Iran’s clerical regime fears that the most sustained anti-government student protest in 24 years of Khomeinist Islamic rule – now in its second week and spreading out of Tehran – could well explode into a popular insurrection. The protesters are avidly egged on by opposition groups overseas, who are demonstrating that the television screen is a potent vehicle of disruption – even when the content is beamed by satellite from half a world away into the homes of ordinary Iranians.
Around the clock, nine Farsi language television stations are celebrating the anti-clerical unrest in Iran from studios in Los Angeles, where more than 400,000 Iranians who fled their country with the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, now live.
The most popular is Television-e Mellie-e Iranian (National Iranian Television, or NITV) established by the popular former singer Zia Atbay. It broadcasts political programs as well as vintage Iranian movies and entertainment and satirical shows that poke fun at the ayatollahs’ regime.
Television-e Azadi (The Freedom TV), a strong supporter of the late shah’s son, bluntly calls on Iranians to rise up and overthrow the regime. Its most popular presenter, former movie star Reza Fazeli, went into exile in London after the Islamic revolution and produced satirical plays that portrayed Iran’s clergymen-leaders as liars and crooks using religion as a cover for financial felonies. Video tapes of the productions were sold in their thousands around the world – to the Iranian government’s great consternation. Five years ago Fazeli moved to Los Angeles.
Iran has joined the battle of the air waves, setting up several television stations of its own with a strong radical Islamic slant. Some broadcast entertainment shows in a bid to draw viewers away from the politically-heavy content of the exile stations. Iran has also been trying to jam the Iranian-American satellite broadcasts. But many Teheran residents manage to record the programs and sell the video cassettes at inflated prices to eager viewers.