WASHINGTON—In another indication that some in the Bush administration are pushing for a more confrontational policy toward Iran, a Pentagon unit has drafted a report charging that U.S. international broadcasts into Iran aren't tough enough on the Islamic regime.
The report appears to be a gambit by some officials in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's office and elsewhere to gain sway over television and radio broadcasts into Iran, one of the few direct tools the United States has to reach the Iranian people.
McClatchy Newspapers obtained a copy of the report this week, and it also has circulated on Capitol Hill. It accuses the Voice of America's Persian TV service and Radio Farda, a U.S. government Farsi-language broadcast, of taking a soft line toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime and not giving adequate time to government critics.
U.S. broadcasting officials and others who've read the report said it's riddled with errors.
They also see it as a thinly veiled attack on the independence of U.S. international broadcasting, which by law is supposed to represent a balanced view of the United States and provide objective news.
"The author of this report is as qualified to write a report on programming to Iran as I would be to write a report covering the operations of the 101st Airborne Division," Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Larry Hart, a spokesman for the board, which oversees U.S. non-military international broadcasting, said that the radio and TV operations have covered Iran's human rights abuses extensively and have featured appearances by dissidents—who sometimes telephoned from Iranian jails.
Surveys have shown that Radio Farda is the most-listened-to international radio broadcast into Iran, Hart said.
Three U.S. government officials identified the author of the report as Ladan Archin, a civilian Iran specialist who works for Rumsfeld.
Archin was out of town this week and unavailable for comment. She works in a recently established Pentagon unit known as the Iran directorate.
Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a Pentagon spokesman, said last week that the unit was established this spring as part of a government-wide reorganization aimed at better promoting democracy in Iran. He confirmed Tuesday night that Archin had been asked to prepare the report. "It was meant to be a look at how the program was working and to determine if it was an effective use of taxpayer dollars," Ballesteros said.
Critics charge that the unit resembles the pre-Iraq-war Office of Special Plans, which received intelligence reports directly from Iraqi exile groups, bypassing U.S. intelligence agencies, which distrusted the exiles. Many of the reports proved to be fabricated or exaggerated. Some of the directorate's staff members worked in the now-defunct Office of Special Plans, and some intelligence officials fear that directorate also is maintaining unofficial ties to questionable exiles and groups.
U.S. government radio and TV broadcasting to Iran has expanded significantly in recent years.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the National Security Council staff recently requested a report on Persian-language broadcasting.
The report was prepared for an inter-agency committee on policy toward Iran called the Iran Steering Group, which is co-chaired by the National Security Council and the State Department.
Inter-agency discussions "consider every aspect of our policy with regard to Iran. . . . This includes Persian-language broadcasting, which is an important element of our efforts to reach out to the Iranian people," the official said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced in February a major initiative to promote democracy in Iran, including $50 million to increase Farsi-language television broadcasts.
That set off a furious bureaucratic battle for control of the funds and the initiative.
Archin and a State Department official, David Denehy, reportedly traveled to Los Angeles earlier this year to explore the idea of funding commercial satellite TV broadcasts into Iran that are run by members of California's large Iranian-American community, which is generally strongly opposed to Iran's clerical government.
That idea proved unfeasible. Instead, Congress appropriated $21.4 million to expand VOA's Persian TV programming to 12 hours per day, and $14.7 million more for Radio Farda.
Some conservatives, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have called for ramped-up broadcasting aimed at overthrowing the clerics who run Iran.
Veterans of government broadcasting say that not even during the Cold War—with the exception of the 1956 uprising in Hungary—did such news organizations as the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty call for the overthrow of adversary governments. Rather, they said, they serve as sources of objective news and models of how democracies operate.
Archin's report states that while VOA's Persian TV service "often invites guests who defend the Islamic Republic (of Iran)'s version of issues, it consistently fails to maintain a balance by inviting informed guests who represent another perspective on the same issue."
Hart, the Broadcasting Board of Governors spokesman, disputed that and said Archin chose a handful of the 180 guests who appeared on the station's programs during her period of study. Various viewpoints were represented, he said. "Does that mean they're in full accord with U.S. foreign polices? No. Those are two different things," he said.
Archin also wrote that Radio Farda, which is managed separately from the TV service, recently hired journalists whose most recent experience was with Iran's state-run news agencies. That is incorrect, Hart said.
Also incorrect, he said, is the report's contention that "neither station is a primary source of news for Iranians."
A March 2006 telephone survey of 2,003 Iranian adults found that 13.5 percent of them had listened to Radio Farda in the previous week, compared with 5.6 percent for BBC Radio and 4.5 percent for VOA Radio.
Archin also criticized Joyce Davis, the radio's manager in Prague, and said she doesn't speak Farsi.
Davis, who worked in the Washington bureau of Knight Ridder, which has since been acquired by McClatchy, declined comment. But colleagues said the Arabic-speaking journalist is taking Farsi courses.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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