|A female newsreader for Radio Zamaneh who did not want to be photographed recognizable, reads newscasts in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday June 24, 2009. Information comes from old friends and classmates, from Facebook, blogs and cell phones, and from a growing list of listeners, flowing from the streets of Tehran to the small radio station in the capital of the Netherlands. Until the Iranian election this month, Radio Zamaneh was more interested in underground music, alternative literature and interviews with Iranian cultural figures that with politics. Now it is one of the few Persian-language sources of unfiltered information for Iranians whose access to news is strictly controlled by the regime of the Islamic Republic. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)|
Persian radio in Holland gives Iranians news
AMSTERDAM—Until the Iranian election this month, Holland's Radio Zamaneh was more interested in underground music, alternative literature and interviews with Iranian cultural figures than in politics.
Now it is one of the few Persian-language sources of unfiltered information for Iranians whose access to news has been strictly controlled by the regime since mass protests erupted over the alleged rigging of June 12 presidential elections.
Since its launch in 2006, Radio Zamaneh has targeted young urban Iranians inhabiting the blogosphere; the postelection crackdown prompted its reporters to step up its use of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and cell phones for information.
An Iranian diplomat, summoned to the Foreign Ministry in The Hague to receive a protest against the treatment of demonstrators, accused the Dutch government of meddling in Iran's internal affairs and complained it was financing "propaganda" by Radio Zamaneh.
On a visit to the Middle East, Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told national broadcaster NOS he was annoyed by the criticism from Iran, "while protesters are being shot dead there and people exercising their right to freedom of expression are being brutally subdued."
The chief editor of the station says he is not running an opposition radio.
"We are not judging anything. We are just reporting," says Farid Haerinejad, a Canadian-Iranian.
But the staff, most of whom were born after the Islamic Revolution 30 years ago, acknowledge difficulty stifling their feelings while reporting on the upheavals in their homeland.
"It's difficult to be neutral, very hard," says Lida Hosseini Nejad, who conducted a tearful interview this week with a woman whose friend had been shot by her side during a demonstration.
The Dutch Foreign Ministry rejects allegations of interfering in Iranian domestic affairs and says it monitors Radio Zamaneh to ensure its broadcasts are independent and impartial. It is one of several religious and ethnic radio and television stations that are directly or indirectly financed by the government.
Zamaneh's euro1 million ($1.4 million) budget comes from Press Now, a nongovernment organization that supports independent media in conflict zones. The organization is financed by the Dutch government and private donations.
Haerinejad says he has no idea how many listeners tune into the 90-minute daily broadcast by short wave and satellite, which is repeated twice and appears as an audio and text file on the station's Web site. But he interpreted the protest from the Iranian Embassy as a sign that the station has a significant following.
The British Broadcasting Corp., Voice of America and Radio Farda, a station operated from the Czech Republic by Radio Free Europe, also broadcast in Persian to Iran.
Facebook, the social networking Web site, started a Persian-language site last week, further facilitating contact between Iranian protesters and the large expatriate Iranian community in Europe and North America. Producer Pejman Akbarzadeh says he now has about 470 Facebook friends inside Iran and abroad. Previously, Iranians wrote Persian with English letters on their Facebook pages.
All news items gleaned from the networking sites are checked before they run, Haerinejad says, although it's true "we are not as conservative as the BBC."
Zamaneh's registry of contacts occasionally leads to breaking news. This week, Haerinejad says the station was the first to compile a list and broadcast the names of 800 people arrested by Iranian authorities.
In its broadcasts and in separate written articles on its Web site, Radio Zamaneh runs interviews with pro-regime members of the Iranian parliament, outside analysts as well as demonstrators and opponents of the Islamic Republic.
Haerinejad, a former Toronto-based documentary filmmaker who took over the radio station two days before the election, says the station is criticized from both directions. "People call us an agent of the (Iranian) government," he says. Others tell the reporters: "Why don't you take a stand? What are you afraid of?"