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US Persian-Language TV Becomes Vehicle to Reach Voters  - 2004-09-08


The U.S. political parties are reaching out to voters, including immigrants, in this election year. Iranian-Americans are an important part of the electorate in Southern California, and Persian-language television has become a means of reaching them.

On a recent morning, representatives of the two main political parties, the Republicans and Democrats, came to a small industrial park in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills to appear on a satellite station called National Iranian Television.

Despite its official sounding name, the satellite station has nothing to do with the Iranian government. Zia Ataby, a former Iranian pop star, is president of the private network and host of a program called "Power of One."

"Power of one doesn't mean my power," he explains. "It means that everybody, each person has power. This program is in English. We're talking about the election, why, what will happen if the Democrats take over? And what are the differences of Democrats and Republicans? And why do the Iranians have to vote for Republicans or Democrats?"

Republican Steve Kuykendall was a two-term member of the California Assembly who went on to serve in Congress. He now holds no public office but is running again for his former assembly seat. His district is closely divided and the rival Democrats have a slight majority, so in this race, as in others in the state, the ethnic vote is important.

"California is kind of a microcosm of America because we are a state of immigrants," he notes. "We now have no majority in the state of any ethnic group, Caucasians or Hispanics, there's no majority group. And so, what some people might call outreach to an ethnic community, to us is 'get out the vote.'"

The other guest on the program, attorney Chris Angelo, is not running for office but came to deliver a message.

"I am here because I believe in getting the message across about the Democratic Party; what are its characteristics, and why people should vote for the Democratic Party," he says.

As the program begins, host Ataby poses a question that many voters are asking in this election year.

"Can you explain the difference between the Republicans' and Democrats' political philosophy?" he asks.

Republicans, responds Steve Kuykendall, believe in personal responsibility and that government must do only what people cannot do. Democrats, Chris Angelo says, believe government should intervene to ensure equal opportunity and they emphasize the importance of civil liberties. Both think their message will resonate with the viewers. Republican Kuykendall says many of them are business owners, and this is what he tells them.

"We're going to protect their ability to be a businessman or to grow a business, to raise their family in a safe environment, to practice their religion the way that they'd like to practice their religion," says Mr. Kuykendall. "They are strong believers in close family ties. All those things are elements that are core to the Republican perspective."

Democrat Chris Angelo says those things are possible because of the civil liberties that his party is determined to safeguard.

National Iranian Television, like similar services started by Iranian expatriates, broadcasts on satellite. Ironically, it has far more viewers in Europe and Iran than in Los Angeles, where few of the hundreds of thousands of Iranian immigrants own the satellite equipment they need to watch it.

So discussion on the program invariably turns to Iran. Mr. Ataby says he and other expatriates are hoping for an end to the Iranian regime, and through the power of television, he hopes to play a role in achieving it.

"The only things that I do and we do here at NITV, we give them the information, the true news, and we give them hope, and we're trying to make all the opposition sit together. Believe me, it's very, very, very tough," he says.

He says the Iranian opposition has many stubborn factions, and includes those who want a republic in Iran and others who want to reinstitute the monarchy.

Mr. Ataby pins his hopes for regime change on the Iranian people, many of whom he counts among his viewers.

In this English-language program, he is exploring democracy from an American perspective. Guest Chris Angelo urges U.S. viewers to speak up about the issues, saying that is the only way to preserve their liberties.

"Because of diversity of thought, you are assured of debate," he adds. "And the more debate in a democracy, the more likely you will have freedom, the less likely you will have tyranny."

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