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Iranians wooed by U.S. sitcoms

A satellite TV station co-owned by Rupert Murdoch is pulling in Iranian viewers with sizzling soaps and sitcoms but has incensed the Islamic republic's clerics and state television executives.

Unlike dozens of other foreign-based satellite channels here, Farsi1 broadcasts popular Korean, Colombian and U.S. shows and also dubs them in Iran's national language, Farsi, rather than using subtitles, making them more broadly accessible. Its popularity has soared since its launch in August.

Satellite receivers are illegal in Iran but widely available. Officials acknowledge that they jam many foreign channels using radio waves, but Farsi1, which operates out of the Hong Kong-based headquarters of Star TV, a subsidiary of Murdoch's News Corp., is still on the air in Tehran.

Viewers are increasingly deserting the six channels operated by Iranian state television, with its political and religious constraints, for Farsi1's more daring fare, including the U.S. series "Prison Break," "24" and "Dharma and Greg."

The shows on the state-run channels typically depend on stale plot staples such as marriages between the rich and poor and brazen thefts. The broadcasting authority forbids images of dancing, parties and alcohol and of men and women kissing or touching. Nudity is out of the question, and foreign series and films are often heavily censored.

Some critics here hold Murdoch responsible for what they see as this new infestation of corrupt Western culture.

The prominent hard-line magazine Panjereh, or Window, devoted its most recent issue to Farsi1, featuring on the cover a digitally altered version of an evil-looking Murdoch sporting a button in the channel's signature pink and white colors. "Murdoch is a secret Jew trying to control the world's media, and [he] promotes Farsi1," the magazine declared.

On Wednesday, police raided several apartment buildings in an affluent Tehran neighborhood, confiscating dozens of dishes.

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