As the U.S. and its allies try to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program, Iran is doing its best to spread its propaganda around the globe, and now they are doing it in our own backyard. The Islamic country’s news agency recently launched a Spanish-language TV channel, Hispan TV, with the support and help of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The channel pushes anti-American, anti-West and, in some cases, anti-Christian messages.
Abbas Milani is the director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University; he says Iran has tried this before in other languages, including an attempt in English that the British Government eventually banned from its airwaves. In Latin America, however, Iran has made friends with other hard-line regimes that will support its propaganda machine, friendly ears from leaders found in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba.
"I would not be at all surprised at the anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, sometimes in overt form, sometimes in the form of the rhetoric of anti-Zionism is going to be very much a mainstay of that ideology, as it is in every other television program," says Milani.
Accusations that the Iranian government compromises its editorial independence have Latin American broadcasters worried as well. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says HISPAN TV will deal a blow to "dominance seekers," a thinly veiled reference to the U.S. and its allies. That type of rhetoric falls right in line with words from controversial leader Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, who has his own record of shutting down television stations that didn’t follow the Chávez political line.
"It's a threat not only for Venezuela, it's a threat for all of the hemisphere," says RCTV President Marcel Granier. His popular network was targeted by Chávez back in 2007 and eventually shutdown due to a so-called license denial. Almost all independent observers agree, the government seizure of RCTV’s airwaves was anything but open press and the move drew massive protests in Venezuela and from the international community.
"It's frustrating for all Venezuelans, I think. The same way that it is very frustrating that we are destroying a relationship with the United States that has lasted two centuries and favoring China now. They have less technology than the U.S. and they are the ones taking business," says Granier.
Tehran’s full-time launch of Hispan TV follows Ahmadinejad’s tour of the region in January, where he visited Raúl Castro in Cuba, Chávez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua…all not considered the closest of Western allies. It is believed by Western analysts that this trip solidified the plan to market and allow Hispan TV broadcasts to the region.
Milani says these leaders all have a few things in common, "To think that under these conditions, the government would have the audacity to spend millions if not billions on ideology on helping groups like Hezbollah, on setting up this kind of propaganda is ironic, but it's very much in the nature of these regimes. That is why these regimes are despotic. That's why they're despicable. That's why they must go."
Airing from the Middle East, Iran’s state TV channel reports that Hispan TV will air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and feature news broadcasts, Iranian films and also documentaries. The trial basis of the channel began back in October and provided 16 hours of programming, that’s before Ahmadinejad reaffirmed ties and secured support from his Latin American friends.
From his office in Caracas where his now much smaller channel continues to face pressure from the Chávez government, Marcel Granier tells me, "They do not believe in freedom, they do not believe in human rights. So they have a very important common denominator and Venezuela can provide the money for their activities."
Here in Los Angeles, Granier has an ally in Iranian broadcasters Channel One. Due to pressure and threats from the Iranian regime, much the same as seen from Chávez toward what’s left of RCTV, any opposition or critical reporting of Tehran is forced to do so outside the country. Channel One sends its message in Farsi via satellite to an unknown number of eyes daring enough to make the effort to access this programming. Broadcasters continue to be some of the first to air footage of protests and harsh government crackdowns inside Iran and they worry about the propaganda now being pushed to an entirely new audience.
Some of these messages being pushed by Hispan TV include not only attacks and misinformation about the U.S. and west, but also tries to rationalize the controversial Iranian nuclear program. The channel allows Iran to do its best to spread its propaganda around the globe by pushing an agenda that goes directly against what UN inspectors and U.S. intelligence are reporting and now this propaganda is 24 hours in America’s own backyard.
"It's very dangerous because an atomic bomb has a range, geographic range. But this type of what they're doing, there's no range to it. It's global. And it's very dangerous because what they need is those people who are unsatisfied, not the educated," says the President of Channel One TV Shahram Homayou.
Shahram actually recommends the U.S. and west go even a step further. As the UN and most of the rest of the world tries to stop Iran’s nuke program, he and other critics of Hispan TV suggest the channel be taken off the air or scrambled, much like the British accomplished with Iran’s English-language version called Press TV. That outlet lost its British License recently because of accusations the editorial independence was nothing of the sort, but actually a propaganda machine run directly by the Iranian regime.
Homayou says, "You shouldn't ask me, you should ask the western societies why are they not-- why aren't they stopping this, the money movement, the financial relations between Iran and other countries?"
In Latin America in January, Ahmadinejad ended his speech in Spanish saying “Viva la Paz! Viva el Pueblo! Viva America Latina!” The references meant to encourage people to watch as the Iranians now broadcast in 25 different languages...and have 6 specific satellite channels aimed outside its borders.
Critics are urging Latin American nations to follow the British lead and ban the channel, Some are going a step further by asking Western nations to try and scramble the signal. Abbas Milani says, "They are an ideological regime. They spend a great deal of money on the spread of their message."
Adam Housley is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for the Fox News Channel.