Tehran fears cultural imperialism but they just end up looking like paranoid and bigoted fools:
In little more than a year, the Persian-language satellite television channel beamed into Iran by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and a prominent Afghan family has rapidly become one of the most popular stations in the country.
A little too popular, it appears.
This week, a long-running campaign led by the Iranian government to undermine the channel, Farsi1, took a menacing turn: A group calling itself the Iranian Cyber Army hacked into Farsi1’s Web site, as well as several sites owned by the Mohseni family, and posted a cryptic but sinister warning.
“The allies of Zionism should know this,” said the message, which stayed on the Web sites for about six hours on Thursday. “Dreams of destroying the foundation of the family will lead straight to the graveyard.”
The exact meaning of the message was unclear, but conservative Iranian leaders complain that the programming — a heavily censored variety of comedies, soap operas and dramas — is eroding traditional Iranian values.
The campaign against Farsi1 illustrates the growing fear among Iranian leaders over the intrusion of private broadcasters onto the country’s airwaves, which is challenging the state’s monopoly over the flow of information.
The cyberattack is the latest effort in a campaign to discredit the television station, which went on the air in August 2009. This year, Iranian authorities tried to jam a satellite used by the channel. Personal attacks on Mr. Murdoch, as well as on Saad Mohseni, the chairman of the Moby Group, have appeared on Iranian television and newspapers. News Corporation and the Moby Group each own half of the channel.
The Iranian authorities appear to be particularly unnerved by the entrance of Mr. Murdoch, who is not just an aggressive businessman but also a politically active one. In neighboring Afghanistan, the Mohseni family has built a successful string of television and radio stations and Web sites since the American-led invasion in 2001.
Both Mr. Murdoch and the Mohseni family were named in the renegade Web site posting that appeared Thursday.
According to American officials, as well as spokesmen for both the Moby Group and the News Corporation, Farsi1 receives no funds from any government.
Indeed, Farsi1 offers no political fare, neither news nor editorial commentary. Instead, it provides viewers with comedies and dramas, most of them from Latin America and Korea, and toned down for a more conservative Iranian audience.
Though the plots often involve romance and infidelity, anything resembling male-female contact is excised — even kissing. The menu even includes a few American standbys like “24,” which features an American federal agent who often battles terrorists from the Muslim world.
“If the script says anything that is not right or appropriate, we edit it,” said Zaid Mohseni, the chief executive officer of Farsi1 and Saad Mohseni’s brother. “Visually, if there is something not appropriate, we edit it out. We know that the majority of viewers are watching with their families. We are very sensitive to this.”
Still, Farsi1 has drawn the ire of Iranian leaders, who say that the Western-oriented programming represents an assault on traditional Iranian values and is even corrupting the Iranian people.
“Satellite TV programs such as those broadcast on Farsi1 destroy the chastity and honor of our families and encourage the young to take up lovemaking, wine drinking and Satan worship,” Mohammad-Taghi Rahbar, a member of Parliament, told the Iranian news agency IWNA this year.
“The channel is funded by ”˜Zionist money’ and planned and managed by Iran’s enemies,” he said, without providing details. “What family that has any dignity would let is members watch Farsi1?”