Veteran journalist Menashe Amir broadcasts in Farsi from Israel to millions of Iranians. His weekly radio call-in show on Israel Radio International is a way for people in the Islamic Republic to air their views.
“When I sit at my desk and think what to include in our daily news bulletin, which reaches millions of people in Iran, I imagine myself as a resident of Tehran who would like to know more about the world he lives in. What’s important for him is very similar to what’s important to any other person in the world and it’s the kind of news that can affect his life. We report on events inside Iran, as well as from other parts of the Middle East and the rest of the world. It can be a rise in the price of cheese, or the latest unemployment figures or even a speech by the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
As editor and broadcaster of our daily transmission three times a week, I start working on the show very early. In any case, following events in Iran is a 24/7 matter for me. In my house I have two satellite dishes tuned in constantly to all the Iranian channels. Iran is a very open society nowadays; it’s not North Korea, and a lot of information is just out there, on the internet, the radio or the tv.
We obviously don’t have reporters in Iran but we do have a large network of dozens of Iranians from all over the world who provide us with valuable and sometimes exclusive information. Some of them, living in Rome, Paris or Berlin, act as our correspondents. We also receive a lot of letters and emails every day from inside Iran and from Iranian émigrés, so all in all I feel we have good and varied sources of information.
I arrive at our studio in Jerusalem at about 14.00 and until I go on-air at 17.00, I handwrite the whole 50-minute-long news bulletin. I’ve done radio for 52 years but I still love the intimate feel and the small and unpretentious studio. And it is definitely unpretentious here, you know: it’s the same building where I started to work in 1959. We first won acclaim in Iran during the long war with Iraq in the 1980s. Many Iranians tuned in to our daily show, as we were the only ones to report where the Iraqi missiles would hit. The Iraqi army used to announce in advance which cities would be bombed but the official Iranian media didn’t report it as they didn’t want to cause panic. Instead, Iranians listened to us and learnt to trust us.
Our popularity in Iran stems from our reliability as a source of information and from the public distrust of the regime. I feel very much connected to people in Iran and I think that they feel it in my broadcasts. I feel as if I am sitting in Tehran: I have the same concerns as they do and have the same worries.
You could say in a sense that we use a sort of New Journalism style, since I add editorial remarks. But we keep a very professional and accurate tone. We see ourselves as mirrors that reflect the reality. This means that we will report on speeches of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with inserts of his own voice. We report on disagreements inside the Israeli cabinet, or on tensions between Israel and its allies. We reported extensively on the social protests in Israeli cities during last summer, simply because it was worth reporting. It’s just that when I report on a speech by Khamenei, calling Israel a country of crooks for example, I will remind our listeners how many Nobel laureates come from that same country.
It’s a thrill to know that millions of people listen to you. In Iran they listen to our short-wave broadcasts or on-line, using the internet. Another option is through satellite tv. Starting 25 years ago, we have a weekly call-in show, called ‘Your Voice on the Voice of Israel’. We opened a special line connection through Germany, since there is no direct connection between Iran and Israel.
The first question many people ask is how come Iranians are not afraid to call an Israeli radio host. Sometimes the lines get disconnected but in all these years, I haven’t heard of persecution against a listener of ours. I think it’s a way for the government to let people express their feelings and let off steam. The number of callers is so big that it is impossible for the regime to stop them. Just today a man called us from a phone booth in the street. I could hear the cars going by and he was saying very harsh things.
People who call us are from all over Iran. They are of different ages and of different backgrounds. Most of them speak about poverty and the hardships of life in Iran these days. I think that what most people outside Iran don’t realise is how much the connection with the West is important for the ordinary Iranian. I also think our radio show promotes political discussion in Iran, since at the end of day, it is going to be the Iranians themselves who will decide their future.
I sometimes go home sad after the broadcast, because I hear heartbreaking stories. And it’s not an easy time. I was born in Iran and I love Iran. I live in Israel and I love Israel. I don’t want confrontation between these two peoples or between the countries. A bridge can easily be built with the Iranian people. The problem is with the regime which, if you ask me, is detested by 80 per cent of Iranians.”
Israeli state radio started its broadcasts in Persian in 1956, along with 13 other languages. Originally conceived by David Ben Gurion, the founder and first prime minister of Israel, the purpose was to improve relationships between the two former allies.
After starting with a 30-minute long news bulletin, the transmissions are now 90 minutes long and daily. The staff is comprised wholly of Jews who emigrated from Iran to Israel.
- 1940 Born in Tehran
- 1956 Joins Persian mass-circulation daily Kayhan
- 1957 Visits Israel as a journalist
- 1959 Immigrates to Israel and joins The Voice of Israel radio broadcasts in Persian
- 1979 Starts hosting a weekly show, in which Iranians call in. It has an estimated six million listeners worldwide. Amir makes a reputation as an analyst on Iranian affairs
- 1982 The wife of Ayatollah Khomeini confides to an American journalist that her husband listens to Amir’s show every day
- 2009 In a sermon after the elections, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei blames the ‘Zionist radio’ (code name for Amir’s show) for trying to drive a wedge between the people and the Islamic Republic