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Iranian TV From L.A. Is a Regime-Change Hotbed

Broadcasters fuel dissent back home, which earns plaudits from some but also criticism and suspicion -- and not just from Tehran's leaders.

June 18, 2003|Li Fellers and Azadeh Moaveni | Times Staff Writers

Operators of the California-based networks say they are largely scraping by, paying for the $35,000-a-month satellite signals through a combination of advertising, donations from wealthy Iranians who fled after the revolution and smaller contributions from the more than 100,000 Iranians living in Southern California.

Countering charges from the Iranian government, the U.S. State Department said this week that it does not fund the stations and has no involvement in their broadcasts.

But bills proposed in recent months in Washington would direct tens of millions of federal dollars to U.S.-based broadcasters working to bring about a referendum in Iran, monitored by international authorities, that would ask Iranians whether they want to be ruled by elected or religious officials.

"It's clear that those demonstrators now are getting information from the shortwave radio and satellite television broadcasts and are aware of the demonstrations because of that coverage," said U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), one backer of the legislation. "Those who wish to suppress that information are on the losing side."

The numbers of U.S.-based broadcasts have increased in recent months, say congressional aides in Washington, in large part because the cost of monthly satellite access has fallen by two-thirds in recent years. There is also the sense in the expatriate community, aides say, that with the war on terrorism and President Bush including Iran in the "Axis of Evil," the time is opportune to push for change in Iran.

Some Iranian Americans are skeptical of the satellite stations, asserting that the owners are less interested in spreading democracy than making money.

In the past few years, as conservatives have gained power in Washington and lobbied for a regime change in Iran, critics charge some stations with adopting a similar line to attract financial backing from the United States.

Some Iranian American leaders say the anti-government broadcasts have intensified since May, when U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) announced he would introduce legislation allocating $50 million to Iranian opposition groups.

"Iranians are in the streets because of 20 years of suffering under this regime," said Hooshang Amirahmadi, founder and president of the American Iranian Council and a professor at Rutgers University. "Not because a bunch of guys in L.A. tell them to come to the streets."

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Times staff writers Megan Garvey, Monte Morin and Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report. Fellers reported from Los Angeles. Moaveni reported from Tehran.

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