Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has distanced himself from Iran’s hardline Judiciary and “politically biased” state TV, most likely because of harsh criticism by regime insiders and increasing public dissatisfaction.
Khamenei who was speaking to a group of university students in Tehran on Monday, May 28, said although he appoints Iran’s Judiciary chief and the head of the state TV, he does not intervene in their management, Iranian media reported.
Khamenei added, “I have always been critical of the state TV under its current and previous management and disagreed with the TV’s position on various subjects.”
“The leadership manages institutions such as the armed forces, but he does not manage the state TV and the Judiciary although he appoints them,” Khamenei said as if he was talking about someone else.
There is widespread belief in Iran that the Supreme Leader’s office controls the judiciary and state broadcasting to the same degree it controls the military. Therefore, Khamenei’s disavowal of their activities will not be easily believed by the people and politicians. Many will see these statements as evasion of responsibility.
Widespread protests in December-January, which have continued sporadically, as well as daily labor strikes and louder criticism by many insiders have created an impression that the regime’s future is more uncertain than ever before.
Khamenei’s attempt to distance himself from unpopular hardline institutions might be a tactic to shield himself from intensifying direct attacks.
What was noteworthy about Khamenei’s remarks was the fact that he was responding to unusually blunt questions by the students. Customarily, people attending public meetings with Khamenei are screened and pre-selected from groups loyal to the regime. But recently, there have been some instances of unexpected questions thrown at the supreme leader.
But in the Monday meeting, Khamenei was criticized more harshly than ever before about many of organizations he “supervises.”
Sahar Mehrabi, a student who edits academic journals complained that “investigation into the performance of some institutions under your supervision, such as the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), the Judiciary, the state TV, and financial institutions such as the Mostazafan Foundation… is practically impossible”.
She also criticized state officials for “evading accountability,” stating that the situation is “problematic.”
Opposition figures have been complaining about the state TV’s politically biased coverage in favor of hardliners and lambasting the Judiciary for “arbitrary trials and unlawful behaviour” for many years.
During the past two years, however, the audacity to criticize spread to regime insiders such as President Hassan Rouhani and his ultraconservative predecessor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rouhani has often criticized the state TV for ignoring his administration’s performance and supporting his political rivals’ views, particularly during the 2017 elections.
Ahmadinejad has characterized the Judiciary as “corrupt” and “not accountable,” while also criticizing Khamenei for appointing Sadeq Larijani, “a man of no judicial background” as Chief Justice.
Ahmadinejad has said that “there is no mechanism or authority, citizens could resort to in order to complain about the Judiciary’s unlawful behaviour.”
Meanwhile, viewers have often criticized the state TV for arbitrary censorship of non-political content such as volleyball and football matches and other entertainment programs, and biased programming to support the views of the most hardline elements in Iranian society, depriving moderates of a voice.
The state TV, officially known as the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) has exclusive right to broadcasting. Satellite TV programs beamed into Iran from abroad are officially banned and Iranian police have been observed attacking homes and confiscating or destroying receivers and satellite dishes.