the Pope will bring up his opposition to the Iraq War with President Bush and will point to him that the justification for invading Iraq which was based on the “preventive war” theory was not consistent with the Catholic Church’s theory of a “just war.” He said the papal visit also is significant because Benedict XVI will try to set a moral compass for the Catholic Church in the United States.
VOA/PNN covered the Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Washington, DC and New York City. In New York, PNN reported from live from both the United Nations and Ground Zero. Stéphane Dujarric, Deputy Communications Director for the UN Secretary-General, said Ban Ki-Moon invited the pontiff because he is the messenger of hope, peace and reconciliation, that he can be of help and that members should listen to him. Mr. Dujarric said Mr. Ban and the Pope will discuss Darfur, hunger, arms proliferation and the Middle East during their meeting. Because the Catholic leader also is meeting with young people in New York, VOA/PNN interviewed a number of young people from different backgrounds: an Iranian girl whose father is an Iranian Muslim and whose mother is Jewish; some Orthodox Christians and others. Some said they believe the Pope’s visit is significant because he is an icon of humanity. Others said they didn’t particularly care about the visit one way or the other, but said the Pope is welcome because of freedom of religion in the United States.
News and Views April 14 reported on the increased number of death threats being received by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and esteemed human rights attorney Shirin Ebadi. Her attorney, Abdolfattah Soltani, said that “Those who are not close to the authorities do not dare to send such letters.” Ms. Ebadi described the death threats in a letter to Iran’s police chief, saying “It is not difficult to find those who send such letters.”
News and Views April 15 interviewed Jamshid Asadi, a prominent Paris-based economist, on the mismanagement of Iran’s economy. He said Iran is now earning $250 million a day from oil and gas exports, which has been a windfall for the Ahmadinejad government – but an increasing inflation rate is creating a fall in the purchasing power of Iranian currency. Mr. Asadi blamed the state of Iran’s economy on the Islamic regime, saying “The Iranian government is mismanaging and damaging all of the Iranian economy because of its poor relations with the international community.”
VOA/PNN April 14 interviewed Davoud Hermidas-Bavand, a university professor at various institutions of higher education in Iran who also has worked at the UN’s International Law Commission representing Iran. Mr. Bavand said the conservatives who wield power in Iran kept former President Mohammad Khatami and many of his allies off the reformist list of those eligible to run in last month’s parliamentary elections. “Laying Khatami off the reformist list is a means of keeping him on reserve, possibly for the next presidential election,” Mr. Bavand said. On the future of social-right movements inside Iran, Mr. Bavand said the current situation under the Islamic regime cannot deny the righteous movements of Iranians to ensure their social rights. He said the clergy will “have to listen to the masses eventually.”
News and Views April 15 interviewed Mehrangiz Kar, a Visiting Scholar at Wellesley College’s Newhouse Center for the Humanities, on Amnesty International’s release of its annual death penalty report. It shows a significant increase in executions in a Iran – at least 317 people executed in 2007 compared to 177 in 2006. Iran is ranked second among countries that have the highest number of executions, and according to the report, approximately 24 people are executed every week in Iran. Ms. Kar said, “The judicial system in Iran is unjust and the increase in the number of executions shows that there is no room for discussion and discourse in civil society. Some of the people on death row or those who have been executed are activists who advocate non-violence and a move toward civil society. Also, public hangings are a way to spread more fear among people. This also is an example of how the Iranian judicial system is unjust and against the law.” Ms. Kar – an attorney, writer and activist – came to Wellesley via the “Scholars at Risk” network. In 2000, she was arrested and imprisoned on charges of acting against the national security of Iran. Charges against her are still pending, for which she may again be arrested upon her return.
News and Views April 14 reported on ongoing US-Iraqi talks that began last month on a strategic framework agreement that defines long-term bilateral ties and a separate “status of forces” deal outlining rules and protections governing US military activity in Iraq. The issue has become highly charged in Washington, with members of Congress saying it could tie the hands of the next administration by locking the United States into a long-term military presence in Iraq and arguing Congress should give its consent. Senior US lawmakers have great doubt about the success of the Al-Maliki government. Some still believe withdrawal is the only solution. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that President George Bush’s stance regarding a US pullout from Iraq is wrong-headed. She also said the biggest obstacle to peace in Iraq isn’t Iran or al- Qaeda, it’s the Iraqi government. “Generals on the ground there, have said the biggest obstacle to peace in Iraq is not the Al Qaeda, it’s not the Iranians, it’s not the Sunni militias. It is the government of Iraq. They haven’t made the decision necessary to take the actions that are commensurate with the sacrifice of our troops… you’re talking about Iran – troops would be in the region, over the horizon, but not an occupying force in Iraq.”
Roundtable with You April 15 focused on rape in conflict with human rights specialist Elahe Hicks. Ms. Hicks said, “The United Nations and humanitarian organizations are very significant in acknowledging the problem of rape in conflict.” She compared the rape in conflict situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq and highlighted recommendations to reduce the occurrence of rape in conflict, including greater government intervention and less social stigmatization. Ms. Hicks discussed the rape in conflict situation in Iran, acknowledging that during the Iran-Iraq War, rape in conflict was a problem experienced by Iranian women. The program acknowledged the social and psychological impact victims of rape in conflict undergo, noting that rape may be used as a weapon with the purpose of humiliating and demoralizing a people. Other segments of the program discussed cultural responses to rape in conflict circumstances and outcomes as well as the different ways rape during conflict occurs: in refugee camps, prisons, and when women tend to family needs such as gathering wood or getting water. The last segment acknowledged how military police and peacekeepers may be war rape offenders.
News and Views April 14 reported that former President Jimmy Carter defended his plan to meet with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Syria in the coming days. In a US television interview, Mr. Carter said he will try to persuade Hamas to stop attacks against Israeli civilians. He also said he will press Hamas to cooperate with the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in restoring Palestinian unity. Hamas drove Fatah from power in the Gaza Strip last year, restricting Mr. Abbas’s authority solely in the West Bank. Mr. Carter said he is not representing the US government on his Mideast tour, which began April 13 with a visit to Israel. US officials and lawmakers urged Mr. Carter not to meet with Hamas, which Washington views as a terrorist group.
News and Views April 20 reported on ongoing violence in the Middle East, with Palestinian medics saying an early morning Israeli strike killed at least one Hamas militant east of Gaza City. At least five others were also wounded in the raid. Earlier, Hamas militants in Gaza drove two cars packed with explosives into an Israeli border crossing, killing three of the militants and wounding 13 Israeli soldiers. Israeli military officials say the attack may have been part of a larger plot to kidnap Israeli soldiers. Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing, and vowed to stage more attacks to break Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip. In other violence over the weekend, Israeli attacks killed at least six Hamas militants, and one other Palestinian in Gaza.
Roundtable with You April 17 addressed the role of the private sector in the western world’s economy with businessman Babak Emamian, president of the British-Iranian Business Association in London. Mr. Emamian presides over the 2400-member association. He is an advocate of free enterprise and believes that in a healthy economy, it is the private sector that takes the lead in directing economic developments. He said the role of government should be limited, and, in fact, invisible. Mr. Emamian compared the economy of developed countries with those of developing countries, and in particular to Iran, saying that in spite of so much wealth, Iranian resources must follow directions from the government. He said this is unfortunate because the government suffers from incompetent officers who have led Iran’s economy to record levels of inflation and unemployment despite revenues almost doubling from the jump in oil prices on the world market.
Roundtable with You April 14 focused on politics and the Olympics in light of the controversy ignited by China’s treatment of Tibet and the upcoming Beijing games. Journalist and sports commentator Iraj Adibzadeh covered the 1976 Olympics and he talked with VOA/PNN about the politics of the present and past Olympics, including the discrimination in Iran that prevents female athletes from competing in the Olympics. The modern Olympic Games were created by Baron Pier De Coubertin, as a way for the countries of the globe to become more connected, and to stay away from politics to keep the spirit of Olympics intact. In real world, however, politics creeps into most of the games: the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972; the boycott by 60 countries of the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980 because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; and the retaliatory boycott of the Los Angeles Games in 1984 by 13 Communist countries. This year the Beijing Olympic seems to be no exception, and the trouble over the Tibet issue has disrupted relaying the Olympic torch in many major cities.
News and Views April 15 reported that Iraqi authorities say two separate bomb blasts have killed at least 53 people and wounded scores of others. The authorities said a car bomb Tuesday killed at least 40 people and wounded more than 70 in Baquba, north of Baghdad. Police said they expect the death toll to rise. Police in Ramadi, west of the capital, said a suicide bomber blew himself up at a restaurant, killing at least 13 people and wounding several others. On Monday, attacks in other parts of Iraq killed at least 22 people. In another development Monday, radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demanded the Iraqi government reinstate all security forces fired for abandoning their duty in recent fighting.
News and Views April 15 reported on a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee in which the Pentagon was seeking authority over training and equipping foreign militaries from the State Department. Among those testifying were Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. Both Secretary Gates and Secretary Rice sought Congressional approval for the change, as well as authorization for the Pentagon to spend $750 million dollars in 2009 to help foreign militaries. Mr. Gates said the foreign military assistance program is “a vital and enduring military requirement, irrespective of the capacity of other departments, and its authorities and funding mechanisms should reflect that reality.” Some lawmakers said it raised questions about the military’s growing role in domains traditionally reserved for diplomats. Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) said there was strong support for the goals of the proposals. But he criticized the Iraqi government for not taking advantage of opportunities the US has provided for them. Congress is increasingly adding pressure on the Bush administration to ask the Iraqi government to take care of its reconstruction expenses from billions of dollars in oil sales without depending on US taxpayer assistance.
News and Views April 16 interviewed Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA), the highest-ranking former military officer to serve in the US Congress and the senior military advisor to Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Congressman Sestak serves on the House Armed Services Committee, which held a hearing April 15 in which Iran was a hot topic. He explained Senator Clinton's reason for low-level talks with Iran in an exclusive interview with VOA/PNN. “Iran doesn’t want instability [in Iraq] if we are not there,” he said. “So as [the US] begins redeployment, as Senator Clinton has said, commensurate with that I believe the road of Iraq diplomatically is to Tehran, we need to work with that nation. We need to sit down and have them help ensure that there is stability as we redeploy. We will remain strong in the region, and in our bases that we have throughout the area, and in our carrier battle groups.” Congressman Sestak said he thought bilateral talks with Iran could be conducted at the Assistant Secretary level. “That would be a good way to get [talks] going, to engage them with the US leadership, not outsourcing this to another country. This is in our interest. This is in the region’s interest.” Earlier, speaking at a meeting of newspaper publishers, Senator Clinton sought to strike a balance between the hawkish approach taken by the Bush administration and her Democratic rival Barack Obama’s call for face-to-face talks with the Iranian president. “The approach that the Bush administration has taken toward Iran has been a loser. It has neither changed behaviors nor produced results,” the Democratic White House hopeful said. “I’ve advocated both that carrot and that stick, and I think that would be what I (would) take to try to create the beginning of lower levels of diplomatic engagement, some ongoing process.”
News and Views April 17 reported on the debate between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Philadelphia in advance of the pivotal Pennsylvania primary scheduled for April 22. Senator Clinton, who has painted herself as stronger on foreign policy issues than Senator Obama, said the United States should offer to protect countries in the Middle East from Iran if those countries forgo nuclear weapons of their own. “I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel....We will let the Iranians know, that, yes, an attack on Israel would trigger massive retaliation, but so would an attack on those countries that are willing to go under the security umbrella and forswear their own nuclear ambitions....We’ve got to begin diplomatic engagement with Iran, and we want the region and the world to understand how serious we are about it.” Senator Obama said keeping Iran free of nuclear weapons would be one of his top priorities in the White House. “I will take no options off the table when it comes to preventing them from using nuclear weapons or obtaining nuclear weapons and that would include any threats directed at Israel, or any of our allies,” he said. “I believe that that includes direct talks with the Iranians, where we are laying out very clearly for them: Here are the issues that we find unacceptable, not only development of nuclear weapons, but also funding terrorist organizations.”
Roundtable with You April 19 talked with Akbar Ghahary about politics and the US presidential election from the perspective of Iranian-Americans. Mr. Ghahary, an Iranian-born American executive in the manufacturing sector, is CEO and Chairman of the Safas Corporation, an equity partner with General Electric Capital Corporation. He also is a member of the Board of the Iranian-American Political Action Committee. Mr. Ghahary said IAPAC is not going to endorse any of the major party candidates in advance of November’s presidential election. He said IAPAC’s mission is to support and promote the election of candidates for federal, state and local office regardless of party affiliation who are attuned to the domestic needs and issues of the Iranian-American community. He added that IAPAC also supports and promotes Iranian- American candidates for public office, pointing to Darius Shahinfar as an example. Mr. Shahinfar is an American of Iranian origin who is running for Congress from Albany, New York. Mr. Ghahary said IAPAC’s mission also includes supporting and advancing legislation as it affects the concerns of the Iranian-American community and encouraging Iranian-Americans of all political persuasions to actively participate in the American electoral process.
Roundtable with You April 20 examined the possibilities of a US-Iranian dialogue with Hassan Dai, an independent researcher based in Phoenix, Arizona. While the United States and other western countries are applying increased pressure to make Iran comply with UN resolutions regarding its controversial nuclear program, Iran is increasing its anti-American actions both in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. Mr. Dai said he believes Iran doesn’t want improved relations with Washington, pointing to Iranian allies around the world who are outright reactionary and anti-US. Mr. Dai said he believes that by looking at the Islamic Republic’s friends, it is clear that the regime’s goals are not in the interests of the Iranian people, but instead, the regime is trying to build an Islamic caliphate, auctioning off Iran’s resources in the process. Mr. Dai said compromise may prove difficult or impossible because of the two countries’ conflicting interests. He said the Iranian government’s intentions make it a threat to others, giving the Iranian people and the international community a common interest in countering the regime.
Roundtable with You April 16 focused on the women’s movement in Iran with Partow Nooriala, a prominent writer and poet, who has fought for women’s rights most of her adult life. She also is a leading supporter of the One Million Signatures Campaign. Ms. Nooriala talked about the campaign’s call for an end to discrimination against women in Iran “amid the ongoing efforts by Islamic hardliners to distort and misrepresent the true goals of Iranian women.” She also discussed the crackdown against campaign activists and the news of new arrests of a number of women activists. Viewers who called in to the program responded in one voice, saying that Iranian women face an unjust world despite protests from Iranians living in exile and by those who support gender equality within Iran.
Today’s Woman April 16 focused on women activists in Iran. Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser. a physician and chairman of the Arizona-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, reviewed recent punitive measures targeting Iranian women activists. “Women activists in Iran have courageously launched a campaign to end discriminatory laws,” he said. “The women of Iran have the most freedom amongst Islamic countries. The way you ask a question determines the answer you will get. For example, if you ask which women in Islamic countries can drive, and women in Iran are allowed to drive whereas women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to drive, then it seems the women of Iran are free. If you want a correct answer regarding the women’s movement in Iran you must ask the women activists directly about the obstacles they face.” Today’s Woman took Dr. Jasser’s advice, and spoke with Maria Rashidi, a women’s rights activist and former victim of domestic violence, who now lives in Sweden. She talked about realizing all the freedoms that were missing in her lifestyle in Iran after making the move to Europe. Her husband, who came to Sweden several months after she had already been living there, didn’t like the new changes he saw in his wife. “Men who come from traditional societies are less likely to allow liberal changes in their wives,” Ms. Rashidi said. “But I wanted to think for myself, I wanted to be my own person.” Such freedom came at a high cost. Ms. Rashidi recalled her experience when a man hired by her husband threw acid on her face. The moment, in addition to causing great suffering, also changed her life forever, “because I felt needed to do something with my life and not let the accident get in the way of my ability to help others.”
VOA/PNN interviewed Pooran Farrokhzad, a prominent Iranian poet and sister of the late revered poet, Forough Farrokhzad. Much of Pooran’s poetry is about women and looks at how they manage to make their voices heard despite efforts by Iran’s laws to silence them. Pooran spoke of the passing of fellow poet Parvin Dolatabadi and praised her as one of the most influential women in Iran’s contemporary history because of her contributions to poetry and children’s literature. Ms. Dolatabadi, who was born in 1924, was one of the first children’s poets in Iran. Today’s Woman April 14 focused on the special attention people pay to the lives of celebrities, and whether or not celebrities should be held to a higher standard because of their high profiles. Panelists discussed the origins of the media’s coverage of celebrities and the beginning of pop culture, mainly after World War One. They also talked about celebrities’ high salaries and whether they are fair or not. Panelists said the media pays particularly close attention to the negative behaviors of celebrities, primarily those involving drug or alcohol abuse. Dr. Hamid Ghodse, a London-based psychiatrist who is president of the International Narcotics Control Board, said celebrities are often treated with more leniency when it comes to substance abuse. “Despite being drug offenders, celebrities often get away with impunity. That of course gives the wrong message to young people.” The panelists agreed that the public is very curious about celebrities’ lives and that some publications tend to exaggerate and fabricate accounts in order to make more money. They noted that Iran’s Culture Ministry has closed two cinema magazines, Haft and Donya Tasfeer. Panelists also talked about the positive impact celebrities can have in their influence on young people or on social projects, with actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and soccer player David Beckham and his wife, Victoria, as good examples.
Today’s Woman April 17, focused on children’s literature, the use of steroids and viewer e- mails. The segment on children’s literature discussed the life and works of JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Ms. Rowling recently wrote the Sudanese government about the status of children in Darfur. She also is in legal proceedings against RDR Books for planning to publish a lexicon on all things Harry Potter. “It gives me no pleasure to take legal action,” Ms. Rowling said, “but I am here today because I feel very strongly about an important issue that affects everyone and not just me. If books that plagiarize other works are permitted, authors, fans and readers stand to lose.” Panelists said children’s literature is more influential than most people think, including the ability to shape the behavior of a child and impact a child’s perceptions and views. The program recognized the recent death of Iranian children’s writer Parvin Dolatabadi. Today’s Woman then turned to steroid use, and how it can be used to help treat osteoporosis, anemia and some forms of breast cancer. But it also can put young athletes’ health at risk if misused. Health experts said risk factors include cancer and heart problems and that side effects can include acne, reduced breast development and hair growth. The program’s last segment focused on viewer e-mails. One 30-year-old woman living in Iran said she regularly watches the program and said it was beneficial to her life “because after viewing the program, my husband allowed me to continue my education.”
Today’s Woman April 18 talked with Mahnaz Afkhami, Founder and President of the Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace. Ms. Afkhami talked about the Breakthrough Summit, a conference recently held in Washington, DC, where for the first time, hundreds of world leaders and members from faith, development and women’s rights organizations focused on a common cause: eliminating global poverty by empowering women. The conference was founded by influential women leaders, including former US Secretary of State Ms. Madeleine Albright, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell and former President of the Republic of Ireland, Mary Robinson. Ms. Albright said, “Poverty is a choice that society makes. And let’s be clear, what we have the ability to choose, we have the power to change.” Ms. Afkhami, who participated in the conference, said, “In order to combat world hunger – and by doing so empowering women and girls – the members of the Breakthrough Summit are committed to raising over $1.5 billion dollars in the next three years.” The next segment focused on the recent increase in food prices that is affecting regions around the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV and AIDS is most prevalent. Panelists discussed how the IMF and World Bank, which were holding their annual meeting in Washington, are concerned about a shortage of food and how it impacts women and children living in poverty.
Prompted by the death of Safi Asfia, the former head of Iran’s Plan and Budget Organization, Roundtable with You April 18 turned to Iranian officials from the past, with the question, “Who were the officials who ran Iran before the Revolution and what did they accomplish?” Now an international consultant, Alinaghi Alikhani was Minister of Economy for six years and a former President of Tehran University. Gholam Reza Afkhami is currently a trustee at the Foundation for Iranian Studies. He formerly was a Professor of Political Science at the National University of Iran and Secretary-General of the National Committee for World Literacy Program. Both men were the featured guests of Roundtable. They said the past is either a topic to be kept in the dark in the Islamic Republic or one subjected to all sorts of misinformation by the government. Both said the true story of Iran’s past is never told to the Iranian people today.
VOA/PNN April 20 interviewed Iranian lawyer Mohammad-Ali Dadkhah who represents a number of political prisoners in Tehran. Mr. Dadkhah said he has demanded a modified verdict from a judiciary supervisory board for three of his clients, Amir Kabir University student activists who continue to be detained with “no proper legal justification.” The three students – Ehsan Mansuri, Majid Tavakkoli and Ahmad Qassaban – have been imprisoned for insulting state officials and religion, charges they deny. Mr. Dadkhah said the court doesn’t have the evidence necessary to convict and detain the three young men.
April 20 marked the 28th anniversary of the death of Sohrab Sepehri, the great Iranian poet and painter who died of leukemia at the age of 51. VOA/PNN interviewed Iranian poet Shams Langroudi about Sepehri and his work. Mr. Langroudi compared Sepehri with Hafez, saying his poetry has the essence of romance within a modern structure, “enriching us with its possibilities of happiness and hope in today’s chaotic world of impossibilities, especially in a society such as Iran’s.”
Today’s Woman April 19 addressed cervical cancer with Dr. Sudabeh Moein, who practices obstetrics and gynecology at Palomar Pomerado Hospital outside San Diego. Dr. Moein said cervical cancer forms in tissues of the cervix, which connects a woman’s uterus to her vagina. She said it is a slow-growing cancer that may not have symptoms, but which can be found with regular pap tests. She advised Iranian women to go for a pap test each year and told them how they could recognize early signs of cervical cancer. Dr. Moein also suggested questions women can ask their doctors, and treatments available today for cervical cancer, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and vaccine therapy. She said Gardasil is an HPV vaccine that protects women from developing 70% of cervical cancers, and that it has been approved for sale in the US by the FDA. This is the first vaccine designed specifically to protect patients from cancer.
Late Edition April 19 talked with Los Angeles-based journalist and sports analyst Manook Khodabakhshian about recent demonstrations in England, France and the US against China in a bid step up political pressure on Beijing as the Olympic Games approach. Mr. Khodabakhshian said human rights violations in Tibet are not acceptable by the international community, and that these protests are a political nightmare for China’s Communist Party. Mr. Khodabakhshian said the International Olympics Committee and Chinese officials decided not to take the Olympic torch to Iran, which was a defeat for the Islamic Republic. He said instead, the torch was taken to Oman because officials feared President Ahmadinejad would use the torch’s journey through his country for propaganda purposes.
Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about the likelihood of a US military confrontation with Iran, with some saying chances of such a conflict are high if Iran does not show flexibility and with others saying the mullahs will back off if they see the danger of war; efforts in Iran to change the courses in universities to comply with Islamic law in the same way the regime has succeeded in Islamizing books used in Iranian elementary and high schools; parallels of the Shiraz explosion with the blaze set by Islamist militants at the Cinema Rex in Abadan in 1978 that killed over 400 people; death threats received by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi; Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki recognizing the 1921 and 1940 treaties signed between Iran and Russia regarding Iran’s 50% share in the Caspian Sea; Iran’s most senior dissident cleric, Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, saying the government should “leave innovation [aside] and instead think about bread and water for the people” and that Supreme Leader “Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei promised he will work for the welfare and well-being of the people, and we supported him, but things have gotten worse” instead of better; tourism increasing in neighboring Dubai, Bahrain and Turkey with signs of improvement in Iran; President Ahmadinejad’s comments on managing the world; Italy’s new government and its political and economic policies toward Iran; Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States; positions of presidential candidates on deployment of US troops in Iraq; use of Iranian weapons in the conflict in Iraq; Iranian and Turkish officials meeting to discuss mutual security issues; member of parliament Ali Reza Mahjoub demanding Iran’s Interior Minister investigate police forcefully evicting striking workers at the Alborz (now Kian) tire company on the outskirts of Tehran; the import of cabinet changes on next year’s presidential election; working group meeting of Caspian Sea nations with agreement to hold a third summit in Baku, possibly by year’s end; and likely candidates in the 2009 presidential race including cleric and former speaker Mehdi Karroubi, former chief nuclear negotiator and head of the Expediency Council, Hassan Rouhani, and veteran official and former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.
This week’s History Channel segments included a profile of actor Peter Falk, known world- wide as Lieutenant Columbo, the seemingly bumbling detective whose success at outwitting the rich and powerful made him a popular television personality for more than 30 years. The achievement was even more remarkable for a man who had to overcome the hardship of losing one eye to malignant tumor when he was only three-years-old. The second segment focused on television pioneer Art Linkletter, whose programs “House Party” and “People are Funny” remain two of the longest-running shows in broadcasting history; his book Kids Say the Darndest Things is one of the top-selling non-fiction titles of all time. The third segment profiled the Du Pont family, one of America’s wealthiest families, whose company is synonymous with the products it makes: nylon, rayon, Teflon and paint. Segment four profiled George Washington, America’s first President: a surveyor, land baron, farmer slave owner, Indian fighter, general and statesman. The fifth segment was the first of a three-part profile of President John F. Kennedy, whose legacy is largely defined by the permanent scar his assassination left on America’s psyche. Using the 35th President’s private records, phone logs, medical reports and secret recordings of meetings with his White House staff, the profile will reveal how Kennedy’s sheer determination helped him reach great heights.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – again focused on a topic that continued to generate a majority of our e-mails: the Iranian flag. Last week, Mr. Mahmoudi said that the controversy began when a Roundtable guest insisted on appearing on the show with an Iranian flag that is no longer the official flag of the country. Mr. Mahmoudi noted that, regardless of personal feelings in this regard, PNN staffers should have realized that at present the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the official flag, and it does not display the lion and sun. Those words caused another avalanche of e-mails. Mr. Mahmoudi said the flag question has become an issue for some Persian satellite television channels. “Some attributed comments to me that I did not make. Today, with the presence of audio and video facilities available almost everywhere, if someone wants to make a criticism or to comment on an issue, the factual evidence will be presented without alteration. My words, which were based on an official statement of the Agency’s Public Affairs Office, were misused. This kind of journalism is improper. I want to close the door on this issue, and if any person is interested in it further, I suggest he or she refer to last week’s program. Regarding the misunderstanding of the State Department’s role in guiding us about the name and/or flag of any country, you must know that the State Department is the official source for this kind of information. If I said we refer to the official position of the State Department, it was not intended to claim that we report to the Department of State. VOA/PNN is a news organization with no agenda or political preference. We do not judge. We present balanced news. Messengers ought not to be blamed for messages people don’t agree with or like.”
Late Edition started a new weekly feature April 14, in which they review the cover stories of major American magazines published that day, including Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, and New York magazines.
PNN’s question of the week was, “Was the recent explosion (at a religious center) in Shiraz caused by popular dissatisfaction and internal problems?” Out of 8,222 respondents, 56% said yes, 33% said no, while 11% said they did not have an opinion.
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 newsbreaks 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 Iran: “Let me say, there is too much pressure on Nouradin Pirmoazen’s family here. You have to take care of this gentleman more than ever because he is now a champion for the [Azeri] Turkish part of Iran. Don’t forget things are happening to him because of his interview with VOA/PNN. So take care of him.” [Editor’s Note: Dr. Pirmoazen is a reformist Iranian lawmaker who criticized his government’s actions in the run-up to Iran’s March 14 parliamentary elections during an exclusive interview on Roundtable with You. A minority leader, Dr. Pirmoazen criticized President Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy and referred to the disqualification of reformists from running for office as a “political massacre.” He has since been accused of treason by Iran’s Intelligence Minister.]
From Mohammad in Masjid Soleiman, a city in the southwestern province of Khuzestan: “It’s been almost 100 years since oil was explored in Masjid Soleiman, but this place can now be called a forgotten city. We made other Iranian cities prosper with our oil resources, but now we are in dire straits. Poverty, drug addiction and unemployment are rampant here. Are Islamic Republic officials thinking about our plight?”
From a viewer in Iran: Iran's Channel One 9 O'clock News April 19 reported that Congressional proceedings in the United States are covered by print only. Channel One executives might want to tune in to C-Span, which describes itself in this way: as the “private, non-profit company, created in 1979 by the cable television industry as a public service. Our mission is to provide public access to the political process. C-SPAN receives no government funding; operations are funded by fees paid by cable and satellite affiliates who carry C-SPAN programming.”
From a middle-aged viewer in Ahwaz, the capital of Khuzestan province: “The Your Voice segment, which is aired at the very end of the two-hour News and Views show, is one of the most important parts of VOA programs in attracting young viewers. I wonder why you would sacrifice this very short segment when you are short of time. Everyday, hundreds of young people who have access to computers and the Internet, e-mail you their ideas and complaints about the situation in Iran, in the hopes of getting them reflected and voiced on News and Views. It is accepted that many of their views may be emotional, undocumented and therefore, not appropriate for your broadcast. However, it is certainly possible to find at least three – among the tons of e-mails you receive on a daily basis – and air those three every night, without exception. Every night, thousands of young people in Iran sit down to watch your programs and hear their ‘voice’ on the air; if their e-mails are not read, they get disappointed. If you run short of time during a 120-minute program and are unable to allocate two minutes to read three e-mails, please cut two minutes from some other segments such as sports or business. This way, you can make room for the views of your audience, for the millions of people to whom you claim to be broadcasting.”
From a 29-year-old man in Dehdasht, a city in the southwestern province of Kohgiluyeh: “In my view and those of my friends, it is better to remove the Islamic regime in Iran even through war with the United States rather than us having to witness the destruction of everything we have in Iran at the hand of the clerics. If they stay and rule, there will not be an Iran left to rebuild. Thank you for your excellent programs.”
From “an avid viewer” in Iran: “Your show last night [Roundtable with You, April 13] with fashion designer Bijan [Pakzad] was such a hit and so absorbing that I spent most of the evening talking to friends about it. Close to 60 of my friends and acquaintances called to chat with me about the show. They were all very pleased with what he had to say. The poise with which [Bijan Farhoodi] hosted the show was also impressive.”
From a young viewer in Iran: “Tonight, I saw that you read from some blogs on [Late Edition’s] “Youth Factor.” I only recently was introduced to Voice of America. It is great that you pay attention to the blogs. I’m happy for this. I have some criticism about VOA programs in general and I will let you know [more about this in the future].”
From a viewer in Iran: “In a country where Qur’anic verses are censored and are interpreted in a different way, one would not be surprised to see dozens of informative and enlightening writings held back and not allowed to be published by the Ministry of Guidance. The authorities think that they can silence the people forever, and rule over them despotically.”
From a viewer in Iran: “One of our problems in Iran is the unemployment of thousands of young boys and girls. This happens when many high-ranking government officials enjoy the benefits of several positions. This government is really inefficient.”
From a viewer from Tehran: “Are the government authorities aware of the increasing burden inflation places on the shoulders of the Iranian nation? What are they going to prove by governing in this way? As a result of this government’s policies, all of Iran’s national resources and wealth have been wasted.”
From a viewer in Tehran: “Mr. Ahmadinejad recently said that he has a plan for management of the world. I just want to tell him, please think about your own people’s problems and leave management of the world alone. Ahmadinejad talks about management of the world when he is not able to manage even a small village.”
From an Iranian viewer in Stockholm: “I watch [News and Views] everyday. I just want to thank you for the job you do. God bless you. I Love VOA. You are the best.”
From a viewer in Tehran: “Mr. Ahmadinejad claims that Western Democracy is at the end of the line. I just want to tell him that Velayat-e Faqih (Islamic religious jurisprudence) has reached the end of the line, because the Islamic regime is unable to solve the simplest problems of the Iranian people. It is only seeking a crisis in the Middle East.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Hello to all of you at Today’s Woman. I love your program and I have watched VOA/PNN for two years now. Today’s Woman is great, but I have one suggestion. Please invite more sociologists to be on the program to discuss Iran’s sociological problems. I wish the best to all the producers of Today’s Woman.”
From a male viewer in Iran: “I always watch Today’s Woman. Your programs make me more aware of the world around me and increase my knowledge about women.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Please produce more programs on Iranian women in sports.”
From a viewer in Iran: “I regularly watch Today’s Woman, and especially like your programs on human rights and women. I am attaching an interesting news story from Yemen, the first of its kind. Not coincidentally, I am the mother of the story’s author – a reporter for the Yemen Times. My son is a student in Yemen and also works at the newspaper. He was born and raised in Oman. He came to this eight-year-old girl’s rescue by writing about her plight in the newspaper. The story generated responses from around the world, and helped the girl get a divorce from her 30-year-old husband. I am really proud of my son for standing up for the rights of the little girl. Also, thanks once again for your enlightening programs on human rights.” [Editor’s Note: The story can be read at http://yementimes.com/article.shtml?i=1145&p=front&a=2.]
From a viewer in Iran: “I am addicted to Today’s Woman. When I have time, I even watch repeats of the program. I miss the anchors when they are on vacation. Your program on rape in conflict with Elahe Hicks was interesting. You brought up a topic that many people are aware of, but we never talk about it. You talked about rape in war conflict in Darfur, Sudan. Raping women in Darfur is a tactic used by the enemy, but in Iran even though there is no war, the condition is worse. For instance in Iran, a girl can get raped by her father and the court will find her guilty and sentence her to death.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Thanks for your interesting Roundtable program April 20. It was very impressive and informative, especially regarding the mullahs’ foreign policy and propaganda. Special thanks you and to your respected guest, [Phoenix-based independent researcher Hassan] Dai.”