U.S. launching news for Iranians after protests

WASHINGTON, July 3 (Reuters) - The U.S. government will launch a nightly news broadcast to Iran on Sunday to provide information to Iranians opposed to conservative leaders, a spokeswoman for the Voice of America said on Thursday.

The half-hour news program will be available across Iran by satellite from 9.30 p.m. to 10 p.m. local time (1700 to 1730 GMT and 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. EDT), said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be named.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs U.S. government broadcasting to foreign audiences, made the decision to launch the program after student protests against the Iranian government last month.

"The aim is to provide reliable news and information to the people of Iran as they're in this struggle for self-determination. They really need information right now and it's to fulfill that need," the spokeswoman said.

The news broadcasts are in addition to Radio Farda, a 24-hour U.S.-run Persian-language radio service, and two weekly television programs broadcast in Farsi -- Roundtable with You and Next Chapter. Voice of America also runs a Farsi service.

VOA said the news program would run until the end of September and cost a total of $500,000. It will use existing VOA staff and Radio Farda stringers in Iran.

The U.S. government says its news broadcasts merely provide information and are politically neutral. But the governments which they target often see them as hostile propaganda.

The Bush administration came out in open support of the objectives of the student protesters last month.

But the protests have since subsided and Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Wednesday the United States should avoid intervention in Iranian politics.

U.S. officials say they hope, however, that the protest movement will revive on July 9, the fourth anniversary of a violent attack on a Tehran University dormitory.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said there was no contradiction between opposing intervention in Iranian politics and launching the news broadcasts.

"We don't consider that providing information is getting involved or interfering in anything," he told a briefing. If the Iranians think otherwise, "that's their problem," he said.