Khabarnegaran.info-Niki Azad: Local journalist Mahdieh Amiri speaks of the hardships of practicing journalism in the southern Iranian province of Bushehr. Amiri has been working as a journalist in Bushehr for years. Since 2007, she has been the editor-in-chief of a few local websites, biweekly and quarterly magazines. She is now the editor-in-chief of hamooniran.com website and Ava-ye Dashtestan biweekly.
From Ghotbzadeh to Zarghami: IRIB highlights in the span of 36 years27 November 2014
Translated by:Mehrdad Safa
Khabarnegaran.info –Sara Mohseni: IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting), state monopoly on radio and television, has recently undergone managerial changes, with former IRGC (Iran’s Revolutionary Guards) member Ezzatollah Zarghami being replaced by new head Mohammad Sarafraz, who has 20 years of experience at the giant strategic broadcasting company.
An investigation into the 36-year-old history of IRIB, a media organization always controversially controlled by direct intervention from both supreme leaders, however, reveals blatant violations of journalism ethics and standards since the very beginning of its establishment.
On the evening of February 11, 1979, just minutes after being captured by revolutionary forces, Iranian national radio and television broadcast a message: “This is Tehran; the true voice of Iranian nation; the voice of revolution…” However, the organization still continued to remain under state control throughout its lifetime and people were, once again, excluded from its programs.
Ghotbzadeh era: Decolonization of national anthem
On February 12, 1979, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh was appointed as the acting head of National Iranian Television and Radio at the behest of interim government head Mehdi Bazargan. But the fate that befell him made him one of the earliest victims of forced confessions on the tube – which became a constant trend at the state-run television thereafter.
He confessed to acting against the Islamic Republic with the purpose of toppling the regime, and was executed later in September 1982.
During his early days in office, On February 18, 1979, Ghotbazdeh stated that he plans to make the voices of “the penniless” be heard at IRIB.
“Ey Iran [O Iran] is a fascistic anthem, composed during Reza Khan’s era,” he said when asked why they no longer broadcast the nationalistic anthem. “We need a real anthem that would express the revolution of the nation.”
Those were the days of making frenzied revolutionary speeches. On February 24, addressing the IRIB staff, Ghotbzadeh reacted to criticisms leveled at the organization’s performance: “Those who are trying to demonize IRIB by telling that it is practicing censorship; they must know that my record, at least, shows that I haven’t given in to such biased nonsense threats; and I never will.”
“I’m not just addressing those who say about “censorship”, but also to those that are putting pressure from the other side. Radio and television must serve the interests of the poor and voice constructive criticism against the government. We will disseminate the government news, but will never be a speaker for no government.”
Yet, Ayatollah Khomeini often directed criticism against IRIB in his letter or public statements.
For example, he expressed his sadness over the broadcast of some programs that he believed to be “against Islam”: “Ask Mr. Ghotbzadeh if he doesn’t believe to act by Islamic instructions? Ask if he isn’t obliged to Quran. Our revolution is Islamic Revolution. Why should IRIB broadcast programs against Islam?”
On July 19, 1979, speaking for IRIB staff, Khomeini said: “Reform this organization [IRIB]; I mean don’t be Western; don’t be intoxicated by the West. Don’t think that there should be a piece of music between this and that news. This is Westernification. Consider other alternatives. Do something to leave music forever. Don’t you think that music is for a progressive nation! Music ruins the minds of our children; it spoils the brains of our children. If a young person always listen to music, he won’t have time for other things. He no longer can think seriously. This is why I have told to quit doing these things. Perhaps, I’ve told Mr. Ghotbzadeh more than 10 times, asking him to quit these. He says that it’s not possible. I don’t know why it is not possible. Why isn’t is possible?”
Such objections have also appeared in Hashemi Rafsanjani’s memoirs: “At that time, radio and television had some problems. We were not present there. After the victory [of the revolution], Imam [Khomeini] listened to anthems and songs and summonsed us. They were still singing the songs belonging to the era of tyranny. The slogan was also the “true revolution,” while Imam had been emphasizing “the Islamic Revolution”. He then asked Martyr Morteza Motahhari to go there and get hold of the situation and oppose that trend. The revolution is an Islamic revolution and nothing else.”
On July 15, 1979, IRIB was ruled by a council made up of Mohammad Mousavi, Mohammad Khatami, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, Abdorrahim Gavahi and Ebrahim Pirayandeh. Ghotbzadeh was elected as IRIB director by the council. In a while, Behzad Nabavi, Hasan Rouhani, Ali Larijani and Reza Zavvarei also joined as council members.
Ghotbzadeh’s management ended that year in a crisis-ridden country still beset by revolution. He also admitted a disastrous defeat in the first presidential election, coming out seven.
In the interim: Onset of forced confessions on TV
After Ghotbzadeh, IRIB, governed by a council, had seven heads, each serving very for a short time.
Farrahi, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, Abdollah Nouri, Ali Larijani, Hasan Rouhani, Mohammad Mousavi Khoveyniha and Mohammad Hashemi were among these short-lived heads and caretakers.
This interim period also stands out in the history of IRIB. The first of the controversial serial debates was broadcast on November 6, 1979, in which Sadegh Ghotbzadeh’s criticism upset Revolution Attorney Asadollah Lajvardi, who ordered the imprisonment of Ghotbzadeh at Evin Prison. This was followed by a wide array of protests that led to his imminent release from prison.
But this made Attorney General Ayatollah Mousavi Ardabili appoint Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour and Abollah Nouri as caretakers of IRIB. In his statement, he stated that they would head the organization until a caretaker is appointed by executive, legislative and judiciary powers.
Other controversial debates were ideological debate between fundamental Islamists, namely Abdolkarim Soroush and Mesbah Yazdi, and Marxists, namely Toudeh Party prominent member Ehsan Tabari and Iran’s People Fadayian Organizaiton member Farrokh Negahdar. Other debates took place between Ayatollah Beheshti, Toudeh Party leader Noureddin Kianouri and Combatant Muslim Movement representative Habibollah Peyman.
Confessions of Sadegh Ghotbzadeh was also broadcast during this interim period in 1982. He confessed to planning overthrow of the regime and exploding a bomb in Jamaran where Khomeini resided.
A few months before his confessions, prominent Islamic cleric Ayatollah Shariatmadari, whose photos were carried by protesters along with Khomeini’s in demonstrations leading to the Revolution, was screened on television and admitted to conspiring a coup against the Islamic Republic.
Hashemi era: From harmony with government to controversial interview on Oshin as exemplar for women
Mohammad Hashemi was appointed as IRIB head at Ayatollah Khomeini’s behest.
A part of his management coincided with his brother’s presidency (The fourth president of Iran), which put IRIB is complete harmony with the government. Government plans were given a full coverage by IRIB, mostly as government propaganda.
Of course, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s memoirs shows that he had influence his younger brother even before his presidency.
In his memoirs of 1985, Akbar writes: “Brother Mohammad came in and talked about the current disputes at IRIB. I told him it would be better if we avoided from broadcasting foreign movies that show unveiled women in a vulgar fashion; though it is not haram (sinful).”
It was during his tenure that a raging controversy broke out over an interview on exemplary figures for Iranian women.
On January 28, 1989, in commemoration of Hazrat Fatima’s (Daughter of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and Khadijah) birthday as women’s day, Islamic Republic Radio asks about what ordinary people think about today’s exemplary figure for Iranian women in a series of short interviews. Most interviewees said that Hazrat Fatimah was their exemplary figure. One of the interviewees, though, said: “Oshin [a leading character in a Japanese drama TV series with the same name] is an appropriate example for Iranian women.” When asked why her ideal women is Oshin instead of Hazrat Fatima, she replies: “Hazrat Fatima is for 1400 years ago. We need a modern example.”
Ayatollah Khomeini seriously blasted Mohammad Hashemi in a public letter a day later: “It is with great sadness that a feature was broadcast by Islamic Republic Radio about the ideal woman that one is ashamed to speak of. The one who has broadcast this must be sacked and punished and all those involved in this will be punished. If proved that insulting was intended, the offender will be sentenced to death. If this happens again, senior IRIB officials will be seriously punished and censured. The judiciary power, of course, will act on all matters.”
Later, four program coordinators, including head of Islamic guidance department, editor of special ideological and political programs, were sentenced to four years of imprisonment and 40 lashes.
Mohammad Hashemi’s narrative of what happened after Khomeini’s letter is interesting: “Imam [Khomeini] ordered Public Prosecutor Miremad to investigate the issue, and execute individuals if it was broadcast with the purpose of insulting Islam. Miremad gave court rulings on the case. Six to seven individuals were found guilty. A few ones were sentenced to five years of suspension from service. But Miremad passed no death sentence. I went to Imam and told him I was to blame. ‘I am the head of IRIB, so if you punish them, I will no longer be able to control the organization. I implore you to punish me instead. Imam told me to write [this] down, and he would pardon them.”
In the meantime, forced confessions still prevailed throughout Mohammad Hashemi’s tenure. In 1985, Mehdi Hashemi, brother of son-in-law of the then deputy Supreme Leader Ayatollah Montazeri, also head of Liberation Movements Arm of IRGC, appeared on television and confessed to his involvement in Robert McFarlane scandal, or Iran Contra Affair, his relations with SAVAK, and murder of a few clerics. Mehdi Hashemi was given a death sentence.
After the amendment of the Constitution in 1989, the caretaking council was replaced with a supervisory council. Also, the head of IRIB would no longer be appointed by a six-member council made up of representatives of three powers. Instead, the Supreme Leader was bestowed with the power to select or remove IRIB head from office.
Hashemi was reappointed again by the new Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei for another five years.
Larijani era: Coverage of Berlin Conference
In early 1994, IRIB moved into a new era with the appointment of Ali Larijani. On Morteza Motahhari’s – his father-in-law – advice, Larijani had gone to IRIB in the early days of the Revolution. He started his work as General Manager for Overseas, and also was appointed as the acting manager of the state-run organization for a brief period.
Larijani did his best to bring a few celebrities back to radio and television. One of most popular faces was Mohammad Reza Shajarian, a famous traditional Iranian singer. He later said in a letter addressed to Larijani: “I had been avoiding from appearing on TV since 1976, until I changed my mind after 17 years due to your repetitive requests.”
Again, broadcasting of fabricated confessions continued in Larijani’s term of office. In 1996, a TV broadcast titled “Hoviyat” (literally meaning Identity) made a huge controversy. Iranian intellectuals such as scholar Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub and writer Houshang Golshiri, as well as many others, were accused of high treason and affiliation with foreigners.
Televised confessions of famous writer Saeedi Sirjani, prominent National Front member Ezatollah Sahabi, and writer Gholamhossein Mirzasaleh, which were already recorded in the prison, were also parts of Hoviyat broadcast. It also occasionally accompanied the statements and opinions made by government officials. Ezatollah Sahabi, years later, said that those confessions had been made under torture and after months of imprisonment. In the fourth year of his term, Larijani’s enmity toward the newly-elected, reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami started.
Among other highlights were Cheragh [Light] show. In January 1999, six days after the Ministry of Intelligence admitted the involvement of “its responsible officers” in the serial killing of intellectuals, Cheragh hosted hardliner Rouhollah Hosseinian, who accused Khatami’s government of serial killings. Cheragh program made Khatami so upset that he banned Larijani from attending the Cabinet meetings for some time.
A year later, in an unprecedented event, the state-run television broadcast footage of a dancing a woman on the sidelines of Iran After the Elections conference, better known as Berlin Conference, attended by 17 social and political activists. It was the largest coordinated attack against reformists by IRIB. Several conference participants were also sentenced to long-term imprisonment after their return.
Broadcasting of controversial trial of then Tehran Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi was also among the highlights of IRIB under Larijani’s management.
In 2002, IRIB launched a new set of confessions made by Hossein Ghazian and Abbas Abdi with regard to a case known as Nazarsanji [Survey]. Student protests of July 7, 1999 also took place during the tenure of Larijani. In the same year, IRIB’s subsidiary news agency, Young Journalists Club (YJC), was established. Later, YJC did much in preparing and fabricating stories and extracting false confessions.
Zarghami era: Decline of viewership
On May 23, 2004, once Larijani’s ten years in office ended, his deputy Ezatollah Zarghami was appointed as the head of the organization at Khamenei’s behest.
One of the major events of his tenure was IRIB’s broadcasting of heated debates between presidential candidates, and later coverage of the post-election protests in 2009, accompanied by show trials and televised forced confessions of arrested protesters. As MP Ali Motahari puts it, IRIB added to the flames of public protests by broadcasting one-sided features.
Press TV, an English-speaking satellite channel owned by IRIB, was also launched during Zarghami’s term of office. Press TV also broadcast footage of televised confessions, including Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari’s. Later, Press TV’s license was revoked in Britain after Bahari sued the network. In November 2009, Zarghami was once again reappointed by the Supreme Leader for another five years. According to different figures, the number of viewership reportedly saw a sharp decline during his tenure, with many people turning into foreign-based satellite networks instead.
The hate-inciting trend of IRIB continued in January 2010, when public protests were labeled as organized events by Zionists and foreign conspirators. IRIB broadcast propaganda to call up for a state-sponsored demonstration in response to the latest anti-government protests.
Satelliting jamming of foreign-based satellite networks also disrupted the broadcasting of IRIB satellite channels. After a few months, Iran had to guarantee that it would no longer practice “vertical jamming” on satellites. It was then that 24 international satellite channels of IRIB were once again permitted to run.
Mohammad Sarafaraz is the new head of IRIB. He was the former manager of Press TV, who has been included in the EU blacklist because of broadcasting of confessions of two journalists in March 2012, also known as “Eye of Fox”.
Khabarnegaran.info-Niki Azad: How is life for Iranian journalists after prison? Does their attitude toward their journalism – the profession that put them in jail – change? Are they more conservative than before? Or bolder?
Khabarnegaran – Niki Azad: He has been put in jail three times for his journalist writing, though he says that jail has not made him feel disappointed with the profession of journalism.