The State Department has appointed a Persian-language spokesperson for the first time, and he could appear on Iran’s state-owned media. The move seems to be part of an increased effort by the Obama administration to reach out to Iranians directly.
Alan Eyre, the recently appointed Persian-language spokesperson who headed the Iran office at the U.S. Consulate in Dubai, is a fluent Farsi speaker who peppers his Farsi with Iranian proverbs and expressions. In the past week, Eyre has been interviewed in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda and also by VOA’s Persian television and the Persian Service of the BBC.
(Click here for the video of Radio Farda's interview with Eyre
When asked by a Radio Farda reporter why the State Department decided to have a spokesperson who speaks Persian, Eyre played down the significance of the move, saying, “The State Department has a number of spokespersons in different languages including Hindi, Arabic, and other languages and I now speak to you as the Persian-language spokesperson.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philo Dibble offered more insight into why the State Department decided to have a Farsi speaker spokesman in testimony at an April 5 hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on U.S.-funded international broadcasting.
Dibble said the United States recognizes the importance of communicating directly with Iranians and in order to do that -- to make clear that the United States supports the kind of changes it believes Iranians want to see in their government -- the State Department has decided to communicate policy messages via interviews by spokespersons who are fluent in Persian.
“Those interviews clearly must include Iranian state-owned media,” Dibble said. “For years, private sector studies have shown that the majority of Iranians -- upwards of 80 percent -- get their news from government-owned media. We are offering those media appearances by U.S. official spokespersons on live Iranian TV and radio in Farsi. We hope that by engaging with all aspects of Persian-language media -- private, Western, Iranian state-owned and, of course, Radio Farda and VOA Persian -- we will expand what Iranians hear about U.S. foreign policy and enable them to hear messages directly from U.S. sources.”
In response to a question from Persian Letters on whether Eyre has already received an offer to appear on Iranian media, a State Department spokesman provided the following reply via email:
“The Department of State regularly engages with foreign audiences in a variety of languages, including Farsi. Alan Eyre is one of many State Department diplomats who speak on-the-record for the U.S. government. We’re pleased that among them is an officer like Alan who uses Farsi in media engagements.
“We are willing to appear on Iranian state media to explain U.S. policy to the Iranian people, and we would welcome an offer to do so. Just as the U.S. media allow access to Iranian government officials seeking to explain Iranian government positions to U.S. audiences, we would expect the Iranian media to grant U.S. officials the same access with the same professionalism.
“We would expect any media outlet seeking to interview a U.S. official to abide by internationally recognized standards of media ethics.”
It is not clear whether Iranian state-controlled media -- especially state television, which is tightly controlled by hard-liners -- would want to interview Eyre and let him explain the policies of the United States without censoring his comments, airing them selectively, or even manipulating them.
Iranian state-owned media is often used for propaganda purposes and has a record of censoring the news or only using those items that serve the interests of Iranian leaders. They routinely broadcast forced confessions by opposition activists and intellectuals. A number of political activists and intellectuals have said after being released from jail that they were forced by their interrogators to give interviews to state media and disavow their previous statements and beliefs. They’ve said the text of their disavowals had been provided by the interrogators.
State television in Iran is notorious for refusing to give air time to opposition leaders and critics of the Iranian establishment. The rare times that someone expresses even the smallest criticism of Iran’s policies on state television, the clip becomes an instant hit on YouTube.
On the weekend of April 2, the state news agency IRNA published an interview it said it had conducted with prominent dissident Ebrahim Yazdi, who led Iran’s banned Freedom Movement.
In the interview, Yazdi, who was recently released from jail, was quoted as saying that he’s resigning as leader of the Freedom Movement. He was also quoted as saying that if opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi had been elected as Iran’s president in the 2009 disputed presidential vote, it would have been “a disaster” for Iran.
Yazdi’s relatives -- including his son-in-law Mehdi Nourbakhsh, who lives in the United States -- told Radio Farda
that IRNA had published Yazdi’s comments selectively and fabricated some parts of the interview, including the part where he supposedly criticizes Musavi.
Yazdi has since issued a statement
denying the comments IRNA attributed to him.
“The thing that I had approved was the written text that I am resigning from my position as the head of the Freedom Movement party,” Yazdi said in his statement. He added that the interview was conducted before his release at a "safe house."
For its part, IRNA published the main parts of Yazdi’s statement on its website and added its own spin on the interview, including a headline that contradicted his statement. IRNA’s headline read, "Yazdi Confirmed His Interview With IRNA."
-- Golnaz Esfandiari