Iran hard-liners turn to social media

Across Iran’s political spectrum, posting on social media has increasingly replaced street campaigning as the crucial way to rally supporters and attack opponents — even if some of the most popular sites such as Twitter remain officially banned. (Reuters)
Updated 16 May 2017
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Iran hard-liners turn to social media

TEHRAN: After a series of bruising electoral defeats, Iranian conservatives campaigning in this week’s presidential poll have belatedly embraced social media — a space long dominated by their reformist rivals.
Across Iran’s political spectrum, posting on social media has increasingly replaced street campaigning as the crucial way to rally supporters and attack opponents — even if some of the most popular sites such as Twitter remain officially banned.
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the hard-line Tehran mayor, has used Twitter and messaging app Telegram, which has 25 million users in Iran, to release documents accusing his rivals of corruption.
When moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who is seeking re-election, visited the site of a mining disaster last week, conservatives posted a video of his car being attacked by protesters, which quickly went viral.
Another conservative candidate, cleric Ebrahim Raisi, has live-streamed his rallies on Instagram and given unprecedented online question-and-answer sessions.
It marks a significant shift in a country where conservatives have tended to respect bans on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube — leaving reformists a relatively free run on social media.
The bans date back to the 2009 election when Twitter and Facebook were widely used to rally support for reformists and then to organize mass protests when they claimed the result was rigged in favor of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“The reformist camp always had the upper hand on social media” during 2009 and 2013 elections, journalist Sadra Mohaghegh told AFP.
Conservatives finally came round after a massive defeat in urban areas at last year’s parliamentary elections, in which reformists scored a clean sweep of Tehran’s 30 seats.
“Until then the conservatives had not realized the power of social media, but after that, they realized they had to join the game,” said Mohaghegh, who writes for reformist daily Shargh.
Reformists have continued to score hits on social media.
When hard-liner Ghalibaf claimed he supported female empowerment in the workplace, critics published documents showing he had called for gender-segregated offices at Tehran municipal offices.
But Iran’s hard-liners have some powerful assistance.
Some 18,000 “volunteers” regularly scour the Internet for anything deemed subversive, a top judiciary official said in February.
The arrests in March of 12 heads of popular reformist channels on Telegram sent a chill through the online community.
Six are still in jail, despite criticism from Rouhani and another lawmaker who blamed the elite Revolutionary Guards and told them to stay out of politics.
Rouhani has made civil liberties, including online freedom, a key theme of his campaign.
His administration has rolled out high-speed Internet across the country, making it harder for the authorities to limit access.
“The era of one state broadcaster dominating people’s minds is over,” he said at a campaign rally on Saturday.
“We will set up the communications infrastructure so that each one of you can become the broadcaster with your mobile phones. We will not let Iran become isolated once again.”
The online mudslinging has smeared both sides in a bitterly fought contest. But the use of social media has at least boosted voter interest in the election, and officials are keen to see a high turnout in order to buttress the regime’s legitimacy.
“I think everyone has embraced the competitive campaign atmosphere — it helps build up the hype and enthusiasm,” Mohaghegh said.


Saudi Arabia ‘has a case’ in complaint over World Cup ‘politicization’ by Qatar’s BeIN

Updated 19 June 2018
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Saudi Arabia ‘has a case’ in complaint over World Cup ‘politicization’ by Qatar’s BeIN

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has a justified case in complaining to FIFA over the “politicization” of the World Cup by the Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports, a prominent TV analyst has said.
A flurry of comments by hosts and pundits aired on BeIN’s Arabic station prompted the Saudi Arabian Football Federation to complain to FIFA this week, saying the broadcaster was using the football tournament to spread political messages aimed at insulting Saudi Arabia and its leaders.
In its complaint, the federation called on FIFA to take severe sanctions against the Qatari channel and to abolish the rights granted to the network.
One BeIN commentator accused Saudi Arabia of “selling out the Palestinian cause,” while a Doha-based international footballer invited on the channel was allowed to call for an end to the year-long boycott of Qatar by neighbors Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain.
Constantinos Papavassilopoulos, principal TV research analyst at IHS Markit Technology, said that politicized coverage was expressly forbidden by world football’s governing body as well as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
“FIFA and UEFA forbid the transmission of political messages during football matches for which they control the rights. It’s not only comments by the broadcasters — but even banners; everything (political) is forbidden,” the analyst told Arab News.
“So messages about Palestine, about political things, are not allowed.”
Papavassilopoulos said that if there is evidence of such cases, authorities in the Kingdom would be justified in taking the matter to FIFA.
“If there are video clips that show BeIN media personnel speaking against Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia has a case,” he said.
But whether FIFA will take any action against BeIN is another matter. Papavassilopoulos pointed to the fact that BeIN is a valued client of FIFA — it bought the rights to host the World Cup across the Middle East and North Africa — and that Qatar plans to host the tournament in 2022.
“BeIN media is a very good client for FIFA. And don’t forget that Qatar is the country that will host the 2022 World Cup,” he said. “It’s going to be very very hard for FIFA to impose penalties on BeIN media knowing that Qatar will hold the next World Cup.”
Some of the biggest names in Arab sport have signed a petition to protest against BeIN’s politicization of World Cup coverage, urging FIFA President Gianni Infantino to investigate the coverage.
FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Arab News.