Commentary

Q:How do you respond to the accusation that PNN has been “soft” on the Iranian regime, and has shied away from reporting stories that would “rattle” the ruling clerics and Ahmadinejad?

A: PNN does not shy away from any stories. It provides accurate, reliable and comprehensive news and information to the Iranian people in order for them to make educated and informed decisions about their lives.

Q: The death of Neda Agha-soltan, a 26-year old bystander whose murder during a post election demonstration on June 20 woman was captured on cellphone cameras and went viral in just minutes over the Internet. My sources say that Ali Sajadi vetoed numerous urgent requests from reporters to air this footage, only acquiescing several days later after it had appeared on BBC, CNN and elsewhere.

A: Not true. We aired it first. There was discussion on how much to show out of deference to the girl. And her family (like when her eyes rolled up into her head and she visibly expired) and initially, we only played a portion but later we played it all.

Q: More generally, several VOA reporters say their requests to interview protesters in Tehran by telephone after the June 12 elections were repeatedly turned down by Ali Sajadi and Alex Belida. Why? Wasn’t this newsworthy, especially when Iranian state-run media was trying to portray the protesters as common criminals?

A: Not true. One of the main reasons we pulled the History Channel and Today’s Woman show and ran a two-hour special for days following the election was to (A) show the latest citizen journalist video from inside Iran, and (B) to interview Iranians about what they saw and witnessed in the protests and to allow Iranians to express themselves on TV through call-ins and emails.

Q: Britain’s Channel 4 aired an extensive interview with a defector from the Bassiji force, who made an emotional on-camera “confession” that he regretted following orders to murder peaceful demonstrators. PNN reporters proposed interviewing the Bassiji, but were turned down by PNN editors. Why?

A: PNN editors had legitimate questions about the authenticity of an alleged defector who refused to identify himself or be shown on camera. Our suspicions grew after we asked him a simple question that someone in his purported position should have known the answer to and he said he didn’t know. (At the same time we were following a lead on getting an interview with a Basifi defector who was willing to be named and shown on camera.)

Q. A former top aid to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Mohammad Reza Madhi-Takezand, gave several interviews to reporters in Bangkok, Thailand, where he had sought refuge. PNN reporters proposed interviewing Madhi – either by satellite, or live – but had their request turned down. Why?

A: We’re aware of one interview only. No responsible news organization touched this guy. Once again PNN editors had legitimate concerns about the authenticity of this individual. See Laura Rozen’s article at: http://www.politico.com/blogs/laurarozen/0110/Beware_propaganda.html

Q: During the run-up to the June 12 presidential elections last year, Sajadi and Belida ordered VOA reporters and producers not to invite any guests who were calling for a boycott of the elections, as Newsmax reported at the time. Why was this?

A: Not accurate. As I told the staff in my Newnotes on April 9^th , 2009: “While there are those who consider the elections undemocratic, we also know there are Iranians who take their participation in the vote quite seriously. We must respect their beliefs. We cannot simply dismiss the balloting or focus only on explaining flaws in Iran’s electoral system. If a guest or contributor, for example, should encourage a boycott of the polls, a host must never signal his or her personal approval of such a suggestion and must in fact challenge the guest or contributor.”

Q: Even after post-election protests erupted, PNN was notably “soft” in its reporting. Do you dispute this? Can you cite examples where PNN broke news during this period? (I’ve looked through your press releases and haven’t found any).

A: Not true. Our coverage was exemplary. The notion that PNN was “soft” is laughable in light of the complaints voiced by Iranian authorities over PNN broadcasts.

Q: Specifically, one reporter sought to interview the mother of a girl who had just been released from three months solitary confinement, but was turned down by Sajadi. Why?

A: We never turn down interview opportunities of this nature. Never.

Q: When Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri died in Qom in December, VOA reporters were told not to submit story ideas relating to Montazeri’s death, but instead to produce a magazine piece on tattoos. Why did VOA run a piece on tattoos at such a critical moment? What coverage did you offer on the Montazeri funeral and the protests than ensued?

A: Nonsense. PNN devoted extensive coverage to Montazeri’s death and its impact. The fact that there may have been a feature on tattoos is irrelevant. On any given day, PNN may produce and broadcast features in addition to top news stories from Iran and the U.S. or elsewhere – just as most news organizations do.

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