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Iran: Tehran's New International TV Station Faces Hurdles

  • Farangis Najibullah

June 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Press TV, a 24-hour English-language news channel, says it aims to break the Western hold on the world's broadcast media by presenting an alternative view on global news when it goes on the air on July 2. Experts question the Tehran-based news network's ability to compete with organizations like CNN, the BBC, and the new Al-Jazeera International.


Press TV is Iran's round-the-clock, English-language news channel set to go on the air on July 2.


Network Of Correspondents


On its website, which was launched in January, Press TV says that it aims "to break the global media stranglehold of Western outlets."

Experts question Press TV's capacity to attract many viewers worldwide.

The news network says it has a staff of more than 400, including 26 reporters outside Iran, including in Britain, the United States, and such cities as Jerusalem, Gaza City, and Ramallah.


The Tehran-based channel pledges to broadcast a half-hour news program followed by talk shows and documentaries, some of them live from Damascus, New York, and Washington.


Press TV says it will "specifically focus on the Middle East." It will be joining an already crowded 24-hour English-language news market, which for years has been dominated by the BBC and CNN.


Russia Today, France 24 and, most recently, Al-Jazeera International, have also entered the international English-language news arena in the past year.


Some experts both inside and outside Iran say it is unlikely that Press TV will find a large audience.


Free Of Propaganda?


Isa Saharkhiz is a member of the Association for Press Freedom in Iran. Speaking to RFE/RL from Tehran, Saharkhiz says that in a country where freedom of information is suppressed, it is almost impossible to set up an objective and propaganda-free news outlet.


"When there is censorship and self-censorship, obviously, editors in international news networks -- including the one we are talking about -- are forced to comply with censorship and self-censorship by ignoring some news and exaggerating other unimportant news," he said.


Additionally, some observers argue that because of what they consider the repressive nature of the Iranian regime, a state-run news channel would not be trusted by Westerners as a reliable source of information.


Saharkhiz adds that the probable Islamic dress code for the broadcasters on the Tehran-based news channel might be another obstacle for Press TV to find an audience in the West.


He says Press TV will face a dilemma over the way its broadcasters dress. "If female presenters do not wear headscarves -- in order to appeal to Western audiences -- there will be a backlash in Iran with hard-liners protesting and trying to close the channel down," Saharkhiz says.


News agencies quoted Mohammad Sarfaraz, the head of international services for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) as saying that Press TV will try "to give a second eye to Western audiences." However, experts question Press TV's capacity to attract many viewers worldwide.


Glimpse Into Iranian Society


Claire Spencer is the head of Middle East programs at the London-based think tank Chatham House.


Spencer says Press TV might find some viewers in the West -- especially those who are interested in views coming out of Iran -- but it will not be a massive audience.


"I think occasionally from the outside people are mystified as to how the Iranian political system works," she said. "And if [Press TV uses] the opportunity to demonstrate the diversity of Iranian society as well as just covering politics, then I think that may be beneficial for those who are unaware of what is going on in Iran in all its senses -- culturally, socially, economically, as well as politically."


Iranian President Ahmadinejad (file photo)

Alireza Nurizadeh, the head of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, says Iran's other international channels have failed to attract viewers.


"Iran has spent millions of dollars in the past years to set up channels such as Sahar or Al-Alam," he said. "But, unfortunately, these investments have brought no results. The Islamic republic has never succeeded in attracting viewers who want to watch or to hear alternative news."


IRIB, an Iranian state broadcaster, already runs the Arabic-language news channels Al-Alam and Al-Kawthar, as well as the Persian-language Jam-e Jam, which broadcasts to Iranians living abroad.

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