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Rouhani Praises Government's Monopoly On Broadcasting In Iran, Experts Disagree

An illustration of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB)
An illustration of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB)

President Hassan Rouhani complained about excessive criticism of his administration by the state television and said that "too much criticism will disappoint the nation."

He made the comment during a meeting with the chief and senior managers of Iran's state broadcaster, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), on Monday August 17.

Although IRIB Chief Ali Askari takes part in a daily meeting with President Rouhani as a member of the COVID-19 Disease Control Task Force, this was Rouhani's first meeting with the broadcaster's senior executive managers.

The IRIB Chief is directly appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his managers are usually endorsed by Khamenei's office.

President Rouhani has lashed out at the state TV network for its "biased and unilateral" news coverage several times since 2013, and at times his administration has refused to allocate the budget requested by the state TV.

In a bid to appease IRIB's managers, President Rouhani praised their monopoly on broadcasting in Iran, calling it an advantage for the organization. In reality, the monopoly effectively ended two decades ago, when Persian-speaking satellite televisions started to beam programs into Iran from Europe, the United States and the Persian Gulf region.

During the meeting with the state TV's managers, President Rouhani, who did not seem happy about constant criticism of his administration on national TV, said the meeting was arranged for him to thank the managers for their cooperation with the disease control task force.

President Rouhani claimed that whatever is broadcast on the IRIB reflects the official view of the Iranian government, and that those outside Iran accept the news on the state TV as “the voice and vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” which reflects the goals and image of the Iranian political system.

Numerous critics, including three of Iran's presidents since 1997, have criticized the IRIB's exclusive right over broadcasting, often describing it as an undesirable "monophony."

At the same time, particularly with the rise in influence of social media channels that challenge Iran’s official news dissemination systems, the IRIB lost its influence particularly among young Iranians.

Some experts and analysts have even attributed Rouhani's own victory in the 2017 presidential election to the rise in social media influence around the country. As Tehran University sociology professor Younes Nourbakhsh wrote in an analysis of election results in the economic daily Donya-ye Eqtesad in 2017, “Social media managed to stand against the direction taken by the state TV" that supported Rouhani's hardline rival and "created supporters in cyberspace" for Rouhani. Nourbakhsh added that social media "formed an avalanche-like chain of events, and netizens supported their candidate and spread information."

Meanwhile, in recent years, many critics have said that the IRIB is no longer the point of reference for the society as far as news and information on current events are concerned. One of the main takeaways of the most recent Iranian presidential election was that social media proved to be more powerful and effective than the state TV, although the latter is readily available to everyone at almost no cost.

Media analyst Qader Bastani recently wrote in Sharq newspaper that “social media has left little room for the state TV reports and now only the bloopers on TV become viral. Unlike the past, when the audiences were passive and under the influence of the media, now social media are the forerunners of the media landscape and exercise great influence."

Stressing that the IRIB needs serious change in its approach, Bastani wrote, "It is now hard for reporters to go among the people because the people no longer talk in the way that reporters want them to talk. Everybody talks in a controversial way and it is hard to find citizens who would say what television managers want them to say."

In another article, Bastani wrote that people in Iran are concerned about the fact that their voice is not reflected on state TV. He further suggested that in the same way that the Islamic Republic has put an end on the state monopoly in banking, it should also end the IRIB's monopoly on broadcasting.

In the meantime, Khabar Online revealed in a report that, while critics allege that the Iranian state broadcaster's viewership is declining, the IRIB maintains that over 80 percent of the Iranian population rely on the network for news and information.