Reprinted from
Sen. TomCoburn: Voice of America Harming U.S. Interests inIran

Kenneth R. Timmerman

Wednesday, Feb. 14,2007

 WASHINGTON -- Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn has releaseda pair of bombshell reports on U.S. government broadcasting to Iran,writing to President George W. Bush that the broadcasts "undermineU.S. policy on Iran, often even supporting the propaganda of theIslamic Republic of Iran."

Last year, the administration asked Congress for an additional $50million to fund Persian-language broadcasts by the Voice of Americatelevision and Radio Farda (Tomorrow), which is jointly managed byVOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

But the government's interagency Iran Steering Group found in areport released by Coburn that neither network has been effective atrepresenting the views of the U.S. government, a mission defined inVOA's charter, let alone at promoting democracy.

 "Neither station is a primary source of news for Iranians," theSteering Group report found.

The report found that Radio Farda, whose mission is to be a"surrogate radio" similar to the Radio Free Europe broadcasts toPoland during the Solidarity movement, "rarely takes a stance thatcould risk antagonizing the Islamic Republic."

 The radio's "normal coverage of views inside Iran seems to varybetween sympathetic and neutral with respect to the regime," thereport added. Before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took over as Iran'spresident in August 2005, Radio Farda was known derisively insideIran as "Radio Khatami," after Ahmadinejad's predecessor, themuch-touted "moderate" Mohammad Khatami.

 Rather than present original reporting from sources insideIran, "the majority of the news read on Radio Farda is actually fromthe Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the official news agency ofthe Iranian regime," the report states. "Residents of Iran do notneed to turn to Radio Farda to receive IRNA news. This is probablyone reason why Iranians do not turn to Radio Farda as a source offresh news."

 The situation at the Voice of America, which is seeking toexpand into a 24/7 television network, is arguably worse.

VOA's Persian service rarely invites U.S. government officials todebate or even explain U.S. policy. But it has given ample air-timeto top Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon, and to anti-American advocates,the report found.

 Oversight of the Persian language broadcasts paid for by U.S.taxpayers has been complicated "because there are no Englishtranscripts of our international broadcasting," Coburn wrote.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors commissioned a translation ofVOA's presentation of the President's 2007 State of the Union addressat Coburn's request. The results showed that VOA "failed to provideIranians a clear and effective presentation of our foreign policy butprovided another platform for its critics," Coburn said.

 One of the two guests invited by VOA to comment on the speechwas Dr. Mansour Farhang, a former Islamic Republic of Iranambassador. Farhang dismissed the speech as "a baseless statement"and opined that U.S. policy in Iraq had "no connection toreality."

 Apparently agreeing with these views, the VOA moderator,Setareh Derakhshesh, added that most Americans opposed thepresident's policies, including the proposed troop surge. "There isno poll cited or any other basis for the statement, but it ispresented as fact," Coburn noted.

Dr. Farhang claimed that Bush had rejected the "wise diplomaticsolution" to Iraq, which involved direct negotiations with Iran, andwas expanding the war in order to "not lose international clout."Farhang also claimed the U.S. was to blame for the increased violenceand instability in Iraq. "The only other guest, Hormuz Hekmat, who weare told was supposed to be the balance to Dr. Farhang, when asked,said he agreed with Farhang," Coburn added.

 The Iran Steering Group report found that while VOA Persian TV"often invites guests who defend the Islamic Republic's version ofissues, it consistently fails to maintain a balance by invitinginformed guests who represent another perspective on the sameissue."

 In one April 18, 2006, program devoted to Iran's nuclearprogram, for example, VOA News invited two nuclear "experts." One ofthem was a Mr. Nakhai.

 "VOA News did not describe his academic and/or professionalaffiliations. As it turns out, Mr. Nakhai was an adviser to theIranian regime and a defender of its nuclear policy," the reportfound.

 Another show, broadcast on April 14, 2006, was devoted to U.S.policy toward Iran, inviting guests who were almost uniformlycritical of the administration.

Perhaps the most stunning comments were made by Hoover Institutionscholar Abbas Milani, who recently has been called to testify inCongress as an "expert" on the pro-democracy movement in Iran by Rep.Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

 In a segment devoted to Iranian human rights abuses, Milani wasasked how can a country that violates human rights be a defender ofinternational human rights?

 "I think that what you are saying is 100% correct, that is whythe U.S. is in a problematic position because of this," Milanireplied. "An America that has the Guantanamo Bay jail in it, anAmerica in which minorities, blacks, have suffered from legaldeprivations, without a doubt has international issues with regardsto this. . . ."

 The VOA host thanked Milani for his answer. "Of course, thecountry I was referring to as the violator of human rights whichcannot be a defender of international human rights was the IslamicRepublic of Iran," he added.

 Much of the anti-American rhetoric at both networks stem resultfrom personnel decisions made by station managers in Washington, D.C.and Prague, the Iran Steering Group report found.

 In Washington, the Voice of America West and South Asiadivision that overseas the Persian service is managed by SheilaGanji, an Iranian-American who is widely criticized by VOA employeesfor her management style and decisions.

 To her credit, the report found that she had hired professionalyoung producers from MSNBC who had given VOA's flagship "News &Views" program a new look, but found that none of them spoke Farsi orhad an understanding of Iranian culture.

 But Ms. Ganji was also faulted for having shut down VOA'shighly-regarded shortwave radio program, replacing it with simulcastbroadcasts of television programs.

 "People have phoned me to ask why we shut down the radio," saida well-known VOA radio host, who spoke to NewsMax on condition weprotect his identity. "We were allowing Iranians to expressthemselves freely on air, something they don't have inside Iran. Nowthat has been shut down."

 After 27 years on air, the VOA's Persian radio broadcasts wentoff the air on July 23, 2006.

 The problem with focusing everything on TV is that few Iranianshave satellite dishes that allow them to watch foreign networks,because they are "expensive, risky, and cannot be easily hidden," theVOA radio host said.

 The regime regularly cracks down on satellite owners, sendingteams of intelligence operatives and police house to house in Tehranand other major cities to confiscate the dishes and fine theirowners. Similar problems don't exist with radio.

 VOA broadcasters have faulted former Broadcasting Board ofGovernors member Norman Pattiz, a major Clinton donor and the ownerof Westwood One media in Los Angeles, for transforming Radio Fardafrom a news station into a music station.

 In 2002, Pattiz told the New Yorker that "it was MTV thatbrought down the Berlin Wall," and argued that Britney Spears couldbring down the mullahs in Tehran.

 Later that year, "Ken Tomlinson, then the board's new chairman,approvingly quoted his son as saying Spears's music ‘representsthe sounds of freedom.' It seems that the board transformed the ‘warof ideas' into the battle of the bands," former VOA chairman, RobertReilly, wrote in the Washington Post last week.

 The director of Radio Farda programming in Prague, Joyce Davis,came in for strong criticism in the Iran Steering Group report forher "sympathetic view of Islamic fundamentalists."

 The report noted that she asked Radio Farda staff "to broadcasttimes of fast-breaking during Ramadan, which is hardly necessary foranyone living in Iran."

It also revealed that Davis hired broadcasters "whose most recentjournalistic experience was in IRNA or the Islamic Republic of IranBroadcasting, IRIB."

 Iranian exiles familiar with how the radios and the Iranianintelligence ministry works, expressed the fear that many of theseformer Iranian government journalists were "plants" sent by theregime.

 The Broadcasting Board of Governors did not return repeatedphone calls requesting comment for this story.

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