(Picture: Rouhani (R) and incumbent head of state-run TV Abdulali Ali-Askari.)
The last Persian calendar year, ended on March 19 2016 with unsubstantiated rumors about replacement of Mohammad Sarafraz, the head of Iran’s state broadcasting service, IRIB: serious rumors never confirmed by officials. However, that came into realization at the beginning of the current Persian calendar year. Sarafraz’s term as the IRIB director came to a premature end and he gave up his seat to Abdolali Ali-Askari. Once again, the IRIB is at the heart of Iran’s political atmosphere before the New Year. This time, the administration is heavily criticizing the ‘national medium’.
In recent days, three high-ranking officials of the administration have lambasted IRIB’s coverage of the administration’s measures. On Tuesday, administration’s spokesman Mohammad-Bagher Nobakht questioned IRIB’s unfair coverage of the country’s economic status quo during his last presser in the current Persian calendar year. Emphasizing double-digit economic growth that is a first in many years, he said the administration expects IRIB to undertake some research. “It is unbecoming of the national medium to find a handful of people and ask them if they feel [the growth] in their daily life and conclude that nothing has happened,” he told reporters.
Nobakht boasted economic growth, saying facilities were provided for manufacturers or crops were bought from farmers.
Saying the method of coverage was inappropriate and undignified, Nobakht called such reports a result of work undertaken by a ‘special political squad in IRIB’, which produces certain ‘calculated’ and ‘purposefully destructive’ programs.
Iran’s telecommunication minister Mahmoud Vaezi has also spoken out about certain immensely influential parts of IRIB that want to administer the state broadcasting as a party. On Wednesday evening, Iran’s intelligence minister also challenged the behavior of IRIB and the host of a special interview show, regarding the nuclear deal and what he called censorship on the administration’s achievements.
He told the host who was trying to steer the interview away from administration’s achievements, particularly in the nuclear deal and foreign policy, that the IRIB does not let people be informed about the administration’s achievements.
When the director of IRIB was replaced in mid-May last year, sparks of hope had shaped among administration officials and adherents that the IRIB’s course would change.
Mohammad Sarfaraz, whose term in IRIB did not last more than two years, had failed to come into terms with the Rouhani administration. His deputy for political affairs was a close ally of rival and critic Saeed Jalili.
At the time, IRIB frequently reported against the administration’s biggest plan, i.e. the nuclear deal. Opponents in the national medium criticized the accord between Iran and the West. IRIB’s one-sided approach to the nuclear talks was the main point of divergence between the administration and the broadcasting service under Sarafraz.
After unprecedented problems emerged in the organization, Sarafraz was unable to continue his leadership and gave way to his successor Abdolali Ali-Askari. Like Sarafraz, he was one of the experienced executives of IRIB. But unlike his, Ali-Askari had little political background.
Ali-Askari, who had technical responsibilities in IRIB, left the organization when Sarafraz was appointed director, and returned when Sarafraz was handed the sack. His technical background caused many to imagine he could mend the ties between the national medium and the administration.
In his most important appointment, he chose Morteza Mirbagheri as his deputy for TV affairs. Given Mirbagheri’s background, the appointment seemed to be a positive signal to the administration.
Mirbagheri had served as Ali Larijani’s deputy in his second five-year term as IRIB chief. Compared to his predecessors, he seemed to be more of a moderate. As time passed however, that came to be wrong. Administration officials remained critical of IRIB. While the national medium had focused on the nuclear talk and deal under Sarfaraz, Ali-Askari’s IRIB concentrated on the administration’s economic performance.
This has made administration officials frequently chuck tantrums about IRIB’s approach. The verbal fight first began with the ‘pay-slip scandal’, in which the broadcasting service fired at the administration with an extensive coverage of astronomical salaries.
President Hassan Rouhani himself has also criticized IRIB’s censorship of his remarks in a recent news conference, saying the broadcasting enterprise oversummarizes his remarks, making them malformed. “They do it because they do not want to waste people’s time,” he jested.
Administration spokesman Mohammad-Bagher Nobakht has also repeatedly discussed the administration’s expectations from the national medium. In various cases he has complained about and criticized the organization. His bitterest attack was also his latest. As the current year saw IRIB’s attacks concentrate on the administration’s economic output, Nobakht recently said he was informed that 20:30, a yellow-page news show, has “investigated 7.2 percent economic growth yielded in the first three quartet of the year using a naïve, misleading, and even prosecutable method”. Nobakht went on saying that such manipulation of a national platform leads to instillation of doubts. “People are smart and wise. They would notice that these tools are being used to distort the administration’s services. And they will react, too,” he added.
Foreign ministry officials have also taken stance against the IRIB. The Persian calendar year 1394 was one of confrontation between the national medium and the foreign ministry. This went so far that the state-run TV did not air an interview with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif conducted by popular soccer show host Adel Ferdowsipour.
Despite changes at managerial levels in the IRIB, the current year is not much better, either. Abbas Araghchi declined to attend a live debate about the nuclear deal, on the first anniversary of its implementation day.
Dissatisfaction with the IRIB has a long history. A similar situation had taken place under the pro-reform administrations of Mohammad Khatami. Think tanks working against the administration were first brought up under Khatami. It was only under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the sides were in good, amicable terms. Even that golden age met challenges in the last two years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency.
*The article above is a translation of a Fararu article published on Thursday. Slight changes have been made to the original text.