Voice of America, or Voice of the 'Mullahs in Iran'?
I began working at VOA in Washington, D.C. following three years on the newly established "Radio Farda" (the Persian-language "Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty") in Prague. I did not know that my fate as a journalist would be again decided by the people connected to the Islamic regime in Iran, as happened before at "National Iranian Television" — only this time a mile away from the White House and even less from the United States Congress.
At the VOA, I was hopeful that my abilities and years of experience would be directed toward "a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thoughts" in line with the kind of values enshrined in the charter of the organization. In October 2006 and with the help of other colleagues, I launched a program titled Tafsir Khabar (meaning "News Talk") that was to have the highest ratings of any Persian-language TV show outside Iran for the next five years.
However, with the advent of the Obama administration and the start of a policy of appeasement toward the Iranian regime, there was a general change of atmosphere at the VOA, and as such, entry into the Persian section for those with known affiliations to the Islamic republic were facilitated. This approach was justified on the grounds that it would help attain the compromise needed with Iran to secure a nuclear agreement with the "5+1."
These developments took a disturbing turn when the annual task of assessing News Talk and other programs of VOA Persian was assigned to Mr. Hooman Majd, an official adviser and interpreter of the Iranian president, Ahmadinejad. The outcome of such an appointment not only resulted in major changes in the outlook of programs broadcast by VOA Persian, but also led to my eventual dismissal from that organization in March 2012.
In its promotion of the policies of the Obama administration in a manner deliberately designed to ingratiate the Islamic Republic, the management at VOA Persian turned a blind eye not just to the stated goals of their charter, but also to the universally shared principles associated with a media, such as television shows trying to retain and further increase their viewership. As a result, highly popular programs such as News Talk, Roundtable with You, The First Two Days, Parazit, and Ofogh were all replaced by programs that have in comparison proven to be far less popular and with much fewer viewers.
VOA Persian had initially been an open door from Washington to the people of Iran. But its management soon became instrumental in closing that door while opening another to the Iranian government. Under the directorship of Setareh Derakhshesh, this policy has gained so much ground that viewers are no longer exposed to objective interviews and reporting about newsworthy items and events concerning Iran. Instead, most of the what they see coming from VOA Persian is largely reflective of positions and viewpoints held by various Islamic officials such as foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — something that was mentioned and validated by no less a figure than the president of the United States on April 18. Moreover, it is also a fact that most guests invited to participate in various programs in recent years have generally been from the ranks of so-called "regime moderates" in Iran, or those who in some way or other are opposed to the current administration in Washington.
An often-used slogan in the course of the popular uprising of the Iranian people that came to be known as the "Green Revolution" in 2009 was "Obama: Ya ba ma — ya ba ona," meaning "Obama: either with us or with them." Sadly, unfolding events showed that Obama had not taken the side of the Iranian people at that critical juncture. Today, although pronouncements made by President Trump and secretary of state Mike Pompeo speak in no uncertain terms of their support for the struggle of the Iranian people, the message nonetheless coming out of VOA Persian continues to be one that still sides with "them" — namely, the mullahs in Tehran.
It is time for the VOA to close its connecting doors to the Iranian government and to reopen the doors that were shut to the Iranian people.