PJ Media

Voice of America "No Mouthpiece"

We would like to set the record straight about Ali Ghaderi’s and Karim Abdian’s recent (8/17/07) statements in Pajamas Media about the Voice of America’s Persian News Network (PNN) and Radio Farda.

The Voice of America has been in business for nearly 66 years, and this is not the first time it has heard from organizations wishing to influence its broadcasts. VOA has a hard-won, worldwide reputation for straight and unbiased news, something which the 115 million people who tune in each week – including one in every four Iranians — understand implicitly.

Our journalists adhere strictly to both the VOA Charter (a U.S. federal law) and the VOA Journalistic Code, both of which are available at www.voanews.com , and both of which delineate our responsibility to provide accurate, objective, and comprehensive news. To ensure we present accurate and balanced information, we research and pre-interview prospective guests before putting them on air. This is
standard journalistic procedure; all news organizations have an obligation to their audiences to evaluate a guest’s background, knowledge, suitability, and language skills before putting her or him on air.

VOA’s Persian News Network airs 6 hours of television daily to Iran (soon to increase to 7.5 hours daily), and presents scores of interviews each month, from wherever the news is happening. Our coverage represents the widest possible range of responsible views, representing the full spectrum of Iranians to whom we broadcast. Some guests do have ties to the former monarchy, but any suggestion that these dominate our programming is simply wrong.

According to Mr. Ghaderi and Mr. Abdian, VOA ignores news of human rights violations against ethnic and linguistic minorities, and allows “monarchists” to dominate our guest roster. A look at some facts suggests a different story.

The employees of VOA’s Persian News Network are themselves Kurds, Azeris, Lurs, and Bakthiaris as well as Persians. And we wonder who the minority rights activists might be who claim VOA’s programs ignore human rights violations? Surely not Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, human rights attorney Mehrangiz Kar, Kurdish women’s rights activist Roya Toloui, Kurdish filmmaker Jalal Jonroy, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth, Elahe Sharifpour Hicks (formerly with Human
Rights Watch and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, National Front Party member Dr. Ghaem Magham, or countless others, all human/minority rights supporters and/or activists who participate in our broadcasts. Even MIT-educated “monarchist” Shahriar Ahy, during an appearance in April, mentioned human rights as one of the most difficult issues to resolve if there is to be improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations.

Ahy, branded by Mr. Ghaderi and Mr. Abdian as exhibiting “antipathy towards non-Persian ethnic groups,” is an elected member of the coordinating council of Solidarity Iran, a new activist movement built from a broad cross-section of opposition groups and ethnic communities.

And as to any suggestion that our broadcasters are working for the Iranian regime, that is yet another example of the nonsensical lengths to which the authors seem willing to go. Let’s be clear: that charge is also patently untrue.

The same points can be made for Radio Farda, a cooperative venture of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Voice of America. Radio Farda operates under RFE/RL’s Professional Code, which mandates that its broadcasts should promote tolerance and not advocate secessionism. Far from ignoring human rights abuses by Iranian authorities, including the repression of ethnic minorities in Iran,
Radio Farda devotes extensive coverage to that topic. Just this week (August 22), for example, Radio Farda reported about the increasing number of arrests and mistreatment in prison of Iranian Azeri activists in Ardabil, Tabriz, and Urmiyeh. These activists were advocating greater cultural rights for Iranian Azeris. The reports included an interview with Mr. Alireza Javanbakht of the Committee to Defend Political Prisoners of Iranian Azerbaijan.

Also this week, Radio Farda reported on a demonstration in Baku, Azerbaijan, in which participants called for more ethnic cultural rights for Iranian Azeris. In addition, Radio Farda has this week reported the arrests of a number of individuals in Iranian Khuzestan; Iranian authorities accuse them of being Arab “separatists.” Radio Farda quoted Human Rights Watch saying that so far at least 12 people
have been executed in Iran for “separatist” bomb attacks, and others have been sentenced to death for voicing ethnic protest.

Within the past month, Radio Farda has given extensive coverage to the arrest and threat of execution of two Iranian Kurdish journalists, Hiwa Butimar and Adnan Hasanpour. Reports included interviews with relatives of the arrested journalists in Iranian Kurdistan, and with human rights activists. Radio Farda has also reported in recent weeks about the crackdown on trade union activists in Iranian Kurdistan, among them 11 in the city of Sanandaj. Reports included many interviews with Iranian Kurdish trade unionists and their family members.

We could go on, but Mr. Ghaderi’s and Mr. Abdian’s allegations do not stand up to the facts.

Joseph D. O’Connell, Jr. is a spokesman for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the parent agency of the Voice of America and Radio Farda