Monday, June 05, 2006

'Next Chapter' for U.S. is push to foment change in Iran

Chicago Tribune-The face of the Bush administration's new favorite weapon against Iran's cleric-dominated regime has the cheekbones of a Vogue cover girl. Once a week, digital bits carrying new images and the Persian voice of Luna Shad - an Iran-born actress who spent her formative years in Paris, wears knee-high boots and carries a Louis Vuitton handbag - rain down from American-leased satellites and are collected in antenna dishes across Iran.

"Next Chapter," is aimed at Iran's youth. But the demographics aren't about appealing to advertisers. The show's sponsor, the U.S. government, is trying to foment change in Iran. The Bush administration is moving urgently to deal with Iran, a nation that poses what many believe to be the most vexing foreign policy challenge facing the United States. But it is Shad's U.S.-sponsored broadcast and others like it that are to be the most costly and visible beneficiaries of the administration's latest push, despite questions about their effectiveness.

...Well before the administration's current emergency funding request for Persian programming, the growing sense of urgency about Iran had landed at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees all foreign broadcasting efforts. Given the political popularity within Washington of the Arabic channels, it seemed inevitable that similar enthusiasm would spread to Persian broadcasts because of the growing confrontation with Iran.

In 2003, the BBG's controversial Republican chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, called Washington from a board meeting in Prague to urgently order the Voice of America's main Persian-language television show to go daily from once a week. In the fall of 2004, Tomlinson persuaded then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to push for funding that would allow VOA to boost its Persian-language television programming from just nine original hours per week to 28 per week.

Even without the emergency funding, Shad's show is scheduled to go daily this summer. Executives at VOA envision it also going "newsier," while maintaining its youthful edge. Think Anderson Cooper, in Persian and with Shad, instead of the CNN star.