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U.S. plans to expand TV broadcasts to Iran
Updated: 2005-03-01 08:50

The US is planning to expand its Persian-language satellite-television broadcasts to Iran as part of an initiative to press for democratic reforms in the Islamic Republic, officials say.

As US President Bush ponders incentives to encourage Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Voice of America plans to go from a 30-minute to a four-hour daily news and information broadcast to Iran within the next few months.

"Iran is an information-deprived society, much like the former Soviet Union," said Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that oversees international civilian broadcasts including VOA.

"A large percentage (of Iranians) appear to be thirsting for information," he added. "What we propose to do is exactly what Radio Free Europe, Voice of America and Radio Liberty did in the Cold War, and that is provide a window on the world."

The new initiative comes as the Bush administration reviews options for dealing with Iran's nuclear program that range from economic incentives to military action.

Washington accuses Tehran of seeking to develop nuclear arms under the guise of civilian energy, a charge Iran denies.

Officials say the Bush administration also plans to begin Arab-language satellite-television broadcasts to Europe later this year in a new escalation of its information war against Islamic extremism.

But VOA broadcasts are unlikely to have much effect in Iran any time soon, independent analysts say.

"Expanding Voice of America might have some marginal impact. But I don't think it's going to create the climate for a popular uprising," said Shireen Hunter, an Iran expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Analysts also warned that expanded broadcasts could stir nationalist distrust of the United States and inadvertently strengthen the current government.

"People could see it as a sign that an invasion is coming. It's the sort of thing that happens before nations build up their war effort," said Nancy Snow, a propaganda expert at California State University, Fullerton.

VOA already has a 24-hour Persian-language radio service called Radio Farda, which offers a pop-music format geared toward Iran's large youth population.

The administration is seeking money for the expanded telecast in Bush's $81 billion supplemental budget request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other U.S. efforts abroad.

The supplemental is expected to win congressional approval over the next several weeks.

Officials hope to receive $1.5 million to expand Voice of America's "News and Views" current affairs service into a one-hour program that would be rebroadcast three times a day with hourly news updates.

A further $5.5 million would be spent on studio construction and other investments that could pave the way for further Persian-language programing expansions.

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