Satellite brings democracy, choice to Tehran

10 years ago by in Uncategorized Tagged:

Observer staff
April 23, 2008

Vienna, Va., residents are likely familiar with Chain Bridge Road as a main artery leading drivers to Tyson’s Corner, home to high-end retailers such as Tiffany & Co., Hermes, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. If there is anything noticeable along this route to shopping heaven, it may be the Westwood Country Club or the expanse of parking lot known as Koons Automotive Group.

Drive too quickly and one will miss the gravel driveway that serves as an entrance to the international headquarters of Rang-A-Rang, a Persian television station operating out of an unassuming red home in this sleepy suburb.

Courtesy of Google Earth

On any given day, Davar Veiseh will greet you at the door. The ranch-style dwelling is Veiseh’s home, after all. Only two rooms – an extension off the main residence and the garage – are reserved for Rang-A-Rang, which broadcasts 24 hours a day through satellite.

“I have what you may call an army of volunteers from around the globe providing me with programming,” Veiseh said.

The programming includes political cartoons and edited pictures of political figures with satirical comments. During open-microphone call-in shows, viewers from around the world and inside Iran will air grievances against the Iranian regime while Veiseh rolls satirical images on the screen.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are often the direct targets of Rang-A-Rang’s stinging satire.

“I’m trying to bring the voice of Iranians up… when other people hear [what the government is doing], little by little I make them ready to organize, contest and condemn what is going on in Iran,” said Veiseh, who is president of the station. He said he does not know when Iranians will be ready to rise up.

Veiseh sought asylum in the United States in 1987 and has been criticizing the Iranian government from abroad since that point. He said his entire family fled Iran and now lives in Texas, Illinois and the Washington, D.C., area.

“I will go there when we free them. But I will stay here permanently. This is my country; I have two countries,” Veiseh said.

Veiseh said his audience is interested in learning about democracy and freedom.

“What it may be like to be able to choose; to choose what you may want to make your living in, to choose your religion, to choose what you do, where you go and who you socialize with; to choose your sexual partner and/or practice your sexual orientation without the fear of being executed for it,” Veiseh said.

He claims Rang-A-Rang’s viewership is in the “upper six figures, potentially seven figures, globally,” but had no documentation available to validate that figure.

Rang-A-Rang is funded through a combination of personal funds, commercial revenue and donations, according to Veiseh. Viewers can donate money to Rang-A-Rang using the PayPal system on the station’s Web site. Veiseh said most commercial time slots are purchased from advertisers in North America because the European and Middle Eastern advertisers are often called and intimidated by the Iranian government.

Veiseh said Rang-A-Rang currently broadcasts from a TelStar satellite, estimating 5 million people in Iran and throughout Europe have access to the channel. He said the angle of the Telestar satellite can give away the location of viewers to the Iranian regime, creating danger for the viewer. He said he plans to switch to the HotBird satellite, which is comprised of eight satellites relatively close to each other. He said that will give viewers greater anonymity.

A man named Sid is an Iranian-American who began working with Rang-A-Rang in 2004. He produces a show for Rang-A-Rang called “Kauveh-ye Auhangar,” which he translates as “Kauveh the Blacksmith.” He supported Veiseh’s assertion that viewers are in danger.

“Iranians inside Iran literally risk their lives and livelihood to receive the signal… Rang-A-Rang is still on TelStar, which requires a larger dish, pointing to a different part of the sky, easily detected by the satellite police. Every so often, the Islamic law enforcement will go on a dish-bash where they literally bust into people’s homes and confiscate and destroy their satellite dishes and equipment,” Sid said.

D.C.-area Iranians may acknowledge they have heard of Rang-A-Rang, but few will openly volunteer their support for the station. One local Iranian-born man who moved to the United States eight years ago agreed to speak about Rang-A-Rang only on the condition of anonymity, and, even then, he was reserved in his comments. He said he has seen the channel two times and does not like it.

“Iranians may not like the current regime, but they like progress. Rang-A-Rang does not acknowledge the progress,” the man said. He mentioned recent advances in the Iranian nuclear program, construction of transportation infrastructure and international athletic accomplishments as examples of positive events that the station does not cover. The man said he was in Iran a few weeks ago.

“I can tell you no-one in Iran watches Rang-A-Rang. They watch BBC or Voice of America, but they do not watch Rang-A-Rang,” he said.

He also disputed the notion of government censorship.

“The government does not care what you watch. There are no filters,” he said.

Back at Rang-A-Rang, Sid and Veiseh speak of a “silent majority,” those who are watching and listening, ready to mobilize at the right time.

“Davar has built it, and people have come,” Sid said.

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