BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. Brooke Gladstone is away this week. I'm Bob Garfield. Well, well, well. Isn't this where we came in?
ANNOUNCER: Iran continues to thumb its nose at the United Nations demand -
ANNOUNCER: The UN, the deadline that's been given to Iran over their nuclear plans - [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
ANNOUNCER: Special report. Did Iran's answer on its -- to the UN on its nuclear program -
ANNOUNCER: Iran said it would give an answer tomorrow, but it may have come one day early.
BOB GARFIELD: The drumbeat to intervention in Iran sounds very familiar, almost as if we'd seen this picture before. The international standoff about the country's nuclear program has led to increasing fear and suspicion of Iran's intentions. In a particularly eerie reprise of the buildup to war in Iraq, a Republican-authored House report excoriates the U.S. intelligence apparatus for failing to be sufficiently ominous about the Iranian threat. The similarities are so striking, in fact, that a page one New York Times story on the report Thursday spent hundreds of words distancing itself from the House report's conclusions, an almost comic effort not to be accused of Judy Millerism. Meanwhile, like Iraq's Saddam Hussein four years ago, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself has done nothing to quell the West's worst fears. On the contrary, he is increasingly defiant to the outside world and, apparently, increasingly repressive internally. Last week, according to reports, the Iranian government ordered a crackdown on the satellite dishes with which Iranians view foreign programming, from news to entertainment to anti-government agitation from the US-based Persian Diaspora. This conjures images of the Cold War, when those trapped behind the Iron Curtain had to illicitly monitor Radio Free Europe or the BBC for just a glimpse at the outside world. But Time Magazine Tehran correspondent Azadeh Moaveni says the picture is far more nuanced than that.
AZADEH MOAVENI: Well, crackdown on satellite dishes are a periodic occurrence here, to be honest. It's not something that's new. Usually these kinds of raids coincide with either a period of wanting to clamp down on the kind of news Iranians get from the outside world or some other domestic reason why there's revival of such hard-line policies.
BOB GARFIELD: How difficult is it in Iran to get western news?
AZADEH MOAVENI: It's pretty accessible. Middle-class families, by and large, have satellite dishes. They're not terribly expensive. So television that is beamed in from the West, whether it's western channels or Iranian satellite channels beamed in from Los Angeles are very popular. Radio is also a very popular way for Iranians to get their news, channels like VOA and BBC Persian. Internet access is common, it's widespread. And so, people are connecting with the outside world and hear news from the outside, and are not only relying on this sort of bias of state-controlled media for their context for news and what's happening in the world.
BOB GARFIELD: In your last piece in Time, you talked about the central fear of the ruling clergy about opening up towards the West, not of some sort of military takeover but of actually the seduction of the Iranian people by Western values, Western money, Western influences in general.
AZADEH MOAVENI: The perception here by the government is that it would be opening up a Pandora's Box, because since its inception, this revolution has been conceived, entrenched by anti-Westernism. So I think the fear is that perhaps it wouldn't radically alter things in the short term, in the 2- or 3, 5-year horizon, but 20 years, 15 years down the line, you know, what will be the result of opening up?
BOB GARFIELD: Officialdom in Iran is split between the clergy, who are the supreme leaders, and the government, at the moment run by President Ahmadinejad, who himself is extremely conservative. Is the populace of Iran, though, as conservative right now as both the government and the clergy?
AZADEH MOAVENI: Not at all. I think that really the government, whether it's the clergy or the elected government run by the president, is far more conservative and traditional, religiously speaking, than the masses of Iranian society. I think that realistically they represent maybe something between 15 to 20, 25 percent, at most, of Iranians. I think the majority are much more secular in their political viewpoints, much more worldly, much more at home with Western culture than what the government reflects. And I think you see that every day very vividly in the streets of Tehran when you see how women dress, when you see what kind of shops open, mimicking shops in the West. It's really a society that is very much ahead of its leaders.
BOB GARFIELD: So how is this reflected in the current standoff over Iran's nuclear capabi lities? What are the local media saying about the situation? Is it sympathetic to the government? Is it nationalistic? Is it in any way dissident? Is it even uniform?
AZADEH MOAVENI: In recent months, since this nuclear conflict has deepened, the coverage of it has become more and more constricted. In the domestic press here, no. The critics of the government's nuclear policy don't really come forward to express themselves very openly. It doesn't seem like there's very much official tolerance for a freewheeling, very honest debate about the future of the nuclear program. And so, no, I think when it comes to that, it's debated within the parameters that the government has set up.
BOB GARFIELD: So as you speak to ordinary Iranians, how do they process the gulf between the fairly constricted media reporting that you describe and what is freely available from the West through satellites, through the Internet and so forth?
AZADEH MOAVENI: The discord is something that Iranians are very used to. You know, media is state controlled here. It very much reflects the government's viewpoints and it has for years and years, and, and that has become ordinary to Iranians. I think that's why also Iranians include such a variety of different media into their news diet. You know, the average person might go to three or four different sources to find out what happened on a given day over any issue. If you go the newsstand in the morning, you'll sort of see [LAUGHS] there are 20, 30 papers.
BOB GARFIELD: And finally, the flip side of the question – when you first went to Tehran, did you find [LAUGHS] that Americans have the right images of what life is like there?
AZADEH MOAVENI: No, I was, I was shocked, because I felt as though the American conception of Iran was still locked in the "Not Without My Daughter" sort of conception and those kind of attitudes, which are so dated. I mean, Americans would be surprised to find that ordinary life for middle class people in the cities is really not unlike what their own lives are like.
BOB GARFIELD: Azadeh, thank you very much.
AZADEH MOAVENI: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Azadeh Moaveni is a reporter for Time Magazine. She spoke to us from Tehran.