TV Stations Based in U.S. Rally Protesters in Iran

NAZILA FATHI
Tv Station


EHRAN, June 21 — Jilla, a prosperous homemaker, has been trying to outwit the Iranian government's campaign to jam Persian-language satellite television stations based in Los Angeles.
First she adjusted her satellite dish. Then she attached an empty can. She even tied a pot lid to a mop, and stood the lid upright facing the dish. No luck.
"I have become restless; I have no idea what's going on with the protests," she said, staring helplessly at a European music channel.
Jilla, 46, said her family and friends were taking part in the protests against the government, which spread to other cities in Iran.
The protests sprang up on June 11 and were made to order for the stations, which oppose the government and are eager to add to the pressure.
President Bush has also seized on the issue, insisting that the government take heed of the protesters.
Channel One, which has been broadcasting live 24 hours a day during the protests, has become extremely popular. Shahram Homayoon, an Iranian journalist based in Los Angeles, has been the station's on-air host for up to 21 hours a day, and he said in a telephone interview that he was determined to continue, "until people reach freedom."
The programming includes a summary of the news in Iran and patriotic music. But for most of the day, Mr. Homayoon fields phone calls from Iranians — broadcasting the experiences and emotions of the demonstrators back to their own country.
A weeping mother called to say that her son had been arrested and that she feared she would never see him again. If the authorities harm him, she said, she will become a suicide bomber against the government.
Another woman called to say that she was badly beaten after being arrested and held for three days.
One man called to suggest that depositors withdraw money from Iranian banks because the government was using the money "to buy batons and weapons against people."
In Iran many of those who came to the demonstrations said they did so after listening to the foreign broadcasts. "I thought I should come if everyone else is coming," said Ahmad, a 34-year-old civil servant, who attended a rally with his wife and 3-year-old daughter.
The protests began as a reaction by a few hundred students at Tehran University against plans to privatize Iran's universities. The same day, four satellite broadcasters in Los Angeles — National Iranian TV (better known as NITV), Azadei, PARS TV and Channel One, which are all opposed to the government here — began calling on viewers to join the students.
That night, thousands of protesters drove to the dormitory area of the university after midnight, snarling traffic and honking their horns.
A week ago at Friday Prayers, the former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, warned Iranians not to pay attention to the foreign broadcasts. "Be careful not to be trapped by the evil television networks that Americans have established," he said.
The minister of information, Ali Yunessi, said America was waging a psychological war against Iran.
This is not the first time these stations, which are illegal here but are popular among people of all classes, have mobilized Iranians. The stations called people to candlelight vigils in support of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. A few weeks later, they helped create an antigovernment demonstration after the national soccer team won a World Cup match.
Political analysts in Tehran believe that the success of the stations is partly a result of the crackdown by hard-liners against the free press in recent years. Nearly 100 pro-reform journals and newspapers have been closed since 1997, and circulation has dropped to just over one million, from more than three million, since 1997, according to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
In addition, the state-run television monopoly is widely seen as little more than a propaganda arm of the government.
It referred to those arrested as "antirevolutionary hooligans and thugs," largely ignoring the violent attacks last week on the demonstrators by vigilante groups believed to be controlled by the country's supreme clerical leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"People have lost their confidence in the domestic media," said Mashalah Shamsolvaezin, a journalist and political scientist living in Iran. "In the absence of active national media, foreign-based media have become powerful," he said. "But because they do not have reporters on the ground, they are incapable of understanding the real situation in the country and so their major role becomes stirring noise and spreading rumors."
The foreign stations are also viewed with suspicion because of their support for Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former shah of Iran.
Still, people have "taken refuge in watching these TV stations because they talk about their daily concerns," said Jilla, the homemaker.
"When they harass women for their Islamic dress or they bust young people," she said, "the stations report them. I feel the world has become a small place and the opposition's TV and radio stations can bring change."