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Thousands Of Actors And Filmmakers In Iran On Secret Blacklist

Former Director-General of the Iranian State Radio & TV (IRIB), Mohammad Sarafraz, undated.

Thousands of Iranian actors, filmmakers, and other artists are on a secret blacklist banning them from performing or presenting their work publicly, a former director of Iran’s state-run radio and TV has revealed.

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the state-run entity that monopolizes all radio and TV broadcasting in the country, even bans some artists from entering IRIB buildings, former IRIB Director-General Mohammad Sarafraz told pro-reform daily Sharq March 12.

"One of the reasons I resigned from my position was the interference and meddling of intelligence organizations in IRIB's internal affair. These organizations insisted that thousands of people engaged in arts, drama and making films and TV series should be banned from presenting their works through IRIB," Sarfaraz said.

Sarfaraz, known as an ultraconservative activist, clarified that he is not against the ban in principle, only the way it is implemented.

Earlier reports have also estimated thousands of Iranian actors, filmmakers, screenwriters, and other artists who enjoyed fame during the reign of the last king of Iran, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, were blacklisted, but Sarafraz’s comments represent the first time a former IRIB official has admitted the ban and the involvement of the intelligence services.

It has been reported that hundreds of these artists and performers are not allowed to even be interviewed by state-run radio or TV.

Sarafraz, 57, was appointed as the Director-General of the IRIB in 2014 but resigned eighteen months later. As a rule, IRIB's Director-General, appointed directly by the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, serves two five-year terms in the position.

Earlier reports maintained that Sarafraz resigned to protest intelligence agents' mistreatment of his consultant Ms. Shahrzad Mir Qolikhan.

Speaking March 12 to the daily published by IRIB, Jam-e Jam, Sarfaraz disclosed that "an intelligence organization" had an "irrational confrontation" with Ms. Mir Qolikhan, asking her to leave the country.

In a post on Facebook, Mir Qolikhan affirmed that agents affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) intelligence organization had asked her to leave Iran.

Furthermore, in an article for Jam-e Jam daily, the head of IRIB's Documentary Channel, Amir Tajik, asserted that Ms. Mir Qolyihan had been targeted by the IRGC for a report on wasteful spending at IRIB that she had presented to Sarfaraz.

In his interview with Jam-e Jam, Sarafraz claimed that one of his goals as director-general was reforming IRIB's structure and reducing its costs.

"IRIB had thousands of employees, many of them without relevant training, but employed through connection and outside recommendation," Sarafraz said.

According to Sarafraz, IRIB had nearly 20,000 staff plus 20,000 more external contributors, including 3,000 managing-directors.

The budget of IRIB under Sarafraz's predecessor, IRGC commander, Ezzatollah Zarghami, amounted to twenty trillion rials (roughly $480 million), with 27 trillion rials (approximately $640 million) in expenditures.

To compensate for the budget deficit, Sarafraz divulged, properties belonging to IRIB were sold, including a piece of land in Tehran’s elite Elahiyyeh neigborhood, which sold for more than one trillion rials (roughly $24 million).

IRIB's budget has increased every year, and in recent years, it has occasionally received even further financial assistance from the country's National Development Fund (NDP). IRIB also generates significant advertising revenues.

Meanwhile, speaking to Khabar Online news website, a member of IRIB's Supervisory Board, Ehsan Qazizadeh, said that IRIB's budget for the current Iranian year (ending March 20) amounted to 31 trillion rials (roughly $740 million), while it collects eighteen trillion rials (approximately $430 million) by airing commercials.

Despite it’s healthy funding, it is generally accepted that IRIB is suffering from a lack of audience, and its decision to air forced confessions of political and civil rights activists has triggered widespread protests.

In a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, numerous Iranian dissidents recently called for adding IRIB to Washington’s sanctions list. The dissidents cited the IRIB’s disregard for human rights, airing of manipulated news, promoting ideas to destabilize the region, and relaying jamming signals.