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U.S.A - Good Morning Tehran -

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U.S.A. - Good Morning Tehran

Broadcast: 19/04/2005

Reporter: Jill Colgan


COLGAN: This is the sound of rebellion. The music, the dancing, this singer - all are banned by the
Islamic government of Iran. But the mullahs have been unable to stop these images reaching the eyes
and ears of Iranians as determined exiles in America beam directly into living rooms around Iran.

Around one million Iranians have made their home in the US since fleeing their country during the
Islamic revolution of 1979. About half live here in California and LA is the epicentre of the
community where little Iran, or Tehrangeles as it's known, sits nestled beside affluent Beverly

The food, the music, the books, the freedoms - Iranian Americans have recreated a slice of Iran
that is more like the home they remember than the way the country actually is today. Yet even
though they've been here for decades, older Iranians think of this as temporary, a home away from
home until they can return to their country and reclaim it as their own.

Zia Atabay is preparing for regime change in the men's room of his own personal TV station. Once a
famous pop star in his homeland, the so-called Tom Jones of Iran used to live like royalty in
Tehran. Today he's pouring his funds into a bottomless pit he's called NITV, National Iranian
Television broadcasting by satellite into Iran, the US and Europe. Australia is his next target.

Sometimes the employees don't get paid and he's fighting bankruptcy but from the virtual studio of
this modest station, he's fermenting revolt.

ZIA ATABAY - OPENING ADDRESS OF HIS TV PROGRAM : In Iran there was a revolution by a large number
of people in opposition to the Imperial rule - many of whom thought they didn't have enough

COLGAN: He does what the oppressive leaders of Iran hate most, speak without censorship. His
scathing commentary on the regime has earned him death threats.

ZIA ATABAY, PRESIDENT NATIONAL IRANIAN TELEVISION: I heard with the phone that they're going to
kill me, they're going to kill my daughter, they're going to kill my wife and I have to shut up, we
don't have to talk about this.

COLGAN: His political career began by accident. He began broadcasting Persian cultural shows in
March 2000 to expat Iranians living in the US. He was stunned when a caller phoned in one day from

ZIA ATABAY: First of all we didn't believe it, second all of us we were crying when we find out we
are in Iran.

COLGAN: Iranian Government attempts to stop him only increased his determination.

ZIA ATABAY: But after three or four months the Iranians started to jam my signal, block my accounts
and everything so they hurt my feelings, they pissed me off.

TV PRESENTER SITTING WITH ZIA ATABAY - TV BROADCAST: They claim the Persian revolution was a
beautiful thing and that it's only the Islamic military that has done wrong.

COLGAN: This broadcast is on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution and is full of dire images
of regime's misdeeds. He hopes to push Iranians to rise against their government and soon. The US
accuses Iran of running a secret nuclear weapons research program. If Iran is successful in
building the bomb, Zia Atabay says his people are doomed.

ZIA ATABAY: I know the Iranian government is dangerous, I know that they are creating bombs, I know
that if they do Iran will be destroyed by the other countries. That's why I want before they get to
that point, these things happen, changing the government happens.

[Shot of protest on streets of Tehran, people chanting "Death to America, Death to America".]

COLGAN: The world sees carefully constructed images from Iran of regime orchestrated protests
against America. Freedom of the press is non-existent. But more and more Iranians are secretly
tuning in to illicit broadcasts from the US. Their black market satellite dishes now number in the
millions, too numerous for a government crackdown and this is what they see.

[Shot of protest on streets of LA, people chanting "We want freedom in Iran".]

COLGAN: They see forbidden pictures from LA of Iranians protesting from the safe comfort of exile,
calling for the overthrow of Iran's Islamic regime.

[Shot of woman protestor with megaphone saying "Death to the Iranian Republic!".]

Iranian radio and TV broadcasters have mushroomed here. Dozens of them now beam back their own
recipe for change.


COLGAN: You're happy with him?

IRANIAN WOMAN PROTESTOR: Yeah, oh I love him, I love him.

COLGAN: There's an old guard of exiles here who remember privileged times, when Iran was ruled by a
Shah and who want to return to a monarchy under the Shah's son. So badly do they want regime
change, they'd back an Iraq-style invasion of their country by the US.

MOHAMMED DAMESTANI, IRANIAN MONARCHISTS' ORGANISATION: Yes because we know that if America doesn't
take any action now, later on it's going to be too late and then it will be more diaster for us.

COLGAN: And you would support American military action?

MOHAMMED DAMESTANI: To be honest as an Iranian I am the first volunteer to go to war against the
mullah regime with the American troops.

COLGAN: Zia Atabay is determined to keep beaming these messages of revolt into the homes of
Iranians but NITV is fast reaching a crisis point. He and his wife, Parvin, live in a palatial Los
Angeles home but they're now struggling to keep it as their money runs out drained by NITV.

PARVIN ATABAY: Before NITV existed, we had a life, we used to go to vacation twice a year. My
daughter was seeing her father all the time. I don't feel I have a husband anymore or my daughter
doesn't feel like she has a father. If I knew he was in politics, I would not have married him. You
know what I mean, believe me.

ZIA ATABAY: I don't believe that.

PARVIN ATABAY: Yeah, no, no, no.

ZIA ATABAY: She was in love, so in love with me.

COLGAN: This pop star turned politician dreams NITV will one day be handed to Iranians as the
national broadcaster for a free Iran. But his pleas to the US government for funds to help keep it
alive have fallen on death ears.

ZIA ATABAY: I'm sorry that I didn't have enough money or we didn't have enough money to make it
that big but I think this year, I have a feeling a lot of things will happen positively and I have
a wish that this 2005 I can do a lot of things that I couldn't do before because I didn't have the

COLGAN: The US government is wary of investing in the pipe dreams of maverick exiles like Zia
Atabay. It's been burnt before. Two years ago the Bush Administration relied on information from
exiled Iraqi leaders living here in the US, believing their claims to widespread support for them
in Iraq and their allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Both proved false. This
time the Administration wants a clear channel to Iranians living in Iran.

Of all the networks beaming into Iran, this has the most resources and is arguably the most
influential. "Voice of America" is the long running US government funded foreign language news
service. It began broadcasting into Iran in Farsi in 1996 but stepped up programming about 18
months ago. Its Persian service now has the highest profile in the entire network, beaming out
daily news and current affairs.

DAVID JACKSON, DIRECTOR, "VOICE OF AMERICA": Our mission to Iran is to give them news that they can
trust, news that's authoritative, balanced news, news from the United States and news from around
the world.

COLGAN: The principle is simple: show Iranians the free world outside and they will choose freedom
over oppression. Incredibly for a banned service, they claim to have a 13 percent audience share in
Iran. They cite one major difference with the competing stations like Zia Atabay's NITV.

DAVID JACKSON: The difference between them and us is that we are a news organisation. Our
journalists don't express their personal views, we are not propagandising, we don't believe in
propaganda, we believe in balanced coverage and we believe our credibility as a news organisation
rests on us being objective journalists.

COLGAN: But VOA is also obliged to run unedited statements direct from the Bush Administration
leaving them open to the charge they too run propaganda.

If the US government was to direct you to broadcast an editorial that for example advocated regime
change, could you say no?

DAVID JACKSON: Probably not but you know I came here with this job believing in what our mission is
here, and if I didn't feel like I could transmit the editorials reflecting the views of the United
States government, then I wouldn't be working here.

COLGAN: VOA is reaching out to the next generation of Iranians.

TV PRESENTER: Good evening, we are presenting the 23rd "Next Chapter" from Voice of America in
Washington DC.

COLGAN: Like those targeted by its "Next Chapter" magazine program. The program deals with issues
facing young Iranians, talking about AIDS, poverty, education and this story on prostitution.

TV BROADCAST - VOICEOVER: There were four sisters - their father was ill, their mother was elderly
and they didn't have the money to pay for the surgery. They would draw lots to see whose turn it
was to go out street walking to pay for the surgery.

MONNA KASHFI, PRODUCER, NEXT CHAPTER, VOA: We try to explore the social taboos as much as we can.
It's something that might not be welcomed by everyone but we think it's very important to do that.

TV PRESENTER: The world of cinema doesn't work so simply.

COLGAN: And of course they offer freedom of expression.

TV BROADCAST - VOICE OVER: This 21 year old Persian beauty has come from Canada to the United

COLGAN: Art, music and pop culture - forbidden fruits in Iran.

LUNA SHADZI, PRESENTER, NEXT CHAPTER, VOA: They want more entertainment and what they want to see
is what they don't have. They want to see young people's lives in western countries.

COLGAN: While older Iranians may press for a monarch, most Iranians are now under 35, they don't
remember a Shah. Presenter, Luna Shadzi has been back six times and says her generation wants a

LUNA SHADZI: They want a peaceful change. I don't think they're ready for another revolution or no,
no they suffered a lot for so many years. I don't think they want more, they just want peace,
normal life, you know, and they want to live their age like a person of their age.

COLGAN: Cultural freedom may prove far more powerful than all the political propaganda. Iranian
born pop star "Andy", Andranik Madadian is dubbed in his press blurbs - the Persian Elvis. He's
living proof of the power of the secret media in Iran. Playing to a small crowd at a college campus
in Orange County, LA, he's instantly recognisable to millions of Iranians, even though his music is
officially banned by the Iranian government and he's never performed in his homeland, living here
in exile in the US for more than two decades.

"ANDY" ANDRANIK MADADIAN: I became famous here and I'm sure when I go back to Iran that fame is
going to find this other face, like here we play for maybe a thousand, two thousand people and in
Iran we'll be playing for hundreds of thousands of people.

COLGAN: His exotic girlfriend, Shani, looks the part of the Persian princess. She's actually Shani
Rigsbee from Arkansas.

SHANI RIGSBEE: I personally receive emails from Iran all the time and people that follow every
detail of what we do.

COLGAN: Their music and videos have been consumed by a hungry fan base, desperate for the pleasures
enjoyed by the youth of free nations.

"ANDY" ANDRANIK MADADIAN: They're saying they live with our music, they laugh with our music, they
cry with our music, they fall in love with our music and so what more do you want when you're
young, you want to fall in love, you want to be excited, you want to be happy, you want to dance
and thank God now in some sort of form they have it.

COLGAN: From crooners to commentators, all these satellite subversives are scrambling to be the
voice heard above the others to claim their place in history. But while each says it differently,
we're all saying the same thing - it's time for regime change in Iran.