January 17, 2017
In an exchange of correspondence between ADL and Voice of America’s Persian Channel regarding a VOA interview that featured anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, VOA articulated its policy of strongly condemning anti-Semitism, and pledged to continue speaking against anti-Semitism and proactively responding to any future guests espousing anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.
ADL first reached out to VOA Persian after a November 25 broadcast of an interview with Mahdi Khazali, an Iranian opposition figure, who espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about a number of Iranian officials. During the interview, Khazali spoke about the Larijanis, a prominent Iranian family, attributing their prominence and power to belonging to a tribe with “Jewish roots” and “characteristics.” Khazali also described Iranian religious and political leaders, including former President Ahmadinejad, as being driven by their “Jewish roots.” The host of the show, Mehdi Falahati, failed to respond during the interview to Khazali’s baseless anti-Semitic accusations, although in the following days, VOA did broadcast a full discussion on anti-Semitism, which included references to the Khazali comments, as well as on general discussion about anti-Semitism in Iran.
In a letter to Setareh Derakhshesh, Director of VOA’s Persian Division, ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt noted that although anti-Semitic conspiracy theories were discussed on the channel subsequently:
“We are concerned that those who watched only the interview, and not the discussion on anti-Semitism days later, fully absorbed Mr. Khazali’s conspiracy theories without the benefit of context or comment. We urge you to ensure that when guests on VOA Persia make anti-Semitic and hate-filled statements, that the program host comments on it at that time, to ensure that viewers understand the objectionable nature of the comments.”
Setareh Derakshshesh, Director,VOA Persian, responded to ADL’s letter with a vigorous commitment to calling out and condemning anti-Semitism.
“I can assure you that we take the threat of state supported anti-Semitism in Iran very seriously, and the program that you mentioned in your letter was, in fact, a part of a special expose on the subject of corruption in Iran, where the public discourse often includes various conspiratorial theories including blaming Jews for government and social issues.
Mahdi Khazali is a typical example of the Iranian regime’s critics, who nevertheless supports these theories, which we too understand are conspiratorial, anti-Semitic nonsense. Therefore, Mehdi Falahati, the program’s host, planned this segment in two parts, which he announced on the program’s Facebook page. His second broadcast was devoted entirely to the discussion and refutation of this theory by noted scholars and political observers including George Haroonian, a well known Iranian-American Jewish community activist, and Bijan Khalili, a renown Iranian-American book publisher. The refutation was vigorous and lengthy, and included detailed analysis of why such conspiratorial theories exist and persist in Iran.
I fully share your concern that the program’s host should have been more proactive and should have added not only a disclaimer but a vigorously critical comment to forcefully counter and refute Mahdi Khazali’s hate-filled statement right away. In fact, Voice of America’s Best Practices Guide clearly says: “If the guest is making unsubstantiated accusations or questionable statements, it is the responsibility of the anchor to challenge the guest about those accusations/statements.” We are currently pursuing an internal investigation according to our standard procedures, and we will take appropriate action once it is completed.
We are both proactive and quick to respond to the violations of policy, and I can assure you that we have been and will continue to be unrelenting in our efforts to ensure that VOA Persian viewers understand the objectionable nature and harm of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, propagated not only by the Islamic Republic and their supporters, but even by some of the regime’s critics.
VOA Persian has been regularly exposing the persistent problem of state-sanctioned anti-Semitism in Iran and, reporting on the condemnation of Iranian regime’s anti-Semitic/anti-Israel propaganda by the United States and the international community… I have attached a description of both such recent and planned coverage (VOA IRAN COVERAGE) where you will also recognize some of our coverage – on which you were interviewed – when we exposed the perversion of the anti-Semitic “International Holocaust cartoon contest” held by Iran. In many cases, we are the only broadcaster giving Iranian people, both in the U.S. and Iran, such information and insights.
If we fall short, we will fix it. If we err, we will correct it. Everyone at VOA Persian is committed to this.”