The networks of the Broadcasting Board of Governors are providing comprehensive Persian, Arabic and English language coverage on the soaring tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia following the Saudi execution earlier this month of a prominent Shi’ite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was critical of the Saudi kingdom. For many in Iran, Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East, these networks are the only source of accurate and unbiased information on the developments.
In Persian, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are providing special reporting to cover U.S. and international reaction, as well as local and regional developments.
VOA’s Persian Service had one of the first Farsi-language reports on the cleric’s execution and has since provided more than 60 news items on the escalating tensions.. The network has reported on reaction from the White House and State Department, and from officials in the international arena, and has conducted interviews with experts and has coordinated TV panel discussions. The discussions have touched on the fallout from the Saudi-Iranian clash – regionally, on U.S. Middle East policy and on the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
RFE/RL’s Persian language service, Radio Farda, extended its normal hours to give more comprehensive coverage of the Saudi-Iranian rift. The network also launched a special web page.
Apart from its intensive news reporting and up-to-the-minute updates, Radio Farda has also offered in-depth analysis on programs featuring many interviews with experts and commentators. The topics have included oil-related tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the impact on the two rival nations in connection with the landmark nuclear deal negotiated last year between Iran and six world powers. There was even a program explaining how the bilateral rift has impacted sports competition.
Both networks are also providing extensive English language coverage for TV, radio and the web. One of VOA’s TV pieces, “Tensions in Middle East Heat Up as Saudi Arabia, Iran Cut Diplomatic Ties,” consists of analysts who say Saudi Arabia, under pressure from falling oil prices and a rising Iranian challenge, wants to send a clear message to any who dare challenge the kingdom’s authority. VOA’s combined TV-web piece, “Iraq Joins US, Russia in Effort to Lower Iran-Saudi Tensions,” was based on an offer by Iraq’s foreign minister to mediate the controversy.
RFE/RL has also provided daily news features on its web site, including one titled, “Iran Accuses Saudi Arabia of Supporting Terrorism After Shi’ite Cleric’s Execution.” A satirical piece called “In Cartoons: How Iranians, Saudis See Each Other,” expose political hypocrisies in both countries.
Alhurra and Radio Sawa have provided extensive coverage in Arabic of the Sheikh’s execution and the subsequent fallout. Immediately after the announcement, Alhurra’s newscasts had reaction from across the region and the United States, including on the destruction of the Saudi Consulate in Tehran. Alhurra’s program 30 Minutes hosted experts on Iranian and Saudi affairs who debated the reasons behind Nimr’s execution. The Alhurra program Free Hour examined the ramifications the tensions have had on the region with American, Russian, Iranian and Saudi experts. The network also had reaction from Human Rights Watch and reports on the impact on Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Alhurra was the only Arabic-language network to carry live the first White House briefing following the execution, and to interview the State Department’s deputy Arab language spokesperson.
Alhurra’s show Eye on Democracy interviewed some of the families of the 47 people convicted of terrorism and put to death by Saudi authorities, including the brother of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Radio Sawa hosted Saudi and Iranian analysts and reported on reaction from the White House and State Department. Sawa Magazine looked at the impact the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia will have on the fight against ISIS.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are both ranked “Not Free,” according to Freedom House’s 2015 Freedom of the Press Findings.