Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has blamed foreign media for the recent economic turbulence in his country and lamented the fact that Iranians trust foreign outlets more than domestic ones.
“Today, our main problem is not the economy, culture, or security, but a psychological war,” Rouhani said June 13 while addressing a group of Iranian journalists and media officials, adding, “the biggest grief of a nation is when foreign media are their [main] source of information.”
Iran’s constitution does not allow private individuals to launch radio and TV programs, and all existing channels are under the umbrella of a state-run organization controlled by conservatives and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Newspapers, magazines, and websites that can be owned by individuals are also heavily censored.
Media rights organizations such as Reporters Without Borders call Iran one of the world’s most unsafe countries for journalists, since they are subject to systematic persecution by the state.
Consequently, millions of Iranians turn to Persian language media outlets such as Radio Farda, VOA Persian, and BBC Persian for uncensored news about national and international affairs.
Research sponsored by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, shows that VOA Persian and RFE/RL’s Radio Farda each enjoy a weekly audience of close to ten million (about 16 percent of the population 15 years and older) in Iran in 2017.
Based on an estimates by the BBC, the weekly audience for its Persian language service is around 13 million.
These survey numbers combine audiences on all platforms; radio, TV, and on-line.
“I have not seen many places where a nation trusts outside media so much,” President Rouhani said in his speech on Wednesday. He also denounced the critical content about his government on the websites of international news outlets, saying, “Known domestic media should be the source of information for the public and not some unknown media who say whatever pleases them in the cyberspace and deceive the people by …slandering.”
In addition to independent foreign media outlets, there are also many popular websites and social media accounts run by Iranians living abroad, particularly former journalists and political activists. Some of these sites and accounts publish news and reports that are critical of the Iranian regime, and have millions of viewers every month.