The federal agency that oversees the Voice of America is seeking someone to produce a TV entertainment show to be broadcast in Iran in the Farsi language that includes "Hollywood news" and "other interesting aspects of life on the West Coast of the United States." The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), whose board members include Secretary of State John Kerry, is looking for a contractor to produce a "weekly entertainment show that must be aesthetically and musically appealing to VOA’s [Voice of America] audiences in Iran."
The description of the desired program sounds like an Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood type show:
The Contractor shall have behind the scenes access to high profile events, parties, concerts, celebrities, fashion houses, charities, musicians, entertainers, artists, actors, and people of interest from both the United States and the Middle East. The Contractor shall shoot on location on the West Coast of the United States as well as other U.S. and international cities, depending on current events and in prior consultation with VOA. Episodes shall include a mix of lifestyle, music, fashion, comedy, art, entertainment, interviews, and backstage access in a modern and fast-paced format that will make it appealing to the target audience. Episodes shall contain interviews with leading Iranian, Iranian American and American entertainment, fashion, business and other media personalities.
Despite (or because of) the pop-culture subject matter, potential contractors are cautioned to keep the target country's "sensitivities" in mind:
The episodes shall be without any political bias or advertising and shall be mindful of Iran’s culture and sensitivities. Programming must not contain visual or audio content of any offensive nature to the target audience.
According to the BBG, the agency has produced similar programs in-house in the past, but is now looking for a "turnkey" product ready to air within 45 days of the contract award. The amount of the contract will not be determined until potential producers have submitted 10-minute pilot episodes and price proposals for thirteen full 28-minute episodes. The deadline for responses is January 13.
The State Department declined to comment about whether or not such a program would enhance its diplomatic efforts in Iran, but rather deferred to the BBG for comment. The BBG responded to a similar request for comment with the following from the public relations office of the VOA:
California is home to a large and active Iranian diaspora community, and the lifestyle of these new American immigrants is of natural interest to Iranians living in Iran, especially the young people there who make up a large portion of the population. California is also home to the multi-billion dollar US entertainment industry, which exports movies, TV programs and other entertainment products that are of interest around the world, including Iran, where the government frequently bans them.
The VOA Charter, under which we operate, mandates that we not only report accurate and balanced hard news but also “represent America” to foreign audiences. During the Cold War, VOA was highly regarded for its jazz programs, which showcased one aspect of America’s vibrant cultural life, and drew huge audiences to our news programs. Cultural programs that showcase our music, arts, entertainment and language are among the ways in which we show different aspects of our society and what makes us uniquely American.
In public diplomacy terms, these cultural programs are often a reflection of a nation’s “soft power,” and they are one of the ways we attract the attention of our audience, which in Iran was most recently estimated at more than 20 percent.
It is also worth noting that the solicitation was designed to be open as well to Persian language production houses in L.A. because we want to know who is out there and what they might offer.
A similar solicitation had been issued by the BBG in 2012, but was subsequently withdrawn on May 31, 2013, "[d]ue to a change in Agency's needs." That same day, the Treasury Department announced new sanctions against Iran targeting "the Iranian Petrochemical Industry as well as the Iranian Regime’s Attempts to Evade Sanctions and Support Terrorism." Less than five months later, the new solicitation was issued just days before the announcement of the late October meeting in Vienna between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany to discuss Iran's nuclear program.
When asked if decisions to cancel the initial solicitation and then later reissue it were in any way connected to the Treasury Department's May 31 sanctions or the October Vienna meeting with Iran, the BBG spokesperson responded, "No."