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Iranian Cleric Calls for Legal Satellite Dishes

TEHRAN, June 5 (Reuters) - A prominent political cleric has urged Iran to finally legalise satellite television, arguing that the Islamic Republic is capable of defending its values from undue foreign influence.

Hassan Rowhani, secretary of the powerful Supreme National Security Council, said Iran had to open itself up to the outside world and offer its citizens, particularly young people, greater access to modern trends.

"Why can't we make use of satellite dishes? There is nothing wrong with our youth," the Iran newspaper on Monday quoted Rowhani as telling students in the western province of Hamadan.

Use of dishes by the general public was outlawed in 1995 to turn back a feared "Western cultural invasion." Their illicit use, however, has continued despite periodic crackdowns.

"In a world whose walls are crumbling all the time, we have to prepare to protect our values in a world with open doors, meaning we have to avoid rigid-mindedness and at the same time not be intimidated by foreign values," said Rowhani, formerly deputy speaker of parliament.

"We must not ban satellite altogether just because there are several hours of bad programming. We can fill up the time of the youth with healthy satellite programmes instead of the two or three existing channels (on state TV)," said Rowhani.

"How long can we tell the youth, 'Don't do this and don't do that?' What is left for them to do in that case?"

His comments marked a departure from the general line among Iran's conservative establishment, which for years preferred to ban satellite technology because "immoral" programming could not be censored or blocked.

However, many in Iran argue that the country's Islamic culture is strong enough to withstand foreign influence. The leading reform movement has promised to seek legalisation of dishes in the new parliament in which they are the dominant voice.


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