Secret of Baharloo's VOA Roundtables' Success
رمز موفقیت میزگردهای احمد بهارلو
During twenty two years of my stay in California, I had the opportunity to get to know the Los Angeles based Iranian TV programs very closely. If I want to summarize the reason of the failure of all those Iranian media in one word, despite the sacrifices made by those working in them, I should say it is because of the lack of a futurist perspective in their guiding principles for their endeavors.
Of course, I do not consider all the activities of Los Angeles televisions as negative and I think they have been able to offer Iranian viewers a lot of content that is censored by Islamic Republic's media inside Iran. Even if we consider it as nostalgia, offering many of those programs has had the value that part of the cultural and political life of Iranians such as the songs of "Golhaye Javidan," or many past Iranian TV shows or talk shows with many Iranian cultural and political personalities who have been forced to choose the exile and could not be shown on Iranian media inside Iran, not to be destroyed.
Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that Iranian Los Angeles media neither have been able to respond to the needs of Iranian immigrants in the U.S. nor have been able to succeed offering a correct image of the current situation to the viewers inside Iran, and in some instances, have created so many false imaginations that are neither deduced from the realities abroad nor relate to the facts inside Iran (1).
Internet to some extent could have filled the information vacuum. But the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) immediately started to act out and by spending enormous capital expenditure created a huge filtering infrastructure inside Iran to block the access of Iranian users to the important political and cultural web sites abroad. In parallel to this anti-human right activity of IRI, endeavors to break the wall of filtering started and I was among one of the first who started the efforts to neutralize IRI filtering. Then, four years ago, I came to Washington from California and fortunately was able to cooperate with the efforts of Voice of America (VOA) to combat the Internet filtering and have always valued these efforts of VOA in helping Iranians to combat the Internet filtering which I considered it a great service to the Iranian people's political and civil rights movement.
Being in Washington and at VOA, I was invited by Mr. Ahmad Reza Baharloo, who was the creator and anchor of the popular VOA-Persian TV Program entitled "Roundtable With You" which has many viewers in Iran, to have a talk in his program. My first interview with Mr. Baharloo was about Internet filtering and he had asked me to talk about a software called "psiphon" and basically to discuss various methods to fight the Internet filtering (2).
During my interview I saw that Mr. Baharloo, in whose program, various topics are discussed which are mostly political and social, had prepared himself for a specialized topic of Internet filtering so well, that he was able to bring up very relevant questions, and especially was able to direct the discussion to issues that were the most interesting and useful for the Iranians inside Iran. He knew so well when not-to-interrupt the interviewee, and when to bring up new topics. The interview was so successful that during half an hour, 100 emails which were all very precise and relevant, were received, and it took me a few weeks to respond to all the emails that were received during and after the program. Although half of the program was dedicated to the questions of the viewers, Mr. Baharloo with his expertise, was able to give the widest coverage of the issues related to the interview, while at the same time, receiving so many calls in the course of the program. I still get emails from those who have just watched the interview on the Internet, discussing new questions with me.
About a year ago, I also had an interview with Mr. Baharloo about "Futurism," a topic which has been the main undertaking of mine for over three decades. This interview was also done with the same diligence and meticulousness and since then, there has not been a day that I have not received an email about that interview, and exactly from the inquiries, it is clear that the topic has been of interest by the viewers, as they have expressed their deep interest in specific topics related to futurism and the particular discussions that were brought up in the course of that interview (3). Even one writer in Iran, who had no acquaintance with me, had summarized the content of the interview and published it in written form in his own weblog which was really interesting for me, because it showed how accurately he had listened to the discussion of Mr. Baharloo and me and how wonderfully had described the content of the interview.
Seeing all this welcome of the viewers, I decided not only to give a link to my own interviews with Mr. Baharloo at my iranscope.com web site, but I also gave link to other roundtable interviews that related to my interest, in my personal lists, and immediately saw those links to show the highest hits on the google search. Many of my friends after watching the programs would ask me the contact information for the experts in those programs, and of course, I would refer them to contact VVOA and VOA's Roundtable directly. It is interesting that if one searches for the name of many of those who have been in those programs, mostly the highest ranking for the Internet search are related to those interviews those people have had with Mr. Baharloo, and their link is also listed in my list.
In fact, the experience of getting to know Mr. Baharloo was like what I had described years ago in my article entitled "Dancing in the Air," because I see, it is the two of us, without having any knowledge of each other, and without being in contact, arriving at a common perspective of what we have ahead of us; especially since each one of us had been active in a different media, separate from the other. Mr. Baharloo has essentially worked in the area of television whereas I have been active in the realm of print press and later in the Internet. My acquaintance with the efforts of Mr. Baharloo, from another aspect, was also exciting for me. Since for many years, especially with my American friends, have discussed about the need and importance of bringing up the issue of futurism to the television, and in my contact with Mr. Baharloo, I was seeing that initiative, in actual practice, which was what he had exactly achieved in the Persian Service of VOA (4).
Mr. Baharloo had founded the "Roundtable with You" program at the VOA by his own personal initiative ten years ago and he was always very tough in choosing his guests, very meticulous about quality, just the same way Harvard gives admissions. In the last four years that I have known this program and have watched it on the Internet, I saw how much this program in the real sense of the word is "futuristic," and Mr. Baharloo despite all the obstacles that he has had to face, had driven this objective in his work. Particularly when running the Roundtable Program, since it touches on the current issues of Iran and Iranian people, while talking live to the viewers, it was not an easy task to keep focus, both because of the agents of Islamic Republic of Iran who misuse the freedom to call feature of the program and also because of some others, whom for whatever reason, instead of creating another such powerful program for Iranian people, due to their competition or jealousy, have taken the road of badmouthing the roundtable program and its host, and they do it by spreading hateful divisive attacks in some web logs and anonymous emails around the Internet (5).
Of course, those kinds of annoyance and stalking is not particular to the attacks on Mr. Baharloo and his guests, and is not anything new either, and I have discussed this extensively elsewhere and explained how the work of a handful of individuals is summarized in one sentence and that is "end justifying the means," while their goal may be political, or religious, or ideological. They mercilessly consider their opponents as traitors to their "sacred cause" and see them deserving all kinds of punishments and see any lying and mendacity about their opponents to be a legitimate action (6).
During the last three years, with the expansion of VOA's Persian television programs, the opportunities for creation of several other programs became possible where each of them has its own value. I have found parts of some of those programs to be interesting to send to my own personal lists and introduced them to my friends, and were received well too. But based on my observations and my appraisal, those among the new programs were more successful, which had followed the tradition of Mr. Baharloo's Roundtable program, distancing themselves from the traditions of Los Angeles Iranian TV programs and being futuristic and focusing on quality.
Up to this point, the subject of my discussion was Mr. Baharloo's own program, and the content and the way of its execution, which I think has given rise to a new media tradition in the Iranian press. But there may also be questions about the relation of this program with VOA which takes the discussion to new field. I mean perhaps this question may be posed that "don't all VOA programs belong to the US government and thus act in line with its policies?" In response, I should say that just because of ownership of the US government of this media, one cannot judge the same way about all VOA programs. I too wish the nonprofit media in this American society had grown to the point to be able to do the special cultural or scientific activities that commercial enterprises such as CNN neither are willing to nor are able to do, and such enterprises not to be government organizations. I even wish activities such as what NASA does, to be done by NGO's. But if based on such a hope, we dissolve NASA, I think we should forget all about space travel for the time being.
Therefore, till the time that accomplishing such activities is only possible by government, it means, it is right to evaluate these organizations within the framework of the current reality. VOA was founded during the Anti-fascist Resistance in line of offering factual news and scientific journalism and promoting American values (liberal democracy and balanced news reporting). Never can one say that this media has no relation to the policies of the US government, but, at the same time, one cannot bring down the level of this relationship to that of government media of former Soviet Union or today's IRI which are forced to only do what is dictated to them, and the right to express any personal initiative in those countries is taken away from the journalists. Especially we should note that a media like VOA does not only deal with political topics, and most of its programs are about cultural and scientific topics, and even in the political arena, two guidelines of balanced reporting of all different views and also promotion of American values of democracy and human rights are prominent in VOA's broadcasting.
I think that VOA has been able to offer many positive services in the direction of promoting democracy and because of this reason it should be strengthened. I am aware about some people who by using some wrong slogans are trying to destroy this prospect without being able to offer any NGO alternative in its place. In this respect, it is interesting for me that many of these same "opponents," themselves, interview with the VOA and Radio Farda, to get their own voice to reach the people in Iran.
Even at the time of the former Soviet Union, Radio Free Europe which in many ways was more connected to the policies of US government than the VOA, was able to play a positive role in the growth of democratic thought in Eastern Europe. Thus, I think those who announce their negative judgment with the expression that "VOA is an enterprise belonging to the US government" are either malevolent or their awareness about these realities of VOA is too limited.
I can even refer to the experience of a few decades ago and say, after the 1953 coup, when Alameh Ali Akbar Dehkhoda did not accept to talk to the VOA Persian Service, I do not know whether that decision was right or not. I really do not know about the conditions of VOA in those days and it seems to me that Dehkhoda's analysis was that they wanted to use him for propaganda purposes. Also since a little after the 1953 coup, VOA Persian Service was shut down, perhaps one can deduct that Dehkhoda's analysis of those days was correct. I am not an authority about that case and am not trying to make judgments about it one way or the other.
But after the 1979 Revolution, meaning thirty years ago, VOA Persian Service restarted broadcasting to Iran, and the conditions have been different, and also Mr. Baharloo, who 10 years ago, in this new situation of VOA, started his rich content program at the VOA, was able, parallel to Los Angeles televisions, to begin an alternative and also a futurist paradigm among the Persian speaking media. And incidentally, this reality that Roundtable program was created at the VOA, was a reason that it used the good standards of VOA, and in the Persian programming executed what has remained as a tradition in this media since the time of Anti-fascist Resistance, i.e promotion of democratic values, fairness in bringing the news as is and offering various aspects of the discussion. In other words offering a scientific perspective on journalism and being objective when offering views rather than making propaganda for a specific position or advertising a particular political policy.
At the same time, and in my opinion more important than all these standards, the presence of a futurist perspective that has been a guiding light and an inseparable aspect of all Roundtable programs during the last ten years, distinguishes it from all other similar programs.
During the last few weeks, Mr. Ahmad Reza Baharloo has been absent from the Roundtable Program. I am seeing this absence with regret and grief and my regret is not because he has created this program and has a right as a founder who had planted the seed and watered the tree to grow. For me, the problem is that in Mr. Baharloo's absence, if that spirit which made Roundtable Program such a success, will be the lighting guide, the hope it would be followed in other VOA programs as well? In my opinion, the success of the program was not because of its time or its name and is owed to the content it delivered. If the other Persian speaking TV programs in Los Angeles and other places want to have a similar success, they better look at Mr. Baharloo's work as their paradigm.
Recently I saw an open letter to VOA management by Mohandes Heshmat Tabarzadi and Dr. Hesam Firoozi and a few other political activists inside Iran, where the authors had expressed their concern about the absence of Mr. Baharloo from the VOA Roundtable program. This shows that the viewers of VOA Roundtable inside Iran are also aware of this issue that this program is bringing a whole new perspective, and therefore, they are sensitive that it be continued in the same futurist tradition and spirit it has been offered for the last ten years. Also in my part, I want to congratulate Mr. Baharloo for such an important achievement in the Persian speaking media and hoping he would help others in other Persian programs and in all Iranian media to learn from his example.
If at the time of Anti-fascist Resistance, during WWII, with the birth of VOA, the foundation for another scientific and fair media basing itself on democratic values and human rights, was laid down, today adding the dimension of a futurist perspective to the programs of this media, is a new step that Mr. Baharloo has taken at the VOA and in this respect, he is considered a front runner among Iranian journalists, in the direction of taking the promotion of values of democracy and secularism of today's world in Iran to a new level.
"Futurism on the other side of Chasm," was my take on the slow pace of media towards futurism, and using Geoffrey A. Moore's allegory wrote that futurism has not crossed the chasm (7), and it seems to me Mr. Baharloo has recognized this much sooner than many American futurists.
Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist republic in Iran,
October 5, 2008
1. چند هفته پیش در نوشتار «توهماتی درباره اپوزیسیون خارج کشور»، در آدرس زیر، در این باره مفصل نوشتم و نیازی به تکرار نیست:
توهماتی دربارهء اپوزیسیون خارج از کشور (ويرايش دوم)
2. سام قندچی در مصاحبه با احمد رضا بهارلو: درباره سایفون، پراکسی و فیلترینگ
3. سام قندچی در مصاحبه با احمد رضا بهارلو: آینده نگری و پایان مرگ
4. Dancing in the Air
رقص در آسمان
5. اینترنت و حریم خصوصی
6. End Justifying the Means
هدف وسیله را توجیه نمیکند
7. Futurism on the other Side of Chasm-Second Edition
آینده نگری در آنسوی دره-ویرایش دوم*