Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Today marks the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. PNN begins extensive coverage this week examining this historic event with special exclusive interviews from former government officials, leaders of the Revolution, eyewitness participants and those most impacted by its consequences.
Washington, D.C. – February 11, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included the Super Tuesday primaries in the US presidential race; a suicide bomber attack in Israel; the President’s proposed budget for 2009; increased conflict between student activists and security forces in Iran; and interviews Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Douglas on Afghanistan and Iran, particularly with regard to drug trafficking; with former US diplomat John Limbert on US-Iranian relations; with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and renowned satirist Ebrahim Nabavi about upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran; with political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh and journalist Babak Dad about student protests, a new chancellor at Tehran University, and the upcoming parliamentary elections; with Iranian-American property owner Ezatollah Delijani on Bringing Back Broadway in downtown Los Angeles; with student activist Kourosh Sehati and blogger Reza Saber on Iran’s student movement; with journalist Hassan Zarezadeh Ardeshir on Iran’s social security plan; with human rights lawyer Mohammed Hossein Aghasi on discriminatory laws against women in Iran; with playwright Ezzat Goushegir on women and literature; and with Iranian-Canadian writer and former political prisoner Marina Nemat, on her memoir Prisoner of Tehran.
VOA/PNN interviewed a top US defense official – Richard Douglas, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for counter narcotics, counter proliferation and global threats – in London February 4. He said both the US and Afghanistan are corned about Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan. “I think it’s fair to say that if Iran acted more responsibly, the problems in Afghanistan would be easier to solve.” Mr. Douglas said that includes the drug trafficking situation along the border between Afghanistan and Iran. “I think what they would like to see is what any other government would like to see with its neighbors: namely, as much cooperation as possible – information sharing, an effort to use the resources at hand in order to stop what is a grave problem for both countries, because Afghanistan has a problem not just with contraband going out but also coming in.” Mr. Douglas said Afghanistan would like to see Iran try to do something about the flow of precursor chemicals coming across the border.” He also said Afghan officials are fully aware there are problems with narcotics corruption in the government and that they “would like to see every effort made to reduce it.”
Roundtable with You February 4 interviewed former US diplomat John Limbert on US-Iranian relations. Ambassador Limbert, who now teaches at the US Naval Academy, was one of the Americans held hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran for 444 days at the onset of the Islamic Revolution. The United States subsequently broke diplomatic relations with Iran, and during the past three decades, there has been only limited political contact between the two governments. Mr. Limbert said, “We have to be realistic in looking at the roots of mistrust and fear the Iranians have of great powers. Conspiracy theories are an important part of this culture.” He said it is part of this mindset that led Iran to believe that the Iraqi invasion which led to the Iran-Iraq War was an American conspiracy against Iran. “Americans fail to understand this Iranian mindset,” he said. “Another obstacle toward any meaningful and friendly approach is with whom do we negotiate? There are numerous sources of power in Iran, and they are in contradiction with each other. You have elected and non-elected sources of power. Ayatollah Khamenei says he represents God and Ahmadinejad supposedly represents the people. But no one can act independently of the other.” Mr. Limbert said, “We need to take bold action, and remove the fear and mistrust that stand in the way of better understanding.”
Today’s Woman February 5 focused on parliamentary elections in Iran, scheduled to take place in six weeks. Panelists talked about the importance of the women’s vote in this election – just as it is important in the primary elections in Super Tuesday of the US presidential race. They discussed the way women and women’s issues have been represented in the Iranian parliament, agreeing that little was done to defend women’s rights for the first three years of the current seventh parliament. They noted that Iran’s insurance benefit laws still discriminate against women, with benefits going to families only when the man dies. But they noted there have been some small victories, with women now able to get three-six months of maternity leave. Lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi joined the show from Iran. She said she had no interest in running for parliament herself because the elections are not truly free. Ms. Ebadi said women are not well represented in the Iranian parliament, and are weak when commanding a presence and seeking rights for the women of Iran. “The important thing to look at is not gender. Instead, it is more important to analyze the difference of beliefs among individuals. There are many men,” she said, “who fight for the rights of women, and likewise, there are women who are behind in seeking women’s rights. The struggle is not about gender. It is about equality.” Ms. Ebadi said, “It is more important to look at the inequalities of today than to focus on the future. We should not wait until tomorrow to see change. We need to seek change today.”
VOA/PNN interviewed renowned journalist and satirist Ebrahim Nabavi about parliamentary elections, scheduled for March 14 in Iran. It is widely believed that the candidacies of most reformists were disqualified by Iran’s Council of Guardians. Mr. Nabavi, who now lives in Europe, said he believes Iranians should vote, “despite the fact that the majority of reformist potential candidates have been banned from becoming candidates.” He said the parliament in Iran has never been at any time the house of the Iranian people, and this time is no exception. But “that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t vote. Boycotting the elections,” he said, “is pure nonsense and highly illogical.”
News and Views February 5 reported that President Bush has submitted his administration’s budget for 2009 to Congress – a $3.1 trillion dollar spending plan he says will protect the country and boost economic growth. “This is a good budget,” said Mr. Bush. “It’s a budget that achieves some important objectives. One, it understands our top priority to defend our country, so we fund our military as well as fund homeland security. Secondly, the budget keeps our economy growing.” If approved by Congress, the budget would freeze or cut some domestic programs and give more money to the military. The budget would bring near-record deficits for at least two years. Mr. Bush says his plan would balance the budget by 2012, several years after he leaves office. His budget priorities are very different than those of the Democrats who control Congress, setting up a political argument over what government should do and who should pay for it.
Roundtable with You February 8 reviewed Iran and the world over the past two weeks. London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh discussed the change of leadership at Tehran University, the oldest and most prestigious institution of higher learning in Iran. He noted that two years ago, a cleric without a college degree was appointed as chancellor of Tehran University. Faculty and students met his appointment with widespread protest. Many members of the staff and faculty resigned. Mr. Nourizadeh said a new person has now been appointed as chancellor – a person with a security background, in the hopes that he will be able to control the student body and suppress the burgeoning student movement. Mr. Nourizadeh then shifted to rockets. Iran fired a rocket from its newly inaugurated space center February 4, laying the groundwork for what it says will be the future launch of its first domestically produced satellite. Mr. Nourizadeh called it a waste of the people’s wealth and will make it easier for the UN to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to comply with UN demands regarding its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Journalist Babak Dad talked about the disqualification of more than 3,000 parliamentary candidates by Iran’s Ministry of Interior, with more to come by the Council of Guardians. He said a final list of parliamentary candidates won’t be made public until eight days before the March 14 election – giving the candidates only one week to campaign.
Roundtable with You February 7 looked at the significance of Super Tuesday in the US presidential race. Correspondent Nazy Beglari reported that Senator Hillary Clinton was the victor in her home state of New York as well as in Massachusetts, where Senator Barack Obama had been seen to have an edge because of his endorsements by Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry as well as Governor Deval Patrick. Regular contributor Shayan Samii, a political analyst, said that on the Republican side, Senator John McCain established himself as the solid frontrunner, winning the contests in Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma. Mr. Samii said it appears Hispanic voters hold the key in the tight Democratic race. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama need to reach out to each other’s base: Obama needs the support of women voters and Clinton needs the African-American vote. He said the main issues now are the economy being near recession, housing prices and the unpopular war in Iraq. Mr. Samii said the race for the party’s candidate for the Democrats might go on for weeks, but that it appeared Senator McCain would emerge soon with the Republican Party’s nomination for President.
The “Young Vision” segment on Late Edition January 30 focused on the student movement in Iran with student activist Kourosh Sehati. Mr. Sehati talked about the death of Ebrahim Lotfollahi while in police custody last month as well as recent demonstrations on the campus of the University of Tehran, where students chanted anti-regime slogans. Mr. Sehati said Islamic leaders have rhetorically asked, what right did our predecessors have to pass laws for us, when 80% of Iran’s population was born slightly before or after the revolution? He said the Islamic Republic of Iran tries “to use Iran’s young people for its own gain without giving them anything in return.”
Late Edition’s Youth Factor February 1 focused on the political deadlock between authorities and students in Iran. Iranian students realize the path set by politicians will lead us to disaster. So long as the Council of Guardians, the Basij [militia] and Sepah [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps] exist, it will be tough to control the leaders in Iran through electoral institutions. On the other hand, it is likely that pressure by the people” will be the variable that overthrows those leaders. Considering the power those leaders have, though, overthrowing them is unlikely.
Late Edition’s Youth Factor segment focused February 3 on Iran’s social security plan, the Iranian government’s drive to enforce morals deemed insufficiently Islamic. Ayatollahs Makarem Shirazi and Ahmad Khatami are among the clerical leaders who welcomed promotion of the plan, although “the government claims it has no such role.” The segment explained that it is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has put the plan into action and that young people in Iran aren’t particularly receptive to the religious edicts of the ayatollahs. It went on to say that support for the regime has declined and that young people are not inclined to vote, although they could have a “constructive role in the elections and form a majority of the population in Iran.”
Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about how Iran is spending money to “destroy Israel and help build Lebanon, Syria, Venezuela and other places” rather than investing in its own infrastructure; in Lebanon, Iran is engaged in the construction of some 400 projects; Iran is building refineries abroad, but the people of Baluchistan are given nothing; unemployment is running at 25-30% in Iran; contrary to the NIE, France is saying Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons; Turkey’s governing party has reached a deal with an opposition party to seek to lift a ban on wearing the hejab at universities, a move that secularists consider the beginning of a downslide on a very slippery slope; oil revenue has allowed Iran to ignore pressure from NGOs to observe human rights; the EU parliament has passed a strongly worded resolution condemning Iran for its human rights violations; closure of Zanan magazine leaves no open forum for women in Iran; European labor unions plan to show solidarity with their Iranian counterparts by issuing a circular demanding that all seaports, airports and trucks not load or off-load any merchandise destined to or from Iran; Iran is one of the world’s largest detention centers for journalists; a number of arrested Amir Kabir students have posted bail or had been acquitted of charges but remain in jail; the first all-women hospital has been established in Tehran, called Mahdiyeh Hospital; before the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini criticized the Shah’s regime for squelching free speech and a free press, but as soon as he seized power, Khomeini started suppressing the media; members of the Guardians of the Revolution started entering the import-export business during Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidency – they make money, but an increase in imports contributes to increased unemployment in Iran; the 29th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution that saw the ouster of the Shah and installation of Islamic rule in Iran – “one of our greatest errors”; the US presidential race, including Super Tuesday primaries and their importance; views and approaches of the major candidates toward economic problems and the fight against terrorism; parliamentary elections in Italy, scheduled for April 14, and the selection of a future Italian government; the popularity of Democrats, especially Senator Clinton, with the Italian people; the anniversary of Iran’s revolution; Iran’s foreign minister’s request to the Vatican for a joint commission on talks about Islam and Christianity; Iran’s support for terrorism; controversy over the hejab in Turkey; and the arrest of 70 Al Qaeda members in Turkey.
Late Edition reported that Los Angeles City Council member José Huizar, joined by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and property owners of the largest theater district, unveiled a vision for Bringing Back Broadway and announced an initial $36.5 million investment for projects that will restore the historic Broadway District in downtown Los Angeles to its former glory. VOA/PNN talked with Ezatollah Delijani, an Iranian property owner in Los Angeles, who is one of the project’s main participants. “When I came to the United States,” Mr. Delijani said, “former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley suggested I purchase and preserve the Los Angeles Theater because it was a historic place. The former mayor told me that when he was seven-years-old, he was selling newspapers on Broadway Street, and when he had some extra money in his pocket, he would come to this place. And today I am very glad that I had the chance to take good care of the Los Angeles Theatre and of three other theatres on Broadway as well.”
Today’s Woman February 3 talked with Mohammed Hossein Aghasi, a prominent human rights lawyers in Iran, on discriminatory laws against women in Iran. Mr. Aghasi said, “Women should still be knowledgeable of their rights because even though there are shortcomings within the laws of Iran, there are still ways that women can protect themselves.” He said a woman who is being abused by her husband has options. “Even if the abuse is not obvious, it is very important for the woman to have some witnesses, to file complaints, and to document her actions. Her testimony is still credible in courts, even though it is technically only half of a man’s.” Mr. Aghasi said members of parliament have tried to alter this and other gender discriminating laws, but the Council of Guardians has stood in the way. He said Iran has not signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women because it would directly contradict the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mr. Aghasi said parents can protect the rights of their daughters. “Even though men automatically have the right to divorce their wives, to prohibit them from continuing their education and choose where the couple lives, a premarital contract between the parents of a bride and her future husband can provide for more rights for the woman.”
Roundtable with You February 7 looked at the problems associated with high blood pressure with Dr. Hadi Bahar, a prominent physician in Rockville, Maryland. The program was interrupted with breaking news of Governor Mitt Romney suspending his presidential campaign, and with the State Department’s spokesman protesting the new wave of executions and stonings in Iran and talking about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Afghanistan. Roundtable then proceeded with Dr. Bahar, who said two out of three men over the age of 75 have high blood pressure. He said genetics, excessive use of alcohol and salt all contribute to the problem. Dr. Bahar said people should take their blood pressure at least twice a year, and that under normal circumstances at semi-annual or annual check-ups is highly recommended. He added that the best blood pressure figure is 120 over 80. Dr. Bahar recommended a Mediterranean diet that includes a small amount of red meat without fat, plenty of fish, vegetable oil, olive oil, canola oil and nuts. The doctor said smoking and stress are two additional factors associated with high blood pressure.
In response to viewer requests, Today’s Woman February 8 focused on studying in the United States as a foreign student. Panelists said it is very important to research universities of interest because each has different eligibility requirements. Today’s Woman reviewed the ways to use Google for searching university web sites and the ways to navigate university web sites to find international student requirements. The program touched on obtaining financial aid through resources such as the World Bank or the university itself, and displayed relevant web sites. Information on visas and working on a student visa were discussed, including the fact that such visas typically restrict work to campus. Panelists talked about ranking systems and how to find out the rank of universities of interest. They also recommended applicants be serious about academics, not have HIV/AIDS and have extracurricular activities. The last segment focused on i-tunes and “open courseware” that allows access to information on academic classes through university websites, including MIT and Berkeley as examples.
Today’s Woman February 6 profiled Dr. Nazly Shariati as an example of a successful Iranian woman. VOA/PNN spent three days following Dr. Shariati around as she juggled her roles as a wife and mother with her professional life as a heart surgeon. Dr. Shariati said, “In order to be successful, it is imperative that you pursue something that you love. My mother underwent heart surgery at a very young age, and it made be realize early on that the work of heart surgeons was important. And I was determined to become one.” Dr. Shariati said her children understand that their mother has to work late sometimes because she is needed at work, but she also said it does place an added pressure. “Women just have to work harder,” she said, “especially when they work in a male dominated profession.” She said she didn’t want her male colleagues to think she was getting preferential treatment because she was a woman when she gave birth to her second child. So she returned to work six days after giving birth. “Gender isn’t an issue in the operating room, because at that point, people know you are capable. But you can run into problems getting there – some patients don’t believe you’re a heart surgeon because you’re a woman, some doctors don’t want to refer patients to you because you’re a woman.” But when it comes to prioritizing motherhood versus professional responsibilities, Dr. Shariati said, “That’s easy. My first priority is to be a successful mother. It’s a bigger contribution to raise two children who will be successful and realize the importance of giving back to society.”
Today’s Woman February 4 looked at women and literature with playwright Ezzat Goushegir, currently a visiting professor at DePaul University’s School for New Learning. Panelists talked about the life and work of JK Rowling, author of the enormously successful Harry Potter series. They talked of the struggles she endured to persevere with her writing while making ends meet as a single mother, and debated whether accomplishing goals is more gratifying if one has had to overcome obstacles along the way. Ms. Goushegir said she was always interested in painting and sculpting, but found the performing arts more active and effective. She discussed some limitations associated with being a woman artist and how that impacted her decision to immigrate to the United States. Ms. Goushegir said writing in English is harder than writing in Farsi, and that she continues to learn on a daily basis. She talked about some of the issues in her plays – issues such as stoning, domestic violence and unwanted pregnancy. Ms. Goushegir also talked about the importance of keeping a memoir. She said she has written about one million pages in documenting her life on paper, and that it is important tool in not forgetting the past.
Today’s Woman February 9 examined migraines and headaches with internist Ramin Mazhari, who spoke about his experience with patients who suffer from chronic headaches and those he has treated with migraines. Most migraine patients, he said, are referred to neurologists by their internist. “More women should be informed about migraines, and should take their headaches more seriously,” Dr. Mazhari said. Millions of people worldwide suffer from migraines, but women are three times more likely to be sufferers than men. In the US, 28 million people suffer from migraines and 18 million of them are women. Dr. Mazhari said migraines might be triggered by chocolate, alcohol or cheese, among a host of other items. But migraines are genetically-based and often misdiagnosed as a psychological disorder, leading doctors to prescribe unnecessary medications. Dr. Mazhari talked about preventive methods available so occurrence is less severe and less frequent. The World Health Organization ranks migraines as one of the top 20 causes of years of healthy life lost to disability. In the US, migraines cost $13 billion dollars in business. Dr. Mazhari answered viewer questions.
Late Edition February 9 interviewed Iranian-Canadian writer and former political prisoner Marina Nemat. Ms. Nemat is the author of Prisoner of Tehran, a memoir in which she tells the story of her traumatic experience in Evin Prison when she was only a teenager and arrested for speaking out against the Islamic regime. This book has been translated into 24 languages, and recently, the European Parliament awarded Ms. Nemat with the inaugural Human Dignity Prize in Milan, Italy. Ms. Nemat talked about the importance of the award in helping her share her story with the world. She emphasized that her book was based on a personal experience, and unlike historical or political books, it could influence and touch people around the world and familiarize them with the harsh realities of the Islamic Revolution. Ms. Nemat said writing the book helped give her relief from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder, from which she suffered after being tortured for two years at Evin prison.
Today’s Woman February 7 examined the importance of life skills, with the premise that becoming aware of issues such as self-realization, communication and anger management can enhance the quality of life. Life skills are particularly important for women because they endure more and are held more responsible for their actions. Panelists said it is essential to first change the way you think about that action and next is the importance of knowing ourselves and being able to accurately answer the question, “Who am I?” By doing this, panelists said we will be able to identify our strengths and weaknesses, become more connected with ourselves, and better understand our identity, opportunities, and the world. The last segment of the show focused on issues pertaining to anger management.
This week’s History Channel segments included a feature on high-rise living, from the creation of apartments 2000 years ago in the ancient Roman seaport of Ostia to New York City’s Time Warner Center, a state of the art complex featuring all the amenities one could imagine. A second segment looked at the origins of drilling in ancient China, where rigs drilled over 3000 feet for gas centuries before anyone else in the world, piping gas through bamboo pipes to fuel salt evaporation factories. A third segment profiled writer and humorist Mark Twain, best known for his book, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” A fourth segment profiled actor Charlie Chaplin, considered one of the 20th century’s most brilliant comic minds. A fifth 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.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – addressed three viewer e-mails this week. Mr. Mahmoudi said that t hose asking about employment opportunities at PNN should go online to www.usajobs.com or contact VOA Human Resources. He said VOA/PNN received several e-mails from Iran advising that the 60- and 90-second news briefs on Roundtable and NewsTalk be eliminated. He said the news briefs gave the audience an opportunity to learn about the latest and/or breaking news without hurting the continuity of the program, especially as it is the program’s anchor providing the news brief. Moving on to US elections, Mr. Mahmoudi said several viewer e-mails said Democratic candidates were given more airtime than Republicans. He said in actuality, they have received proportionate coverage. He suggested that viewers sometimes listen selectively – only hearing items in sync with his/her beliefs. “Please be patient and fair,” he said. “VOA’s charter doesn’t allow us to be biased and unbalanced.”
PNN’s question of the week was, “Do you consider the overall outcome of the Islamic Revolution in Iran positive or negative?” Out of 11,407 respondents, 86% said negative, 12% said positive , while 2% did not know.
The Aseman Daily News (http://asemandailyenws.blogfa.com/post-2802.aspx) reported February 4 that the blog of NewsTalk anchor Vafa Mostaghim is now filtered. “Moments ago, tafsirkhabar weblog (related to NewsTalk TV program of VOA in America) was filtered. The address http://tafsirkhabar.blogspot.com was filtered by the Islamic Republic Filtering Company. We have to tell Mr. Vafa Mostaghim, one of the wonderful staff of the VOA that, finally, they filtered you as well.” Mr. Mostaghim started the blog January 18 to give NewsTalk viewers a chance to participate in the discussion along with VOA/PNN panelists.
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 exa