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Iran is preparing a July 2 launch of its latest round-the-clock weapon - a new satellite English television channel called "Press TV."
Facing mounting pressure over its nuclear program and support for terror, Iran has decided to fight back Western style, through the media.
Based in Teheran, the 24-hour channel promises half-hour news bulletins, talk shows and documentaries on the Islamic world and the West - "but with a distinctly Iranian spin." It claims to have more than 400 staff and 26 reporters around the world, "including Jerusalem, Gaza City and Ramallah on the occupied West Bank."
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Amira Oron said that for Iran the media is a very important tool. "They [the Iranians] understand the importance of public opinion," Oron told The Jerusalem Post.
Iran has two Arabic television stations that it broadcasts worldwide via satellite as well as an Arabic radio station. There is even a journalist based in Jerusalem who works for Iranian television, Oron said.
On its Web site (www.presstv.ir), the state-run station said that Iran hasn't been given a fair public showing. It said that it wants "to break the global media stranglehold of Western outlets" and "show the other side of the story in the Middle East."
"We thought of setting up an English-language news channel to counteract the lies of the western media," said Mohammad Sarafraz, Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
He spoke of the new station at a press conference in Teheran last week. Sarafraz said that "Since September 11, Western bias has divided the media into two camps: those that favor their policies make up one group and the rest of the media are attached to radical Islamic groups like al-Qaida."
A taste of what viewers can expect from the station is already evident on their English news Web site, which has been operational for a number of months. It looks like any other western news site, but here one learns that far from being the enemy, Iran is a country which condemns the killing of innocent women and children and is ready to solve the Middle East crisis.
Hizbullah and Hamas don't fare that badly either. One article states that Hizbullah is probing the bombing of UNIFIL forces on the Lebanese border this week where six people were killed. And an analyst speculates that Hamas took over Gaza last week to forestall a US sponsored coup.
It is this alternative face of Iran and the Middle East that Sarafraz wants Western viewers to see.
"We want to show that there is a different view. Iran, and the Shi'ites in particular, have become a focal point of world propaganda. From the media point of view, we are trying to give a second eye to Western audiences," he said.
Asked if Press TV was the Persian version of Al Jazeera, which launched English programs last year, the Iranian Web site quotes him as saying that "such a comparison would be out of place. The Al Jazeera channel has proven to have duplicitous reactions to international events."
An Iranian analyst Meir Javedanfar who left his country in 1987 and now lives in Israel, said that Iran is using these media stations to show the world "that it is not what America is making it out to be." Iran is of the belief that the Western media is a tool in the war against it, said Javedanfar. This is Iran's way of fighting back and taking its case to the public in hopes that this will sway opinion in their favor, said Javedanfar.
From his home in Israel he monitors Iranian television via satellite and has coauthored a book on Iran, "The Nuclear Sphinx of Teheran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran." Javedanfar added that "Iran does not trust anyone else to make its case other then itself." But only a limited audience so far has viewed the new Web site which has been slow to generate traffic.
According to the the site of the Web information company Alexa, the Press TV site on the internet is ranked 75,143 for traffic usage. This means that only .0023 percent of internet users have been on the site.
Still, the numbers are going up, with a 180% increase in the last three months, according to Alexa. And the Press TV site is already more popular in Western countries then it is in Iran. Some 32.9% of its viewers come from the United States and 8% from the United Kingdom, while only 7.6% were from Iran.
AP contributed to this report.
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