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The BBC's Tom Carver
Iranian expats connect through the airwaves
 real 56k

Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 06:32 GMT 07:32 UK
Iranians make it in the US
The California estate of an Iranian expat
Iranian expats have focused on business not politics
By Tom Carver in Los Angeles

When he was 18, Zia Atabay had his first hit as a pop singer in Iran.

Now in his fifties, he lives with his wife Parvin and young daughter in a luxury mansion outside Los Angeles running his own TV station.

But the path from teenage idol to media mogul has not been straightforward.

When the shah was overthrown in 1979, Zia Atabay tried several times to escape to the West.

On one occasion, he was forced back by snow while walking across the mountains into Turkey. He was saved by a Kurdish family who took him in because they knew his songs.

Eventually he escaped through Pakistan and began to rebuild his life in the West.

Satellite links

Today, after a 20-year break he has begun reconnecting with his homeland - through the airwaves.

A game show on NI-TV
NI-TV beams a mix of music, gameshows and news to Iran
From a small studio in west Hollywood he broadcasts by satellite a mixture of pop videos, cooking shows, news and old pre-revolutionary films into the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It is illegal to own a satellite dish in Iran, but Mr Atabay estimates that around two million people have them hidden in their gardens or on their roofs.

After only six months, his channel, NI-TV, has a dedicated following inside Iran.

Mr Atabay insists his aim is not to undermine the regime but simply to provide popular entertainment to a people living under the rule of clerics.

In a country where you're not supposed to be alone in the same room with a member of the opposite sex unless you're married, it's hard to imagine NI-TV is not having some impact on people's attitude to the mullahs.

But so far the government of President Khatami has made no attempt to block the broadcasts.

One theory is that the president regards NI-TV as a useful way of getting his voice heard in his ongoing struggle with hard-liners inside his own government.

A recent visit by President Khatami to the UN was barely mentioned by state television in Iran, which is controlled by the hard-liners, but it was widely reported on NI-TV.

Iran is calling

KRSI Radio broadcasts on short wave from the prestigious Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills into Iran.

A KRSI radio host
A KRSI radio host listens to a caller's story of persecution
Like NI-TV it has attracted a large audience inside the country in only a few months.

Its most popular show is the phone-in, a rare chance for people from all over Iran to air their grievances and get in touch with one another.

Many are desperate. A man from Maku in northern Iran rings in to complain that the authorities will not let him work or visit his family.

"They are killing me by gradual execution," he says close to tears. Then, risking further persecution, he gives out his phone number, appealing to others to help him.

'Tehrangeles'

Most Iranian expatriates living in America have largely avoided politics, concentrating instead on getting rich.

An Iranian beauty salon in LA
Iranians have made their mark in Los Angeles
And they've been pretty successful. There are so many living in one part of Beverly Hills it's known as "Tehrangeles".

Over the last two decades the area has developed its own distinctive California-style Iranian culture.

Now, thanks to these broadcasts, those inside Iran are getting a taste of the expatriate life.

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See also:

17 Mar 00 | Americas
US eases Iran sanctions
21 Feb 00 | Middle East
Tehran blow for hardliners
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