State TV’s lies and propaganda don’t fool the Iranian people
In a very typical move, an Iranian state TV channel last month deliberately misrepresented comments by the famous Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo to make them appear anti-Israeli. The channel did not mention that Ronaldo made the comments in 2016 or that they were actually a message of solidarity for Syrian children.
While the misrepresentation of the video of Ronaldo sparked outrage on social media, such distortions are the norm for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, which controls all state TV and radio stations, and for other senior regime officials and bodies. No regime spokesperson or body has commented on or taken any remedial action following this latest outrage.
In parallel with this incident, an Iranian state television channel recently interviewed a guest it described as an Indian expert, who it claimed was speaking in English, with the channel providing a dubbed “translation” into Farsi. However, due to a technical glitch with the sound during the interview, it quickly became clear that the guest was, in fact, speaking Farsi fluently. This made it clear that the channel was attempting to deceive viewers into believing he was an objective, English-speaking foreign expert to add credibility to his remarks.
In a similar case, the state-run Khabar channel in 2020 described the British rock musician Roger Waters as a “political analyst,” while airing footage of his comments criticizing then-President-elect Joe Biden.
As these and countless other incidents confirm, such misleading behavior is closer to being the norm than the exception for Iranian television. In another case, a dramatic report broadcast on a state TV news program last year showed dozens of Indian citizens falling to the ground in a street, supposedly fainting as a result of COVID-19 at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, when 450 Iranians were reportedly dying daily as a result of the virus. It was later revealed, however, that the footage was filmed during a poisonous gas leak at an Indian factory more than a year before. The purpose of airing the video was apparently to divert attention from the woeful situation domestically and to suggest to viewers that other countries had been even worse hit by the virus than Iran.
Meanwhile, many people remember the “corn vendor” who was interviewed on Iranian TV news following an explosion heard in an Iranian region. He claimed that he had been present at the scene and did not hear any explosion. A week later, the same person was interviewed again on the news — this time with his face apparently covered in blood. He claimed he had been on board a Mahan Air flight — the airline whose planes are used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to transfer weapons to Syria — when a US fighter jet approached it as it was returning from Damascus to Tehran, causing him to sustain wounds. This took place prior to the explosion he reported not hearing.
Most Iranians have abandoned state TV and radio completely in favor of channels broadcasting from abroad.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
It also transpired that exactly the same well-traveled so-called corn vendor had appeared in a news bulletin in 2019, speaking about the protests in Iran against gasoline price increases. On this occasion, he wept and accused “rioters” of setting fire to appliances in the home of his daughter, who was, he claimed, set to marry shortly.
These blunders, among others, have stoked outrage among social media users. An increasing number of Iranians have accused the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, an institution directly supervised by the Supreme Leader’s Office, of twisting and falsifying the truth, spreading lies and attempting to deceive and mislead. From the regime’s viewpoint, it seems that such flagrant lies are so much a part of its normal routine that they are not considered worth offering apologies for or providing clarifications or statements on.
Since 1979 — a period marked by a single, unquestionable narrative and the arrival of satellite dishes and channels, as well as the advent of the internet and social media platforms — the Iranian regime has used television and radio, like the print media, as tools to spread its propaganda in an effort to brainwash the population, promote its policies and convey its falsified and distorted version of events as the absolute truth, without any concern or fear of being exposed. For Iranian state TV, it is habitual to use lies and deception to polish the image of the regime, revise history, skew current events and distort or ignore any statements that are viewed as critical of the regime or commend any of its foes.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has reluctantly acknowledged the poor performance of Iranian state TV, with regime officials even admitting to its shrinking audience. Despite this acknowledgement, they refuse to admit that the outright lies, falsifications, denials of truth and distortions of reality are the primary reasons for Iranians turning away from state media.
Also, poor performance and uninteresting content, overlooking Iranian preferences, and a total absence of privately owned, independent domestic media outlets have led most Iranians to abandon state TV and radio completely in favor of channels broadcasting from abroad. Social media platforms have further eroded the official media’s monopoly, despite regime crackdowns.
A unique opinion poll published in March 2021 by the Netherlands-based Gamaan Institute confirmed that the level of public confidence among Iranians in channels broadcasting from outside Iran far exceeds the trust they have in domestic state-run channels. According to the poll, 53 percent of the 20,000-plus respondents trusted the reports and information provided by the Iran International channel launched in 2017. This was followed by the Manoto channel, which won the support of 50 percent of respondents. Meanwhile, lagging far behind both, Iranian state TV was trusted by only 14.3 percent of respondents, with nearly 74 percent stating that they did not trust state television at all. These findings further explain why the Iranian regime is angry at channels broadcasting from abroad, accusing them of exacerbating Iran's problems and spreading lies to create crises and spread despair and frustration among Iranians.
Iranian anger against state TV has been very clearly manifested during the increasing numbers of protests in recent years. In the latest protests sweeping the country, along with slogans against Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, protesters targeted the state media, chanting “State radio and television are a stain of shame upon us.”
The distrust and resentment of official state TV has now grown to the extent that even appearing on state channels is regarded as a disgraceful act. Hassan Mohaddithi Ghailwaei, an Iranian sociology professor who regularly appears on state TV, admitted that, whenever he does so, he is chastised by his students and colleagues for taking part in programs produced by an “institution that does not belong to the people” and whose message is “apparently to spread lies.”
The prominent academic emphasized that the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting is engaged in the systematic dissemination of falsehoods, particularly in regard to political issues. He added: “When it replaces reports on political events with political propaganda, it is inherently accompanied by and filled with lies.”
Given all these facts, why do those in charge of Iranian state TV continue to take the same approach, despite the fact that accurate information is no longer difficult to obtain for those seeking the truth? Although they are fully aware that their lies no longer fool the Iranian people, these outlets continue to spread the same falsehoods simply to maintain the support of a blindly loyal but rapidly shrinking minority of Iran’s population, which still clings to its belief in this regime and its false, empty slogans.
In conclusion, it is no exaggeration to say that the Iranian regime’s fear of free-flowing information and open social media platforms far outweighs its fear of the threat supposedly posed to it by Israel.
• Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah).