Yahya R. Kamalipour
air space is electronically penetrated by numerous radio and
TV satellite signals that originate from the US and other countries
around the world. In fact, it is probably safe to state that
no other nation in the world is targeted by over 20 satellite
TV channels and dozens of radio stations broadcasting programs
around the clock. These communication channels—many of
them controversial—along with the Internet, facsimiles,
and telephones have created a unique opportunity for the Iranian
expatriates, particularly dissident groups, to openly discuss
and debate a slew of political, cultural, and social issues
on the global stage. Similarly, these channels provide a platform
for the American and Iranian governments to engage in an electronic
“war of political rhetoric” and persuasion. This
brief essay offers an insight into the US-based and supported
as well as Iran-based and supported Iranian satellite TV channels.
to Mariah Blake (2004, November/December):
Most credit Zia Atabay, a 60-something former rock star known
as the “Tom Jones of Iran,” with starting the trend.
In March 2000, he launched National Iranian Television, a commercial
station in Los Angeles aimed at his compatriots in the United
States and Europe. Six months later, an NITV host, Ali Reza
Meybodi, received a call from a man in the Iranian city of Isfahan
during his live show. The man said he was receiving NITV’s
signal. Meybodi didn’t believe him, so he jotted down
the man’s number and dialed him back. Sure enough, the
man answered. Still doubtful, Meybodi grabbed a piece of fruit
from a wooden tureen sitting on the nearby coffee table.
“What am I holding?” he asked. By this time Atabay
and others had filtered into the makeshift studio.
“An apple,” replied the caller.
Before long, everyone in the studio was weeping, and calls began
pouring in from all over Iran. It turns out NITV reached Iran
as the result of a technical snafu; someone at Eutelsat, the
French satellite company, had flipped the wrong switch.
the above discovery seemingly was accidental, one can argue
that the emergence, proliferation, and popularity of exile satellite
TV channels in the US and elsewhere is mainly due to the Iranian
expatriates’ (1) entrepreneurial zeal, (2) discontent
with the Iranian regime, (3) longing for return to the mother
land, (4) concern about the poor image of Iran abroad, and (5)
attempt to persuade Iranians to demand political reform and
regime change. It is perhaps safe to say that most of the owners
and operators of the satellite channels departed Iran after
the 1979 revolution and, in most cases, have not returned to
their homeland for mainly political and ideological reasons.
In fact, a sizable number of them were associated closely with
or employed in official positions under the previous Pahlavi
regime. Others, including some minority groups such as Bahai’s
and Jews were marginalized politically or felt uneasy under
the new Islamic regime. All in all, the reasons for choosing
or being forced to live in exile are complex and multifaceted.
As of this
writing, over 20 satellite channels targeting Iran are in operation.
Jam-e-Jam (IRIB2) and Khabar (IRINN) are based in Iran and one
(Your TV) is based in London. Other channels include Rang-A-Rang,
Appadana International, IranX TV, NITV (National Iranian Television),
Pars TV, Tapesh TV, Iran TV, Channel Two, Tamasha, PNN (Persian
News Network), PEN TV, Didar TV, Markazi TV, Payam TV, Semaye
Azadi TV, Tasvir Iran, Omid-e-Iran, LAHSE TV, Salaam TV, Jame-Jam
International, and IPN (International Persian Network).
satellite channels broadcast their programs “live”
for 12 hours. The live broadcasts are recorded and then repeated
for another 12 hours—qualifying them as 24-hour broadcast
channels. In view of the time differences between the US, Europe
and Iran, the scheduled 12 hours “live” and 12 hours
“repeat” programming makes sense because it enables
audiences, in different continents, to view the various programs
and channels during a convenient time period (Kamalipour, summer
the satellite channels, based in the US, can be picked up in
Iran by households equipped with illegal satellite dishes, disguised
on the rooftops in defiance of the government’s anti-dish
stance. Although there are no accurate viewer estimates, reportedly
anywhere from 3 to 5 million Iranian households are equipped
with receiving dishes. Indeed, a program spoofing the US-based
Iranian satellite TV programs is aired on one of the official
(government operated and financed) television networks in Iran,
which is indicative of the popularity of the exile TV channels
among the Iranian population. Furthermore, many viewers seem
to consider most of the US-based TV programs as satirical while
others believe in any promises made by the self-proclaimed prophets
of the air, ranging from self-nominated future presidents of
Iran, self-appointed leaders of the liberation of Iran, and
self-proclaimed prophets of resurrection. They stress the ancient
Persian glories prior to the arrival of Islam and specifically
the period in which Zoroastrian religion, with its motto “Good
Deeds, Good Thoughts, Good Words,” was considered to be
an official religion. In other words, a good portion of programs
are reminiscent of the past cultural, social and political virtues.
Imbedded in their monologs and dialogues are questions probing
how Iran, as an economically and culturally rich nation, “got
to this point?” “Why aren’t we liberated/progressive?”
“What can we do the change the existing clerical regime?”
“Who is going to replace the regime and how?”
the US-based Iranian satellite TV Channels, the Islamic Republic
of Iran has established its own channels, two of which (Jame-Jam
International—IRIB2 and Khabar-IRINN) are based in Iran
and at least two (Salaam TV and Ranga-Rang) that are based in
the US. IRIB2 offers a variety of programs around the clock
while IRINN is mainly a news channel similar to CNN. Salaam
TV is a religious channel and Ranga-Rang offers various entertainment
fairs, including some religious programs.
Biemer notes, "Persian is one the few regional languages
of the world with broadcasts from the external services of all
states holding a permanent seat at the UN.” (Biener, 2003).
Internationally, over 100 radio and television channels air
programs, in Persian (Farsi), to inform, entertain, persuade,
agitate, or convert Iranians religiously or politically. Additionally,
there are numerous online (Internet-based) radio and TV broadcasts
in Persian language. Many major countries in the world, including
the United States (Voice of America, Radio Farda, Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty), France (Radio France International),
England (BBC Persian Program), Japan (Radio Japan, NHK Persian)
Russia (Voice of Russia), China (China Radio International),
Germany (Deutsche Welle), Israel (Radio Israel), and so on broadcast
programs aimed at Irans. Furthermore, there are numerous religious
broadcasts in Persian. For example, Christian satellite TV programs
such as TV Ministry -- operated by the International Antioch
Ministries -- broadcasts worship services and other weekly showsin
Persian. Others include Radio Nada, Voice of Injil (the Bible),
Neda Meohabbat (Voice of Love), Iranian Christian TV, and Simaye
Masih TV (Person of Christ TV). The followers of Baha’i
faith have established their own radios (Radio Baha’i
and Payam-e-Doost), and are in the process of developing television
Although it is not easy to categorize the aforementioned US-based
satellite channels, it appears that most of them are opposed
to the Islamic regime in Iran and are financially supported
through commercials, audience donations, private sources, and
sales of time to various ethnic and religious groups (e.g.,
Iranian Christians, Iranian Jews, Afghanis, and Armenians).
Reportedly, some of the channels are supported by the US government,
a few by the Iranian government, and some by the pro-monarchy
groups, including the son of late Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Reza
Pahlavi, who is viewed as the legal heir to the former king.
It is not
clear how these satellite channels can survive in today’s
highly competitive and expensive broadcast business (i.e., daily
expenses, equipment, studio facilities, wages, insurance, rents,
programmers, performers, utilities, satellite transponder fees,
uplink facilities, etc.). Perhaps a monthly operational estimate
of $100,000, for each station, would be a conservative figure.
Naturally, in any enterprise, the financiers influence the overall
agenda of a given business, including radio, television, newspaper,
or magazine. According to Blake (2004):
There’s been much speculation about
where the stations get their funding. The television stations
run advertising, but those with political leanings have trouble
selling enough ads to cover their costs, which run upward of
$1 million a year. Some suggest that the Central Intelligence
Agency has served as their silent partner, but station owners
insist this isn’t so.
questions to ponder are these: (1) To what extent can private
interests coincide with public interests? (2) To what extent
can private and/or government funded broadcast operations serve
viewers’ interests through unbiased, balanced, multicultural,
and multifaceted programs? (3) To what extent can the Iranian
satellite channels facilitate and fertilize the growth and development
of a budding democratic movement -- especially among the youth—in
Iran? (4) To what extent can the established satellite channels
capture the trust of people, particularly within Iran? (5) To
what extent can they practice and tolerate what they preach
-- democracy and freedom—by respecting the rights of their
competitors and viewers’ opinions? (Kamalipour, 2003).
there are no definitive answers to the above questions, it appears
that taken together, the US-based Iranian Satellite channels
have not been able to gain the same credibility and international
influence as the Arabic-language Al Jazeera satellite channel
based in the small Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar. Other Arabic
language satellite TV channels, including Al Arabiya, based
in the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai; Al Alam, based in Iran;
Al Manar, based in Lebanon; and Alhurra, based in Washington,
DC, also have gained attention in the Middle East and elsewhere.
In addition to their broadcast programs, these channels distribute
their news via their online portals. Interestingly enough, the
Iranian-sponsored Al Alam seems to be successful in competing
with other satellite news channels aimed at the Arab world.
the bulk of programs on the Iranian satellite channels (excluding
the government-run IRIB2 and IRINN channels from Tehran) are
more entertaining than informative. Programs consist of (1)
talking heads and call-in programs, (2) music videos, (3) panel
discussions—normally involving two individuals, (4) commercials,
(5) movies, (6) sales of Persian rugs and other products, (7)
short satirical sketches, (8) news and information, (9) expert
advice from physicians, realtors, and attorneys, (10) sports,
(11) documentaries, and (12) movies, especially those produced
during the Pahlavi regime. Although all channels seem to address
the youth in Iran and abroad, there is a dearth of educational
programs for children and adolescents. It seems that at least
half of the satellite channels have devoted some of their broadcast
times to auctioning/selling Persian rugs and other products
midst of globalization and information explosion, communication
plays a crucial role at all levels of human interaction, including
interpersonal, organizational, regional, national, and international.
Hence, the existing Iranian satellite TV channels have the potential
to facilitate constructive dialogue, enhance viewers’
knowledge and awareness, and bridge cultural and political gaps
within and without Iran. According to Reuel Howe (1990), “…
communication means life or death to persons … Both the
individual and society derive their basic meanings from the
relations that exist between [persons]. It is through dialogue
that [humans] accomplish the miracle of personhood and community.”
R. Kamalipour, PhD, is professor and head
of the Department of Communication and Creative Arts, Purdue
University Calumet, Hammond, Indiana, USA. He is managing editor
of Global Media Journal (www.globalmediajounral.com)
and editor/co-editor of 10 published books, including Global
Communication; War, Media and Propaganda; Bring ‘Em On;
and Images of the US Around the World.
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Farda: International broadcasting to Iran at a crossroads.”
Middle East Review of International Affairs, vol. 7,
Blake, Mariah. (2004, November/December). “Targeting Tehran:
By beaming dissent into Iran, expat broadcasters are weakening
the cleric’s chokehold on news”. Columbia Journalism
Review, No. 6,
Howe, Reuel L. (1975). The miracle of dialogue. Minneapolis,
MN: Winston Press.
US Census Bureau. (1990). http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/ancestry/Iranian.txt.
Kamalipour, Yahya R. (2003, Summer). “Iranian satellite
TV as cultural mirrors,” part I. Persian Heritage,
No. 30, pp. 50-52.
Kamalipour, Yahya R. (2003, Fall). “Iranian satellite
TV as cultural mirrors,” part II. Persian Heritage, No.
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