March 18, 2020
The chaotic situation of coronavirus information dissemination in Iran has given rise to many controversies as the performance of Iran’s state-run TV has invited criticism by citizens, as well as artists, journalists and political activists.
Amir-Hossein Rostami, an Iranian actor asked critical questions on a live TV program Monday evening, including why the government delayed announcing the coronavirus outbreak? Why the city of Qom as the epicenter of the outbreak was not quarantined? And why Mahan Air flights to China continued regardless of the outbreak.
During the program the host tried to moderate these remarks saying that “those were Rostami’s questions,” but Rostami said “those questions are on the minds of some 70 to 80 million Iranians.”
The host then tried to interrupt Rostami several times, but the actor continued his criticism for several minutes before the broadcast was suspended.
In the meantime, according to many viewers in Iran, Rostami was sent out of the studio and when the program was resumed, the host explained apologetically that the program was meant to make people laugh and forget about the outbreak.
He added: “Criticizing the government will not make you a bigshot!” and said that Rostami’s questions could have been asked in another program. Surprisingly, he said Rostami’s comment were “irrelevant to the events of these days!”
Rostami also called on Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi to lift the ban on the popular messaging service Telegram as it can be helpful for training and maintaining communication between the medical community and the people.
In another development regarding the behaviour of Iran’s tightly controlled television, Mohammad Sadeq Javadi Hesar, a political activist and former journalist said in an interview with reformist newspaper Etemad earlier that the state-run television’s monopoly on broadcast news and its biased reporting has eroded public trust in the government and has handed over the control of news dissemination to foreign broadcasters.
Meanwhile, in Tuesday’s edition of Etemad, the daily’s editor Ali Mirfattah wrote an article entitled: “This is not media your knighthood!” He was referring to a picture in the state TV’s internal magazine that has photoshopped state TV Chief Ali Askari’s picture portraying him as a Game of Throne hero who is fighting all sorts of foreign-based Persian-speaking media outlets.
Addressing the state TV’s Chief, Mirfattah wrote that the Iranian TV has done harm to conservatives and reformists alike. “You have lost the media battle to groups whose resources are not even half of what you have at your disposal,” Mirfattah wrote, charging that “You do not care for anyone’s views other a few individuals,” adding that the Iranian TV has lost its influence among the public.
While many Iranian TV viewers on social media praised the outspoken actor Rostami for his honest assessment of the situation, some hardliners criticized him for his comments and accused him of “insulting all the pillars of the regime,” a charge that could entail punishment for him.
During the past week several Iranians have been arrested and jailed for criticizing the government’s disease-control policy or in fact the lack of it.
Some Iranian TV viewers mocked Iranian television’s behavior in broadcasting forced confessions and tweeted parody posts about what Amir Hossein Rostami might say about his link to foreign governments in an imaginary confession.
Tuesday morning, Gholamhossein Esmaili, the spokesperson for the Iranian Judiciary said that more than 85 thousand prisoners including some political prisoners have been released from jail to avoid infection by coronavirus. However, this did not stop the authorities from putting more political activists in jail.