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Iranians tune to Western radios despite jamming

By Firouz Sedarat

TEHRAN, Iran, February 16, 2000 (Reuters) - Many Iranians continue to tune to their favourite Western radio broadcasts despite heavy jamming, apparently by Iranian authorities, ahead of this week's parliamentary elections.

"I have found a new BBC Persian service frequency that is not jammed. Before that I felt out of touch with the world for a week," a retired state employee said on Wednesday.

"Radio Israel's Farsi programme is also being jammed, but it is still partly intelligible," a housewife said.

Residents said they had to look hard since late January for audible frequencies after several Western stations, popular among some middle class Iranians, were exposed to interference from noise or foreign broadcasts of Iran's state radio.

The British Broadcasting Corporation, the Voice of America (VOA) and the Prague-based U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty have all said that their Persian, or Farsi, broadcasts were being jammed. Iranian officials were not immediately available for comment.

"Early this morning, I could hear parts of last night's election rally with Faezeh Hashemi on the VOA," a journalist said on Wednesday, referring to a centrist election candidate. "But there was interference from Iranian radio's Dari programme for Afghanistan."

STATE MEDIA LACK CREDIBILITY

Iranian reformists blame unbalanced coverage by the conservative-run state radio and television for the media's lack of credibility and the popularity of Western broadcasts.

"State media has a selective and factional attitude towards news, this pushes people towards foreign radio stations," said Iraj Jamshidi, editor of the pro-reform daily Abrar-e Eqtesadi. "Even though we now have a more open press, some people still listen to foreign radio out of old habit. They are not a huge number of people but many of them are political veterans who act as opinion-makers," Jamshidi told Reuters.

Iran's state media often attack Western radio broadcasts over what they see as anti-Iranian propaganda.

Conservatives say the stations favour their reformist opponents, who are seeking to end conservative control over parliament at the polls on Friday and help boost President Mohammad Khatami's liberal social and political reforms.

Producers at the stations say this impression might be due to the fact that conservative figures are often reluctant to be interviewed by Western broadcasters.

Iran has in the past jammed radios of Iraq-based opposition groups as well as some VOA frequencies.

Some Western broadcasts were jammed during widespread riots in July which were sparked by an attack by police and hardline militants on pro-reform students.