14 خرداد 1392

TV presidential debate resembles quiz shows

4 June 2013

Translated by Mehrdad Safa

Khabarnegaran.info–The first televised debate among presidential hopefuls looked much like quiz shows, as they had to answer to IQ-type and multiple choices questions within a short period of time, stimulating short discussions about economic issues.

The state-run TV broadcast the debate on Friday, May 31, at 4:00 pm local time with the participation of all eight approved candidates. The debate was meant to create the least possible controversy, but provoked humorous reactions in social networking and news websites. Several candidates resisted to answer the questions in the first place, arguing that the debate structure was ‘humiliating’ for both people and candidates.

The hosts of the debate continuously praised the candidates for their peaceful manner. The first chapter of the debate, lasted for two and a half hours, was a series of short questions and answers on economic affairs that failed to attract people. Ali Toloui, a senior manager from IRIB, and also a fellow-citizen of principalist candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, took part in the first chapter, though he remained silent throughout the debate.

The calm of the debate was disturbed in the second chapter when three candidates objected to the way it was organized. Morteza Heydari, who hosted the debate, claimed that the debate structure had been finalized after hundreds of hours of specialized work, trying to pacify the discontented candidates.

First Chapter: Economic Quiz Show

Principalis candidates Saeed Jalili, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Akbar Velayati, reformist Hasan Rouhani and Mohammad Reza Aref, and independent Mohammad Gharazi and Mohsen Rezaee discussed their economic views in short-time monologues one after the other.

Unlike previous controversial televised debates of the disputed presidential election of 2009, in which four candidates debated in pairs in six episodes, this year’s debate took place in a group formed of all candidates. The debate host raised previously phrased questions, then selected a candidate in a draw to start the discussion within three minutes. After that, every other candidate had 90 seconds to discuss his opinions or respond to any other candidate.

It started with Gharazi’s views about inflation and the depreciation of Iranian rial over the last century, then continued with Ghalibaf, who believed increased liquidity causes inflation and recession. Haddad-Adel then criticized other candidates for their emphasis on inflation, instead of employment.

Economy was the pivot of seven of the eight questions asked in the first chapter. The only striking different question, ‘How should the government interact with other powers and supervisory organizations in decision-making for the country?’, when Aref was selected in a draw to answer the question.

Aref criticized the single party rule at state level in the recent years, seeing it responsible for the current problems of the country. He said that a balance must exist between all powers, and in time of conflict, the Leader has to interfere.

Second Chapter: University Exam Test Style

However, the second chapter surprised many viewers. It was broadcast after a short rest period, comprising a few musical performances and two IRIB hosts’ talks in praise of the calm of the candidates during the first chapter.

Before the debate begins, three candidates Aref, Rezaee and Rouhani objected to the way it was organized. Candidates were asked to answer to yes-or-no or multiple-choice questions, which resembled university entrance exams.

Aref was the first candidate to raise objections to this method, saying that he ‘will not attend the university entrance exam and will not answer multiple choice questions because it is below the President’s dignity.’ He refused to answer ten consecutive multiple choice questions later.

“I exercised patience from the beginning. You know how patient I am. But if we do not consider the dignity of a president, how can we form a strong government?” independent Rezaee decried.

“Your style for holding this debate is humiliating. People will judge similarly about this,” reformist candidate Rouhani said. However, Rouhani and Rezaee both consented to answer the questions. The debate host, Heydari, reiterated that the style was developed in close consultation with hundreds of university professors.

After serious criticisms raised by candidates, who occasionally reiterated questions were essentially draft, paradoxical or illogical, the host consented to skip the remaining yes-or-no questions.

Later in the second chapter, candidates were shown a number of pictures and were asked to tell their opinions. Among the shown pictures were an analog clock showing 7:15, the crowded bazaar of Tehran, the heavy traffic in Tehran, and a snapshot of a mine.

Online users ridicule debates

Many of Iranian users in social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter criticized the first chapter of debates as worthless, while seeing the second chapter greatly surprising, humiliating, and resembling quiz shows. As expected, online discussions about these debates soon became humorous.

“What will be the next episode? A contest for reciting poetry?” a user wrote ironically.

“In several next minutes… you will be watching a yogurt-eating contest between candidates” said another user, in reference to an old, popular TV show, in which participants contested each other for eating more yogurt in limited time frames.

Some users also seriously criticized the style of debates: “Ironically, those who don’t defend their own dignity and honor, want to defend the dignity of a nation.”

“The designers of the questions at IRIB were fully aware that the present dignity of the President is less than what one could imagine. That’s why they allowed themselves to degrade the most important election.”

At the end of the first televised presidential debate, independent Gharazi asked a rhetorical question: “With these programs, IRIB wants to obtain 55 million votes?” Other candidates also asked IRIB to revise the style of debates. The second and third debate will be broadcast on June 5 and 7 respectively.

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