12 آبان 1393

Who’s the next IRIB head

Ezzatollah Zarghami’s legacy in Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting

3 November 2014

Translated by:Mehrdad Safa

Khabarnegaran.info –Sara Mohseni: As speculations grow about the new head of the state-run television and radio (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting/ IRIB), Iranian media are conjecturing about potential candidates to replace Ezzatollah Zarghami.

However, less attention has been paid to the ten years of Zarghami’s office, who had formerly been a member of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

IRIB before Zarghami

Sadegh Ghotbzadeh was the first head of IRIB after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. IRIB’s path changed after he was arrested and later executed.

Siamak Ghaderi, formerly been a reporter at IRNA (Islamic Republic News Agency), describes IRIB during Sadegh Ghotbzadeh’s term of office as “an organization that, to some extent, was successful at undertaking its organizational mission.”

“I prefer this period when the fierce war of power between government parties had not yet started. Later on, military and security organizations seized the control of state-run TV and radio,” Ghaderi told Khabarnegaran.info.

Morteza Kazemian, a French-based journalist, also told Khabarnegaran.info about this period: “Just after the Revolution, IRIB would broadcast debates between the most prominent political figures. Freedom of expression was so strong then that criticisms were even levelled at the interim government of Bazargan.”

Mohammad Hashemi, brother of veteran statesman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was put in charge of the state-owned TV and radio. He was reappointed by new Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei after Khomeini’s death.

As IRIB gained momentum as a political entity controlled by the state, its programs became more like a solely official tribune for the state.

“Particularly after the spring of 1981, with the outbreak of Iran-Iraq War” Kazemian explains, “IRIB became totally at the service of dominant ideology of the [new Islamist] rulers.”

Ghaderi shares the same opinion about IRIB’s performance during the war: “With the outbreak of war, the political climate became even more restricted, and state-sponsored war propaganda spread throughout television, radio and other media.”

Ghaderi, however, believes that the decade-long fanaticism pursued by IRIB was alleviated: “Fundamental changes started during Mohammad Hashemi’s tenure. It was also then that military and security organizations, particularly IRGC commanders, started to penetrate IRIB, as well as other decision-making authorities on media.”

Ali Larijani headed IRIB after him for ten years, and was replaced by his lesser known deputy Ezzatollah Zarghami.

Who is Zarghami?

In early June 2004, Ezzatollah Zarghami, relatively unknown by that time, replaced Ali Larijani.

A biographical article published in Etemaad Melli daily on 16 June 2009 wrote, “When he arrived in Tehran, he settled down in Nazi Abad neighborhood where he became friend with Saeed Hajjarian, Abbad Abdi and Haj Davood Karimi. Ironically, he became a rightist unlike his leftist friends.”

According to this article, Zarghami joined IRGC during the Iran-Iraq War and later served in the Police Force. In 1992, he was appointed as deputy Islamic Culture Minister for cinema. He went to IRIB when Ali Larijani was appointed as the head of IRIB, and was the deputy head for provincial affairs and later for legal and parliamentary affairs.

In November 2009, amid the post-election public protests, Zarghami was reappointed by the Supreme Leader for a second five-year term.

Zarghami vs. Larijani: From a former IRIB reporter’s perspective

A former IRIB reporter, referred to by the pseudonym of Amini here, told Khabarnegaran.info: “I worked for IRIB both during Ali Larijani’s and Ezzatollah Zarghami’s term of office. I guess the difference of opinion between editors and managers was bolder when Larijani headed the organization. It was more likely at that time to produce shows and reports that echo different voices.”

Amini retells the story of how Zarghami’s appointment, accompanied by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election, triggered replacements, demotions and dismissals of managers, editors and staff.

“The staff known as loyalist to state and Supreme Leader got hold of every single thing at IRIB’s Political Department and replaced those who occasionally were unsure of whether they should act upon orders from their superiors.

“This led to editors being obliged to broadcast, from time to time, shows whose scripts and footages had been previously prepared by security organizations, normally through Young Journalists Club”.

The broadcast of popular news show 20:30 started during Zarghami’s term of office and shortly became a major source of controversial, scurrilous news. “For a long time,” Amini said, “20:30 news and features were prepared by an editor who was very close to the Supreme Leader’s Office.”

TV channels rise but viewers decline

Some official figures show that IRIB has lost many viewers especially after the 2009 disputed presidential election. Instead, more and more people have turned to satellite channels.

Kazemian believes that Zarghami’s job was harder because of the advent of technology. “Whereas only one percent of Tehran’s citizens had satellite receivers at their homes in 1995, 70 percent had access to satellite shows in 2013.”

Nearly all independent experts agree on the popularity of satellite channels and Internet broadcasts, and the failure of newly-established channels of IRIB.

“For example,” Kazemian notes, “Mostanad Channel has only attracted tens of thousands of viewers, while National Geography Persian has a viewership of over hundreds of thousands.

Behind-the-scenes decision makers

The Political Department, which is in an all-glass building, is the highest political authority at IRIB. Majid Akhoundi, who heads this department since 2005, is among the most influential figures at IRIB.

IRIB News head Abdorreza Bavali, who is a subordinate to Akhoundi, is the second most influential figure.

However, not all political policies of IRIB are framed by these two individuals. There are always a few influential figures behind the scenes.

“News broadcasts of all five TV channels, radio channels, three Jam-e-Jam channels, as well as Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, IRIB News, and YJC are all under the direct supervision of the Political Department of IRIB,” Amini said. “The Department’s general policies are directly shaped by the Office of the Supreme Leader. Therefore, there is no room for anything against the “directives” of the Supreme leader.

Ghaderi believes that the most distinguished feature of IRIB during the past ten years has been “policy-making about controlling the society.”

Kazemian believes that Zarghami has been able to continue to hold this post by advocating the dominant discourse of authoritarianism. “IRIB’s performance after the 2009 election coup and bloody public protests had key role in keeping Zarghami’s position.”

IRIB’s 10-year prospect

Zarghami’s ten-year term of office is now about to finish. Perhaps, the most noteworthy highlight was poll protests show trials and biased reporting against the Green Movement, which made famous traditional Iranian singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian and a few other artists to ban IRIB from broadcasting their works.

Ghaderi believes that little change will occur at the managerial level for the next ten years.

Kazemian also believes that the future head of IRIB will not have a fundamental difference with Zarghami and Larijani. “Whoever holds the position will be the propaganda arm of religious authoritarianism and a loyalist to Ali Khamenei to distort the reality.”

However, it is most likely that Ezzatollah Zarghami will soon be replaced by IRIB deputy head for overseas Mohammad Sarafraz. In his 20 years in this position, Sarafraz has been able to launch English-language Press TV, Arabic-language Al-Alam, and Spanish-language Hispan TV channels.

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