To Americans, Parazit was known as an Iranian version of the Daily Show. To Iranians, it was proof the opposition had a voice. And to U.S. lawmakers, it was as one of the best tools they had to move the needle on human rights in Iran, and to change the country’s theocratic rule.
The much-watched Persian-language show hosted by the U.S. government-run Voice of America for years spent half an hour weekly satirizing Iranian politics and culture. The show reached 19 million people via the Internet, through bootleg CDs, and illegal satellite dishes. It became one of VOA’s most popular shows to date, in one of the broadcaster’s biggest audiences.
And Parazit angered the repressive Iranian government enough that the mullahs labeled the two brilliantly subversive, Washington-based Iranian expats who ran it “deceitful, belligerent spies.”
But last November, Parazit abruptly went off air — and though Iranians mourned its disappearance, the U.S. lawmakers who championed the show didn't have a clue.
The popular show was dark for almost nine months before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee learned about it, according to a staffer on the committee. The committee was not told about the show's disappearance by VOA, but instead by a member of the show.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the umbrella organization over VOA, told Whispers they were also not notified of the show going off-air.
VOA spokesman Kyle King says the show is only "on hiatus," not canceled, due to "difficult talent and staffing issues." King would not give further details about those issues, citing privacy concerns.
King also insisted that "interested people on the Hill and in the administration knew" was taking a break.
But the senate committee staffers insist that's not true, and a press release sent out by VOA last month boasting of a new live streaming platform in Iran included Parazit in its list of programs, as if the show was still on-air.
No date has been set for the show's return, and a similar satirical show based in New York has already taken Parazit's place.
Last May, Parazit's host Kambiz Hosseini testified before the Foreign Relations Committee about human rights in Iran. His testimony illustrates why Congress was a champion of, and is upset the show is no longer on air.
"The human rights situation in Iran is absurd, and that's exactly what our program is doing: showing the absurdity of the system to the audience," Hosseini said. "And it's working. Our show is working. ... Young Iranians [use it] to... continue their quest for democratic change in Iran."
Omid Memarian, an Iranian journalist and a member of the team that reviewed VOA's Persian programs this year, says it would be a "moral failure" on the part of the government if it allowed VOA to "shut down a program that could seriously challenge [Iran]."