Even the shows with political themes are mostly filled with profanity
By Farhad Radmehrian
June 12, 2002
A most dangerous and harmful cultural phenomenon is bad television. Bad television
is responsible for high crime rates and moral decay in many developing and modern
societies. In free and open societies with many entertainment alternatives, bad television
is often avoidable and therefore not as critically harmful as a situation when the
corruptive airwaves of bad television are all there is to watch. That is the case
in today's Iran.
The choice given to the youth of Iran is one between boring and manipulative state-owned
television or the often expensive and illegal options of bootlegged American videos
or satellite television. What really concerns me is that scores of Iranian youth,
frustrated with the government-run broadcasting, have turned to Los Angeles-based
satellite broadcasters as their primary source of entertainment.
There are no verifiable statistics as to how many viewers tune into these channels
but the word on Tehran streets is that the number of satellite receiver owners is
increasing at a furious rate. People are borrowing and in some cases even stealing
money to be able to watch satellite TV. To make things worse, satellite TV has become
a popular cultural phenomenon and a hip and cool thing to have in your household,
almost like a status symbol.
For many of the youngsters who spend 4 to 5 hours a night, glued to the satellite
TV, the tasteless and often superficial content of NITV, IranTV, Melli TV, etc. has
become an introduction to the culture and life in the Western societies. This is
what they perceive the advancements of Europe and America to feel, look and sound
The limited and shallow discussions presented on most of these TV channels lead the
people inside of Iran to perceive the Iranian expatriate communities as a corrupt,
drunk and party-hardy bunch of lost souls. These same channels offer very little
insight into the real life of people in their host countries. This is not only bad
television, but it's a cultural crime.
As if things were not bad enough, there are recent attempts to introduce one or more
of these satellite TV outlets as a legitimate voice for the anti-government sentiments
and political aspirations of Iranian people, even calling for their financial support
by the US government. The U.S. Goverment doesn't have to research very hard to find
out whether or not these sattelite broadcasts, at their current level of sophistication,
can persuade and cause political change in Iran.
Iranian satellite TV programs are the farthest thing from a true representation of
Persian culture, or any culture for that matter. They waste the expensive communications
technology they use, the supportive funds sent to them by the unsuspecting and well-meaning
Iranians, and the precious and countless hours that are spent by the bored and frustrated
youth of Iran looking for inspiration and entertainment.
Of all the damages listed here, perhaps none can be deemed as tragic and irreversible
as the corrupted image of the outside world, especially American society and the
expatriate Iranian community that is being introduced to the people of Iran by these
The irony of the Persian satellite TV programming at the moment is that of all the
TV outlets beaming down on Iranians outside and inside of Iran, the programming that
is broadcasted by the theocratic system in Tehran and often blamed as the reason
why people of Iran would turn to foreign-based Persian programming is by far the
richest and most descent Persian content available on Satellite.
As much as I despise the dictatorship and censors that characterize almost all of
the news and political coverage by the IRIB broadcasts, I believe if you are raising
a family abroad and need a realistic view of what it means to be an Iranian, what
Iran looks like and what our heritage and family values are all about, then your
best chance is perhaps the IRIB satellite broadcasts versus the shallow circus acts
coming out of Los Angeles.
If you were to rate the overwhelming majority of the content on the broadcast outlets
such as Iran TV, NITV, Pars TV or Melli TV, based on the accepted programming and
entertainment standards in all major television markets in the world, they would
be classified as "dead air" at worst and third rate amateur programming
at best, like what you see on public access cable systems. Here's an idea about what
you can see on Iranian satellite TV.
Due to the shortage of funds for elaborate productions, a large portion of these
networks' time is filled with simple call-in shows. Early in the life of this industry,
the talk show hosts were typically famous Iranian entertainers but nowadays, there
is an abundance of very young and hip-looking hosts who just take calls and say "thank
you for calling".
The ones that I have seen are almost all not-trained-to-be-on-tv and often very rude
to the viewers and the callers. Even the shows with political themes are mostly void
of a constructive message or solution to any problems. They are mostly filled with
profanity and accusations against the Tehran regime, opposition leaders abroad or
the owners and hosts of the other satellite networks or all of the above. Other shows
are often completely out of touch with the majority of their viewers who are Iranians
living in Islamic Iran.
For example, entire talk shows are dedicated to discussing the Persian girls' dating
habits and their attitude in the nightclubs and how they manipulate the poor guys.
This must be so superficial and phony to the 90+ percent of the viewers who are watching
this show from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
There have been talk shows that offered interesting guests and some decent content,
like Mr. Meybody's show on NITV. But that show ended due to a much-publicized rift
between Mr. Maybody and the owner of the NITV network, Zia Atabay, who is a neurotic
ex-musician with a bad hairpiece.
There are general characteristics that you can expect
to see on all these networks. What comes across immediately is that none of the people
running these outfits have much experience in high grade and serious TV production.
Almost all of the people behind these networks have been involved in LA-based Persian
TV programming and music specials but their previous work gives you a hint that their
working environment has never been very demanding as far as quality goes.
While there are good creative works being done by some music video producers who
feed these networks, generally, very little consistency and artistic sophistication
is visible in the content. Design considerations that are learned and observed by
a first year design student or a home-based video production hobbyist are completely
absent in these networks' programming.
For example, the network's little logo bug is at the upper left corner of the screen
today, in one font size and color but at the bottom right the next day and all together
missing on the third day. The editing and special effects so easily done on a home
PC are either completely absent or horribly misused. In some cases, the talk show
host is also the camera operator who gets up from the chair from time to time and
adjusts the camera angle.
Another aspect of these Persian satellite networks' operation is the fierce competition
over the very few advertising dollars and viewer donations. This competition often
makes for strange (but often entertaining) fights and name calling by the hosts and
network owners against the rival channels.
For example, one of these networks, which happen to be one of the most popular, has
refused to cover politics and has no political talk shows or news coverage. This
network is also the only foreign-based broadcasting outlet that is able to sell advertising
time to businesses inside of Iran. This has caused other networks to accuse the network's
owner of being in cahoots with the ruling regime of Iran and selling out to the dictators.
Incidentally, my editor hand wrote the following side note next to this section "I
think the owner of this satellite TV network is a smart business person." Having
pointed out all the negatives, I should also add that Iranian satellite TV holds
great promise. Like any other industry in its youth, the Persian commercial broadcasting
will no doubt evolve and mature over time.
An almost certain part of this transformation will be the consolidation of numerous
broadcasters into the strong few who will have more resources for a higher quality
content. A big factor in the success of commercial Persian satellite television is
whether or not they can benefit from their viewing audience by selling advertising
inside Iran. This depends on whether or not satellite TV will be legalized in Iran.
I have no doubt that legalization will come but how
soon, we don't know. In any case, as the number of satellite receivers increase in
Iran, making satellite TV more mainstream, the broadcasters will have to come to
terms with the importance of their cultural mission and will have to increase the
depth and quality of their programming. More children and family programming is needed.
On the other hand, since the majority of satellite broadcasters will be foreign-based,
they need to introduce the Western and non-Islamic culture and societies to the millions
of Iranians who will be watching with enthusiasm.
Good TV is great. Bad TV is criminal.