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Cablegate: Press Tv - Iran's Public Diplomacy Enters Global Stage

DE RUEHDIR #0069/01 3301119
P R 261119Z NOV 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: OSC, Oct 29, FEA20071029384146

RPO DUBAI 00000069 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary: Iran's 24-hour satellite English language news
station, Press TV, began operations in July 2007. It has moved
quickly to establish itself through widely dispersed
correspondents, a large staff in Tehran and London, aggressive
recruitment of guests, and generally high quality content from
at least a technical perspective. Press TV appears to receive
strong financial backing from the Iranian government. To date,
programming dealing with the US has been consistently one-sided
in its criticism of US foreign policy. In addition, a central
focus of Press TV's programming has been presenting a
friendlier, more moderate portrayal of Islam, starkly
contrasting with the fundamentalism of "jihadis". Despite its
claim to offer an accurate picture of Iran to Western audiences,
Press TV - like al Jazeera and virtually all regional media
outlets in their coverage of host governments - have steered
clear of directly criticizing Iranian government policies or
leaders. While Press TV continues to face many hurdles in
gaining audience share in an increasingly crowded market (and
presumably it is not included in any US cable packages), it
represents a significant Iranian investment in "soft power" and
expansion of its public diplomacy message. Press TV,
incidentally, is not shown inside Iran. End summary.

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2. (SBU) According to press reports, Press TV established its
website January 2007, and went on the air as a 24-hour
English-language satellite news network on July 2, 2007. At a
recent media conference in Dubai, a recent Iranian graduate of
the American University of Sharjah's Communications faculty
presented her observations on Press TV operations to date.
According to this researcher, Press TV's staff is reportedly
selected through a rigorous screening process. Employees now
number 400-plus, with more than 55 reporters based in 35
locations. Reporters are largely citizens of the countries from
which they report. Among Press TV's current locations are
Jerusalem, Gaza City, Ramallah, Beirut, Damascus, Istanbul,
London, New York, and Washington. According to its website,
Press TV is carried on ten satellite systems.

3. (SBU) The CEO of Press TV is Mohammad Sarafraz, the Vice
President of IRIB. Press TV claims to offer deeper and more
balanced analyses of the news than Western media outlets.
According to the Iranian media researcher, Iranian officials
describe Press TV as "state-owned but not state-controlled."
Iranian officials occasionally appear on Press TV (mostly with
English translations). Iranian political and cultural figures
have discussed Israel-Palestinian issues, US policy in the
Middle East, and cultural and religious issues. Iranian
commentators appear to avoid criticism of Iranian domestic or
foreign policy, although some non-Iranian panelists on various
programs have challenged Iranian policy positions.

4. (SBU) An excellent assessment of Press TV programming is
available through BBC Monitoring (reftel). The key findings of
this October 29 2007 report were: "The channel is a mixture of
professionally-produced journalism and serious discussion, on
the one hand, and sometimes amateurish, blatantly propagandistic
output, on the other. Since its launch on July 2, Press TV has
been constantly critical of the US administration, particularly
with regard to policies towards Iran and the Middle East in
general. It also seeks to promote an understanding of Islam as
a peaceful, tolerant religion and is critical, sometimes
explicitly, sometimes implicitly, of militant, jihadi Islamism
of the type associated with Osama bin Laden."

5. (SBU) Guests have included prominent figures from the fields
of journalism, academia, and occasionally, government officials.
In the US, political arena representatives have been limited to
former Congressional staffers and campaign organizers. Former
Department of Homeland Security director nominee Bernard Kerick
appeared on the 4 Corners program as part of a panel discussion,
taking a position strongly in favor of US administration on
terrorism issues.

6. (SBU) Press TV is actively recruiting guests among these
various institutions and organizations, including an academic
Iran-focused chat group that includes most prominent Middle East
and Iran experts in academia and beyond. One interviewee
(privileged info) complained that Press TV was unprofessional in

RPO DUBAI 00000069 002.2 OF 002

their selective use of his quotes and insistence of pressing the
Iranian position - in this case on the Ahmadinejad visit to New
York in late September 2007 - and announced that he would not
talk to them again. Other academics have also challenged Press
TV's journalistic integrity, while others counter that Press TV
could have positive impacts on democratization and modernization
in the region similar to Al Jazeera, and that "boycotting" Press
TV is counterproductive. Finally, some scholars and former
policy-makers have suggested that other mass media outlets have
their own political agendas, including VOA, and that Press TV is
no different. In discussions with local media and
communications scholars, officials and students at the media
conference in Dubai referred to above, several indicated they
view Press TV as another news outlet like Al Jazeera, MBC, and
others which are collectively challenging a perceived media
imbalance skewed towards long-established (and purportedly
biased) Western mainstream outlets.

7. (SBU) According to the media researcher, Press TV reportedly
faced early challenges gaining access to satellites for
broadcast and securing press credentials for its reporters -
hurdles which it has in most cases overcome at this point. The
Iranian government has invested heavily in building Press TV
largely from scratch. Whatever the amounts the IRIG has
invested on Press TV, the scope, staffing, technical
sophistication and general quality of Press TV operations
indicate the Iranian government is committed to a serious effort
to use Press TV to boost its public diplomacy outreach with the
English-speaking world. The Iranian government already funds
foreign language satellite broadcasting in Arabic (two 24 hour
networks, Al Alam and Al Kowthar), as well as the multi-language
(primarily Azeri Turkish, Kurdish, and Urdu) network, Sahar.
With these networks now in place, and the Iranian government
flush with oil revenue to sustain their quality and content,
Iran appears poised to reach a broad audience with an
increasingly sophisticated public diplomacy message.

8. (SBU) Comment: Despite its modern look and apparent
willingness to explore controversial regional issues in a
relatively open manner, we can not consider Press TV as an
example of increased freedom of expression within Iran. Iran's
enhanced commitment to expanding the reach of their views, and
their ample use of American and other foreign guests and
locations, does not seem to have reduced Iranian government
paranoia about similar transborder programming by other
countries. Iran has taken active steps against VOA/Radio Farda
broadcasts, including detaining within Iran a Radio Farda
broadcaster, and aggressively discouraging Iranians from
appearing as guests or otherwise cooperating with these outlets.
Unless and until we see Iran offering reciprocal access to US
broadcasters in Iran (USG or otherwise) to that which Press TV
enjoys in the US, or Press TV begins turning at least some
attention on Iran's pressing issues, Press TV will remain a
relatively limited anti-US propaganda tool.

© Scoop Media

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