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Friday, February 12, 1999 Published at 03:37 GMT

Media caught up in political struggle

Tehran: Not a satellite dish to be seen

By Steve Metcalf of BBC Monitoring

Tensions within Iran's political establishment have recently spilled over into the media field, with state-run television being officially chastised for negligence, and criticised in the press for insulting the president.

The incident sparked calls for the privatisation or break-up of the broadcasting body, and ensured that it will come under close scrutiny for its coverage of local elections later this month.

It also illustrated the difference between the country's monolithic broadcaster, and the lively, diversified press.

The programme that fanned the flames, Cheragh (Lantern), was a discussion on the recent deaths or disappearance of dissidents and intellectuals - which resulted in the arrest of members of the intelligence services on suspicion of involvement.

Khatami supporters blamed

During the discussion, a senior clerical figure attributed the killings to supporters of President Mohammad Khatami.

Though committed to the Islamic revolution, he is seen as a reformist.

However, his attempts to introduce changes have been opposed by conservatives who still control many of the levers of power, among them Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). IRIB's chief is appointed by the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

After the Cheragh programme, President Khatami's office lodged a complaint against IRIB, and a cabinet committee was set up to investigate.

Its report found that some IRIB officials had been negligent, and it recommended that greater care be taken in future.

However, it refrained from directly blaming the director-general of IRIB, Ali Larijani.

Propaganda accusations

[ image: President Khatami: complained about broadcast]
President Khatami: complained about broadcast
Pro-Khatami sections of the press took the opportunity to launch attacks on IRIB, and Larijani himself.

The Hamshahri daily accused Larijani of a campaign of "organised propaganda" against a popularly-elected president, while Asr-e Ma compared the broadcast media's earlier silence about the series of killings with its later "sensational propaganda" and attempts to portray events of national importance as a mere political quarrel.

A number of writers urged a shake-up of the country's broadcasting structures.

Noting that the constitution enjoined IRIB to act in a non-partisan manner, a writer in the English-language Iran Daily suggested that a private broadcasting sector would allow competing political factions to air their views freely - even though this would require a constitutional amendment.

Vulgarity under fire

In a Friday prayer sermon, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati - a leading conservative figure - tried to turn the argument by warning of the imminent dangers of the country being engulfed by a tide of "vulgar, indecent and immoral images" transmitted via the Internet and satellite. Iran banned satellite dishes some years ago.

But Iran Daily countered by saying the IRIB needed to be at the "cutting edge" in creating programmes which would attract young viewers.

The paper called on the Khatami government to set up an authority to oversee the broadcast media, contrasting the lack of supervision with the several bodies that monitor the print media to prevent it from stepping outside the permitted boundaries of debate.

On 10 February, the head of IRIB's research department, Ali Akbar Ashari, cited recent polls that 90 per cent of Iran's population listened to national TV or radio as evidence that " IRIB has been successful in gaining the trust of the people" .

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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