In Iran, consumers are forbidden by law from owning satellite dishes. But that isn't stopping a North Hollywood businessman from shelling out millions of dollars on a for-profit satellite TV channel he's beaming into the Middle Eastern nation sort of a modern-day TV equivalent of Radio Free Europe.

Zia Atabay, who was a professional singer when he lived in his native Iran, officially launched his National Iranian Television this month, calling it the first 24-hour Farsi-language station. He hopes to reach millions of Iranians around the world, particularly in his native country.

Atabay, a Valley businessman who has co-owned a cosmetic surgery clinic in Encino for the last decade, has invested $3 million of his own money so far into NITV and expects to pour more into the venture over the coming months to fund its $250,000-a-month budget.

So far, advertisers are slow to sign on, but there has been some interest. One of the first sponsors was upscale Beverly Hills clothier and Iran native Bijan, who runs perfume ads on NITV. Bijan has also appeared as a guest on shows on the fledgling station. Atabay says he has also executed advertising contracts with several Porsche/Mercedes Benz dealerships in the Middle East, and is currently negotiating with other notable companies in the Middle East and Europe that are interested in advertising to the worldwide Iranian community.

Relying on the black market

Though satellite dishes are illegal in Iran, Atabay said the law isn't enforced and he estimates several million people there have bought dishes on the black market to receive international broadcasts.

Though his target audience is scattered across several countries, Atabay believes that by featuring famous Iranian performers and open talk about Iranian issues, the content will appeal to Iranians no matter where they live.

"It's very difficult to make everybody happy," he said. "We'll make the majority happy. My background is art and I've been on television. I know what they (Iranians) want."

In Los Angeles, Iranian-oriented television programming has been growing over the last 20 years, with more than 100 L.A.-produced programs targeting the exile community. More than 90 Iranian newspapers and magazines operate out of the Los Angeles area, according to Hamid Naficy, associate professor of media and film studies at Rice University in Houston, who wrote a book in 1993 about the exile community in Los Angeles.

There are an estimated 600,000 Iranian Americans living in Los Angeles County, one of the major centers of Iranian immigration following the 1979 revolution.

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