Spotlight on Iran

August 2012-Mordad 1391 Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt
Broadcasting as usual: a look at Iranian TV stations after the earthquakes

Broadcasting as usual: a look at Iranian TV stations after the earthquakes

''What earthquake? Keep watching for more news on the Syrian people’s support for Bashar Assad'' (cartoon by Nikahang Kowsar, Rooz Online, August 12)

''What earthquake? Keep watching for more news on the Syrian people’s support for Bashar Assad'' (cartoon by Nikahang Kowsar, Rooz Online, August 12)

Media coverage of developments in Syria comes under growing criticism

Media coverage of developments in Syria comes under growing criticism

The cost of the NAM meeting in Tehran: expenses will reach tens of millions of dollars, activity in the capital will grind to a halt

The cost of the NAM meeting in Tehran: expenses will reach tens of millions of dollars, activity in the capital will grind to a halt

Brief spotlight on Supreme Leader’s shoes

Brief spotlight on Supreme Leader’s shoes

Aftermath of the earthquakes in northwestern Iran

Aftermath of the earthquakes in northwestern Iran

Aftermath of the earthquakes in northwestern Iran

Aftermath of the earthquakes in northwestern Iran

Aftermath of the earthquakes in northwestern Iran

Aftermath of the earthquakes in northwestern Iran

Aftermath of the earthquakes in northwestern Iran

Aftermath of the earthquakes in northwestern Iran

Aftermath of the earthquakes in northwestern Iran

Aftermath of the earthquakes in northwestern Iran

Highlights of the week
  • Earthquakes in western Iran: state-controlled media keeps silent, infrastructure remains neglected, citizens become indignant
  • Media coverage of developments in Syria comes under growing criticism
  • The cost of the NAM meeting in Tehran: expenses will reach tens of millions of dollars, activity in the capital will grind to a halt
  • Official unemployment figures released: slight increase in overall unemployment rate, decrease in unemployment rate in most provinces
  • Brief spotlight on Supreme Leader’s shoes
Earthquakes in western Iran: official media keeps silent, infrastructure remains neglected, citizens become indignant

The earthquakes that hit northwestern Iran last Saturday, August 11, and claimed the lives of over 300 people have rekindled the debate on the poor performance of Iran’s state-controlled media in times of emergency. News websites affiliated with government critics and Iranian bloggers strongly criticized the state-controlled media for almost completely ignoring the strong earthquakes in the first few hours after they had taken place. The disaster received no coverage from media outlets, which continued their regular programming, including reports from ceremonies for the month of Ramadan. One day after the earthquakes, the Iranian television even aired a regularly-scheduled entertainment show.

In an editorial published earlier this week, the Asr-e Iran website said that Iran Broadcasting once again failed in its performance after the earthquakes. While news websites, news agencies, and social networks provided fast and continuous coverage of the earthquakes and their consequences, it took many hours for the state-controlled media to begin reporting the events. This is a grave offense to the people of Iran, the article said. Iran Broadcasting, not even one of whose TV channels provided reports from the disaster area, saw fit to run news stories on a car accident involving a truck and a cyclist in Germany in which one person was killed and three were injured, and on several United States citizens protesting against the economic situation in their country. The official broadcasting authority, which interrupted its regular programming during the Olympics to broadcast live coverage from London, did not consider the earthquake in western Iran as newsworthy as the Taekwondo, wrestling, and ping pong contests. The website wondered when Iran Broadcasting, which gets the enormous sum of thousands of billions of tomans from the state budget every year, will stop being nothing more than a vehicle for government propaganda and earn the right to be called Iran’s National Broadcasting Authority—one that will appeal to all citizens. The website also criticized the daily newspapers Resalat and Keyhan, whose Sunday editions did not report the earthquakes at all (Asr-e Iran, August 12).

The Tabnak website also strongly condemned the nearly complete disregard shown by the state-controlled media for the earthquakes. Hundreds of people died, thousands more were injured, and widespread destruction was caused in the area, but it was still not enough to make those in charge of the state-controlled media interrupt their regular broadcasting or at least provide some reports about the developments, the website said.

Tabnak also criticized the performance of the government, whose actions in the first few hours after the earthquakes were limited to issuing a statement of condolence as well as several recommendations on the need to collect funds and aid. When similar incidents took place in other countries, governments quickly declared days of national mourning, but not the government of Iran. The achievements of Iran’s Olympic athletes were immediately commented on by the president and the state-controlled media, but no such immediate reaction from the president or the national broadcasting authority was forthcoming in the case of the earthquake (Tabnak, August 12). In their comments, many of the website’s readers said that they had first heard about the earthquake on BBC rather than on Iranian TV.

Criticism of the media’s conduct in the aftermath of the earthquake was also voiced by Majles members. One of them, Ali-Reza Manadi Safidan, said that the citizens and their representatives are upset with the coverage of the earthquake on Iran’s official media (ISNA, August 12). Mas’oudi Reyhan, a former Majles member, said that foreign TV networks had done a better job than Iranian TV channels, and that, as a result of the insufficient media coverage, it had taken longer for aid to reach the areas hit by the disaster, which pushed up the number of casualties (ILNA, August 12).

Iranian bloggers, too, expressed their anger over the performance of the state-controlled media after the disaster. One blogger said that one drop of Palestinian blood spilled in the Gaza Strip would generate more coverage by the Iranian media ( Another blogger affiliated with opponents of the regime called on the people of Iran to ask the government to help them instead of providing assistance to the tyrannical regime in Syria and to terrorist organizations ( Yet another blogger wrote about the day of mourning marked last week to commemorate the death of Ali bin Abi Taleb, the first Shi’ite Imam, saying that he prefers to mourn the deaths of his fellow Iranians in the earthquake. While Shi’ites are going to mosques to mourn the death of a person who lived 1,400 years ago and the government is spending considerable sums of money on mourning ceremonies in his honor, it is unable to deal with earthquakes or extend medical assistance to their victims. A government whose philosophy is based on Imam Ali cannot provide welfare to its citizens or extend medical assistance when necessary. In such a country, the blogger said, the importance of people long dead overshadows that of the living (

The criticism was not limited to the performance of the media but also extended to the neglect of infrastructure, which led to the high number of casualties. In an interview given by Prof. Bahram Akashe to ILNA News Agency, the top Iranian seismologist said that no other country in the world would sustain such massive casualties as a result of a 6-magnitude earthquake, and that the high number of victims stems from the neglect of construction infrastructure in cities and towns across Iran and from faults pertaining to crisis management (ILNA, August 12).

In an interview given to Mehr News Agency, Allahverdi Dehqani, a Majles member who represents one of the earthquake-stricken provinces in western Iran, took issue with the fact that there is not a single hospital in the villages hit by the disaster, which is why the victims had to be transported to the city of Tabriz. He noted that the first rescue teams hadn’t arrived in the disaster area until seven hours after the earthquake (Mehr, August 12). Mas’oud Pezeshkian, who represents Tabriz in the Majles, also pointed out severe problems in extending assistance to those hit by the earthquake. Pezeshkian said at a Majles meeting that the rescue teams had not operated in an organized fashion, and that private citizens had to transport those needing medical assistance in their own cars. He also said that, as of Monday, August 13, the 8,000 tents that were to be sent to the disaster area to shelter the residents did not arrive.

Also criticized was President Ahmadinejad’s departure on a political trip to Saudi Arabia. According to the Asr-e Iran website, the fact that the president and some of his government ministers traveled to Saudi Arabia only two days after the earthquake was cause for surprise. It is common practice around the world, Asr-e Iran said, that when such an event takes place while the leader of the country is abroad, he cuts short his visit and returns home to closely supervise the rescue operations. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, saw fit to go on his official visit—one of questionable necessity—preferring to travel in Saudi Arabia over a trip to the regions hit by the earthquake (Asr-e Iran, August 13).

This week a number of websites and blogs affiliated with government critics published a strong-worded article about President Ahmadinejad. The article criticized his huge investments in building infrastructure outside of Iran while infrastructure in Iran is being neglected, the results of which were clearly evident in the earthquake. While the government builds power plants and energy facilities free of charge in Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iraq, and Lebanon, the energy infrastructure in Iran is in a state of severe distress and many companies are on the verge of bankruptcy. Instead of providing power plants to other countries, the state needs to increase the cash benefits paid to Iranian citizens, while the special headquarters established by the government after the second Lebanon war to rebuild the infrastructure in Beirut now has to rebuild the 63 villages completely wiped out in the earthquake (Asr-e Iran, August 13).

Media coverage of developments in Syria comes under growing criticism

The kidnapping of 48 Iranian pilgrims in Syria last week set off a new flurry of criticism of how the bloody events in Syria are covered by Iran’s state-controlled media. An editorial published by the Tabnak website, titled “Don’t Iranians know what’s going on in Syria?”, said that the reports in Iran about the developments in Syria are influenced by domestic political power struggles (between reformists and government supporters), making it impossible for the people of Iran to get an accurate picture of the complex state of affairs in Syria.

The developments in Syria, according to the website, are presented in two diametrically opposed ways. There are some Iranian commentators whose reports and assessments of the situation in Syria reflect a worldview influenced by the Western discourse on human rights and democracy. They do not acknowledge the complexity of the situation in Syria and focus on portraying the “massacre” committed by the regime in that country. These commentators do not even take the cautious approach that is characteristic of Turkey and the United States, which recognize that the opponents of the Syrian regime are not democracy lovers but rather Al-Qaeda and radical Islamic operatives whose actions are guided by a Saudi, Bin-Ladenesque model. Iranian commentators whose take on the developments in Syria is similar to that of Assad’s opponents are unaware of the gradual change undergone by the opponents of the Syrian regime, tending to ignore the bloodshed in the country and the difficult future that awaits Syria with or without Assad. They do not acknowledge the possibility that the fall of Syria could seriously threaten Iran’s western borders. They ignore Iran’s national interests and forget how the popular uprisings in Yemen and Bahrain eventually benefited the interests of Saudi Arabia.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who believe that it is acceptable to deny Iranian citizens access to information on what is happening in the region and in the world by covering up reports and spreading false news stories. They don’t realize that, in today’s reality of mass media, the flow of news and information to the people cannot be stopped. Some consider blocking the news on the situation in Syria to be the easiest strategy, although it is not the best solution. Iranian officials very often look for the simplest strategy since they are unable to cope with possible future developments. It’s impossible, the article said, to share with the information-seeking public only those news stories that happen to coincide with Iran’s national interests and prevent it from acquiring contradictory information through other media outlets. Such a false “black-or-white” portrayal of the situation in Syria is the result of domestic political power struggles and is not conducive to national interests, the website concluded (Tabnak, August 9).

The website, which is also affiliated with government critics, said after the kidnapping of the Iranian nationals in Syria that characterizing the situation in that country as calm is no longer possible. An article published on the website said that, for the past several months, Iran’s official media reported that the situation in Syria was calm. Even as various news agencies made reports on fierce clashes in Damascus and Aleppo, Iran Broadcasting reported that things were peaceful and quiet across the country. The kidnapping of the 48 Iranian pilgrims in Damascus calls into question the reliability of the reports released by Iran’s media about the situation in Syria. If things are indeed perfectly calm in Damascus, who was it that kidnapped the Iranian citizens? Was it the government of Syria that kidnapped the pilgrims? And if so, how can the Iranian media keep expressing its support for the current Syrian regime? If, on the other hand, the pilgrims were kidnapped by Bashar Assad’s opponents, what is to be made of the reports about the peace and quiet in Syria?

The website put on Iran’s national broadcasting authority the responsibility for the personal safety of those Iranians who continue to travel to Syria. The Organization of Pilgrimage has temporarily stopped sending Iranian pilgrims to Syria. The Foreign Ministry has also issued a warning to Iranian citizens not to travel to Syria at the present time. However, it is impossible to terminate all flights to Syria, just as it is impossible to stop citizens from other countries in the world from going there. The difference between those citizens and the citizens of Iran is that the media outlets in other countries conduct themselves responsibly and provide their citizens with accurate reports on what’s going on in Syria. It could be that Iran Broadcasting officials have not considered that, by presenting false reports, they are endangering the lives of Iranians who continue traveling to that country. The website expressed its hope that Iran Broadcasting officials will show responsibility in their reports about the developments in Syria and reconsider their policy on the issue. Most Iranians are unable to access foreign-language news reports shown on international media, and their lives may be at risk if the state-controlled media reports on the situation in Syria are not reliable (, August 5).

Meanwhile, the Baztab Emrooz website criticized the daily Keyhan, which printed a photograph of a little child last week under the title “Terrorists in Syria hang 3-year-old child”.

The daily reported that the opponents of the Syrian president had murdered a Shi’ite family originally from Iraq and then hanged the child, who was the last survivor of his family. According to Baztab, the photograph has nothing to do with the developments in Syria, and the child whose photograph appeared in Keyhan had been murdered in the city of Aleppo in 2010 after suffering sexual abuse. The website called on Keyhan’s editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari to show compassion and morality at least for Journalist Day and Laylat al-Qadr, marked last week. There is no question that Salafi forces commit crimes against Shi’ite Muslims across the globe, the website said, but that is no reason to misrepresent information and publish lies in the media. With over 40 Iranians having been kidnapped by the Syrian armed forces, such behavior by the media only serves the Salafi faction (Baztab, August 7).

This is not the first time that news websites affiliated with government critics have criticized the way that the developments in Syria are covered by the media. The Asr-e Iran website argued last month that the official media in Iran portrayed the situation in Syria as being much more secure and stable than what was reported even by Syria’s own media. The website warned that the public could lose its trust in the official media and turn to foreign media instead.

The cost of the NAM meeting in Tehran: expenses will reach tens of millions of dollars, activity in the capital will grind to a halt

The Non-Aligned Movement summit, scheduled to take place in Tehran from August 26 to 31, is drawing strong criticism for its high cost and the plans to halt almost all economic activity in the Iranian capital while the summit convenes. The reformist daily Shargh reported this week that the cost of shutting down all activity in the capital is expected to reach 7,140 billion tomans—approximately 3.5 billion dollars (Shargh, August 12).

Manouchehr Jahanian, the deputy chief of Iran’s Organization of Tourism, reported last week that the hotel and tourism services provided to the 7,000 conference attendees will likely cost in excess of 50 million dollars. Those taking part in the conference will occupy over 3,500 hotel rooms and suites at a total cost of about 12.5 million dollars. The Day News website reported that, ahead of the conference, Iran had imported 200 Mercedes Benz S500 limousines at a total cost of at least 50 billion tomans (about 25 million dollars) and booked 700 suites, hotel rooms, and apartments in northern Tehran for the conference attendees (Day News, August 6). In addition, the government has authorized the almost complete suspension of all economic activity in Tehran during the four days of the summit.

Asadollah Asgaroladi, the former chairman of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, strongly criticized the decision to suspend activities in Tehran while the conference will be taking place, saying that there is no reason to close government ministries, banks, government institutions, and private businesses. Asgaroladi, a prominent businessman and current member of the board of Tehran’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that shutting down Tehran for almost a week due to the presence of the NAM country leaders will result in irreparable damage to the city’s economy. He said that it would be acceptable to impose restrictions on movement in various city areas for the conference and improve the security of those areas where the conference attendees will be staying, but that there is no reason to suspend economic activities in other parts of the city. He further added that even in London, where the Olympics were being held, all municipal services were not shut down, and that the government does not have the power to decide that activity in Tehran will be suspended during the conference period (Khabar Online, August 9).

The Baztab website also criticized the extraordinary measures taken in preparation for the summit. Given the heavy economic pressure that Iranians are facing as a result of the subsidy policy reform and the sanctions, it is beyond reason to spend billions of tomans from the national budget to host the conference and shut down the capital, whose economic activity accounts for nearly 50 percent of all economic activity in Iran. The website also argued that there is no reason to import limousines from abroad for the conference attendees to use when Iran manufactures its own perfectly good cars. Even if the government considers the summit meeting to be the pinnacle of diplomatic success in the history of Iran, there is no need to exaggerate its significance. The website said that even when Tehran hosted the conference of the leaders of Islamic countries in 1997, the costs involved were smaller and the authorities were firm on the use of Iranian-made products rather than imported ones. What is more, the government’s decision to suspend economic activity in the city for a week comes in a year declared by the Supreme Leader to be the year of national production and support for Iranian labor and capital. There is no other place in the world where all activity is suspended during conventions and conferences, Baztab said, citing the example of New York, which annually hosts the U.N. General Assembly. The NAM summit, which could have been a celebration of diplomatic success for Iran, has turned into a period of national mourning for some of the residents, the website complained (Baztab, August 9).

Official unemployment figures released: slight increase in overall unemployment rate, decrease in unemployment rate in most provinces

This week the Iranian Center for Statistics released up-to-date unemployment figures for the first three months of the current Iranian year (March – May 2012). According to the data, the official unemployment rate in the spring of 2012 reached 12.9 percent, a 0.6-percent increase compared to the same period last year and a 1.2-percent decrease compared to the winter of 2011. The report indicates that the unemployment rate is higher among women and the urban population.

The unemployment rate among the 15 to 24 year old demographic is 28.6 percent, up by 2.9 percent compared to the same period last year. The unemployment rate among the 15 to 29 demographic is 25.8 percent, which is 2.7 percent higher compared to the same period last year.

A look at unemployment rates by province indicates that there are 22 provinces with double-digit unemployment (compared to 20 provinces in the same period last year) and 9 provinces with single-digit unemployment (compared to 11 in the same period last year).

The highest unemployment rates in the first three months of the Iranian year were recorded in the west Iranian provinces of Ilam, with an unemployment rate of 21 percent, and Lorestan, with an unemployment rate of 19.3 percent. High unemployment rates were also recorded in the provinces of Fars (18.3 percent), Alborz (16.9 percent), Tehran (14.6 percent), Qom (14.3 percent), and Esfahan (14.2 percent).

The lowest unemployment rates were recorded in the provinces of South Khorasan (6.5 percent), Kerman (7.5 percent), Golestan (7.8 percent), North Khorasan (9.1 percent), West Azerbaijan (9.7 percent), and Kohgiluyeh Va Boyer Ahmad (9.8 percent). Fourteen provinces posted an increase in unemployment rate in the spring of 2012 compared to the same period last year, while 17 provinces posted a slight decrease in unemployment rate during that period. The figures released by the Center for Statistics show that only 41.8 percent of people who hold jobs (aged 15 and up) work an average of over 49 hours per week.

Unemployment rates in Iran by province (, August 12)


Unemployment rate in spring 2012

Unemployment rate in spring 2011







Azerbaijan, East



Azerbaijan, West






Chahar Mahaal and Bakhtiari






























Khorasan, North



Khorasan, Razavi



Khorasan, South






KohgiluyehVaBoyer Ahmad
























Sistan and Baluchistan












Also according to the Center for Statistics’ report, 47.3 percent of those employed in Iran’s economy work in the service sector, 32.4 percent work in the industry sector, and 20.3 percent work in agriculture. In an interview given to ILNA News Agency this week, the economist Ahmad Khatami-Yazd warned that while most people employed in the services sector in the world’s developed countries are technicians, engineers, and software developers, a significant number of service sector employees in Iran work in commerce, health, and transportation, which is why their contribution to national production is significantly smaller (ILNA, August 13).

The official unemployment rate published in Iran has been a subject of contention for commentators, who argue that the actual unemployment rate is considerably higher than official figures suggest. According to some commentators, the official unemployment figures are based on the government’s slanted definition of employment, under which soldiers, students, and housewives are considered to be "employed”

Brief spotlight on Supreme Leader’s shoes

At a recent ceremony for the publication of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s new biography, The Explanation of a Name (Sharh-e Esm), Hojjat-ol-Eslam Ali Akbar Rashad, the head of the Center for Publishing the Supreme Leader’s Works, discussed Khamenei’s qualities. Speaking about the simple lifestyle led by the Supreme Leader, Rashad said: “Those who believe that [Khamenei] has a horse and that he rides horses need to take a look at the shoes he has been wearing for nearly twenty years. They are so worn that, whenever I look at them, I remember the shoes of Amir al-Mu’minin” (a term used by Shi’ites to refer to the first imam, Ali bin Abi Taleb) (, August 4).

The remarks made by Hojjat-ol-Eslam Rashad drew many mocking comments on social media, websites, and blogs affiliated with regime opponents. In response to the remarks, one blog posted the following image under the title “Exposing Hojjat-ol-Eslam Rashad’s lies about Khamenei’s worn shoes”:

Rashad’s remarks on Khamenei’s simple lifestyle join a number of reports published in recent years on the Supreme Leader’s supposed humility. In February 2012 Iran’s Fars News Agency issued a report on the Supreme Leader’s flight habits. The report was based on the recollections of one of the pilots who accompany the Supreme Leader on his flights across Iran and was intended to testify to his great humility. Among other things, the pilot said that the Supreme Leader usually takes “regular” flights with common people, insists that they should not be prevented from approaching him during a flight, and refuses to receive special treatment compared to other passengers. In addition, his meal during a flight usually consists of nothing more than a cup of tea and a small cake.

The distribution of Khamenei’s new biography recently resumed after a number of minor changes were made. The biography was first unveiled at the international book fair held in Tehran in the beginning of May. However, its distribution was put on hold several days after its release on orders from the authorities to make changes and coordinate its distribution with the Supreme Leader’s office.