Monday, February 28, 2005

US plans to expand TV broadcasts to Iran
The Bush administration is planning to expand its Persian-language satellite-television broadcasts to Iran as part of an initiative to press for democratic reforms in the Islamic Republic, officials say.

As US President George W Bush ponders incentives to encourage Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Voice of America plans to go from a 30-minute to a four-hour daily news and information broadcast to Iran within the next few months.

"Iran is an information-deprived society, much like the former Soviet Union," said Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that oversees international civilian broadcasts including VOA.

"A large per centage (of Iranians) appear to be thirsting for information," he added. "What we propose to do is exactly what Radio Free Europe, Voice of America and Radio Liberty did in the Cold War, and that is provide a window on the world." ...

Officials say the Bush administration also plans to begin Arab-language satellite-television broadcasts to Europe later this year in a new escalation of its information war against Islamic extremism.

But VOA broadcasts are unlikely to have much effect in Iran any time soon, independent analysts say.

"Expanding Voice of America might have some marginal impact. But I don't think it's going to create the climate for a popular uprising," said Shireen Hunter, an Iran expert at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic & International Studies.

Analysts also warned that expanded broadcasts could stir nationalist distrust of the United States and inadvertently strengthen the current government.

"People could see it as a sign that an invasion is coming. It's the sort of thing that happens before nations build up their war effort," said Nancy Snow, a propaganda expert at California State University, Fullerton.


US officials believe VOA TV broadcasts could chip away at Iran's unpopular religious leadership over time by emphasizing issues of economic and political opportunity.

"We're trying get people to say. . . what do we want opportunity to be in Iran? Do we want a government controlled by mullahs? Do we want a government of the people?" said Tomlinson, who expects the expanded TV format to include close coverage of Iran's presidential election in June.

VOA already has a 24-hour Persian-language radio service called Radio Farda, which offers a pop-music format geared toward Iran's large youth population.

The administration is seeking money for the expanded telecast in Bush's $US81 billion ($NZ111.4 billion) supplemental budget request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other US efforts abroad.

The supplemental is expected to win congressional approval over the next several weeks.

Officials hope to receive $US1.5 million to expand Voice of America's News and Views current affairs service into a one-hour program that would be rebroadcast three times a day with hourly news updates. ...