Voice of America’s (VOA) Persian television programs, including a daily show that focuses on sought-after news and information, are reaching a remarkable 12 percent of Iranians over the age of 18, a new survey shows.
News and Views, a 30-minute program launched only three months before the survey, along with two separate weekly Persian-language programs, are seen by about four million people each week via direct-to-home satellite, according to a nationwide telephone survey taken in September.
The survey of over 1,000 people also shows that the total audience for all U.S. international broadcasting products – radio and television – tops out at 18 percent of the adult population of Iran, a country where the government jams international radio broadcasts, bans television satellite dishes and censors all news. While VOA-TV reaches 12 percent of the over-18 population, Radio Farda has a 7 percent audience share and VOA Persian radio has 2 percent.
“It’s amazing that in a country where viewing of satellite television is illegal, American-produced news shows in Persian can attract 12 percent viewership,” said Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees all U.S. non-military international broadcasting. He noted that News and Views has quickly proved popular, attracting a 6 percent audience.
“That Radio Farda has a 7 percent listenership is likewise remarkable considering the intense jamming of our radios by the Iranian government,” Tomlinson said. Radio Farda, a joint project of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and VOA, is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service. Broadcast from Washington and Prague, it features at least 7.5 hours of news and current affairs programming daily as well as Western and Persian music aimed at a younger audience.
In less than a year, Radio Farda has gained an audience roughly comparable to that of the BBC, the survey showed. Started in December 2002, Radio Farda is broadcast to Iran on AM and shortwave as well as digital audio satellite and Internet. VOA Persian radio, featuring a news-driven format, is transmitted in the same fashion as Radio Farda.
Researchers said the number of Iranians who listen to or watch BBG programs is almost certainly higher than reported because of the understandable reluctance of respondents in Iran to answer questions about viewing habits over the telephone.
William Bell, U.S. international broadcasting’s Director of Research, said the first-ever national telephone survey was “designed to get around restrictions involved in conducting face-to-face interviews” in Iran. “In particular, random household sampling is not possible in Iran, especially for surveys dealing with sensitive topics such as foreign radio and TV broadcasts.”
VOA-TV’s two other weekly Persian-language programs are Roundtable With You, a 90-minute weekly current affairs call-in show, and Next Chapter, an hour-long newsmagazine for younger viewers.
The BBG is an independent federal agency which supervises all U.S. government-supported non-military international broadcasting, including the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL); Radio Free Asia (RFA); Radio and TV Martí, Radio Sawa and Radio Farda. The services broadcast in 65 languages to over 100 million people in 125 markets around the world.
Nine members comprise the BBG, a presidentially appointed body. Current governors are Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, Joaquin Blaya, Blanquita W. Cullum, D. Jeffrey Hirschberg, Edward E. Kaufman, Robert M. Ledbetter, Jr., Norman J. Pattiz and Steven Simmons. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell serves as an ex officio member.
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