VOA's "Parazit" has a great night on "The Daily Show." And a little "static" of my own.

Posted: 22 Jan 2011   Print   Send a link
The Daily Show, 20 Jan 2011, host Jon Stewart interviewing Kambiz Hosseini, host, and Saman Arbabi, executive producer of VOA Persian News Network's "Parazit" ("Static"): Arbabi: "There's two types of people, Those who liove and those who really hate us. We cater to the ones who really love us. And, obviously, the ones that hate us ... are the reason we actually do the show. ..."

Hosseini: "We do specifically Iranian politics. Honestly, we do not care so much about American politics. We live in Washington! ..."

Stewart: "You're like our show, but with real guts. And I'm proud to be considered in the fraternity of humorists that you guys are in, and I'm honored to have you on the show." See also Washington Post, blogPost, 21 Jan 2011, James Buck.

Washington Post, 22 Jan 2011, Tara Bahrampour: "It wouldn't have been an Iranian encounter without elaborate compliments on each side. 'I can see the passion in what you do and it's very engaging,' Stewart said. 'It's all you, Jon,' Hosseini said. Then, genuflecting, he added, 'You are the prophet, you are the prophet, you are the prophet.'"

NPR On the Media, 14 Jan 2011: "BOB GARFIELD: Iranian state television did a completely irony-free report on the recommended hairstyles. [IRANIAN TV CLIP/AUDIO UP AND UNDER] How did you handle it on your show? KAMBIZ HOSSEINI : The state media runs so much garbage like that, that people have become immune to it. So we basically take that stuff, turn it around and we give it back to our audience, saying, look guys, we know you’re used to hearing this stuff, but seriously, let's listen to this carefully one more time. Is this acceptable? And that’s where the humor kicks in. ...

"BOB GARFIELD: But it is a VOA show so, literally speaking, you guys are agents of the government of the United States. How does that affect your credibility with your audience? SAMAN ARBABI: We've earned our audience’s trust because we've never taken sides with anyone. We've criticized Obama in the past. We've also criticized the Green Movement within Iran, the opposition leaders. So we've g - we've gained our credibility by just being balanced."

If that balance is implemented often enough that the audience notices it, VOA's credibility may remain intact. (Stewart noted that in the Parazit "Good, Bad, and Ugly" segment that he viewed, the bad was the leader of the Revolutionary Guard, and the ugly was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. No "balance" in this particular sample.)

There is no need for quotas -- the Iranian audience is more interested in Iran than in the United States, and the Tehran regime is probably a more fruitful target for satire than the opposition. Nevertheless, occasional humor about US politics, at the expense of both Democrats and Republicans, would send a powerful message about freedom of expression in the United States, and about VOA's independence.

It gives me no pleasure to have some misgivings about Parazit, because my PhD dissertation (An Alternative Programming Strategy for International Radio Broadcasting, University of Minnesota, 1979) hypothesized that lighter, more entertaining fare would bring larger audiences and more impact for international broadcasting. Parazit supports that premise. We must not forget, however, that credible news is still the main reason audiences seek international broadcasts. Every effort must be made to protect that credibility.

See previous post about the same subject.