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Source: Iranintl

Jun 25, 2023

Iran’s Regime Tightens Control Over Entertainment Media

Author: Maryam Sinaee

Iran’s regime has taken one more step to tighten its control over entertainment content in line with its policy of enforcing religious restrictions on the population.

The state broadcaster last week gained full control over content shown by privately-owned streaming services based on a decision taken by Iran's Supreme Cultural Revolution Council. Some filmmakers and actors have warned that the full control of the state broadcaster (IRIB) over these services could end the career of actors and filmmakers who have long been banned from the state broadcaster. 

IRIB is tightly controlled by the office of Iran’s authoritarian ruler Ali Khamenei and has been losing its audience with its heavy religious programming and heavily censored news. Critics say it is nothing but a propaganda tool with hefty government subsidies and no accountability.Streaming services such as Filimo, an online video on demand (VOD) service like Netflix, have gained great popularity in Iran where there are no privately-owned television networks.

These services provided an opportunity for independent and sometimes dissident filmmakers and artists to showcase their work. The head of the state broadcaster (IRIB), hardliner Payman Jebelli, in a letter to President Ebrahim Raisi in January demanded that Filimo be blocked on the internet. 

The head of the state broadcaster (IRIB), Payman Jebelli (left) and his Vahid Jalili, his hardline deputy

As evidence of Filimo’s liability, Jebelli cited the screening of the series Collapse (Fall). Due to the fact that one of its main actors, Hamid Farrokhnezhad, left Iran around the same time to join the opposition, backing a revolution and the return of the former crown prince, Reza Pahlavi, to Iran.

Jebelli on Wednesday said his organization was compiling regulations to supervise the work of streaming services and actors. 

The increase in popularity of such services and satellite TV has caused the IRIB (the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Organization) to dramatically lose its viewership due to its political and cultural censorship. The head of the massive organization that employs around 40,000 people is appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. 

The council’s decision which was adopted in a meeting presided over by President Ebrahim Raisi on June 20 allows the IRIB to impose its own level of censorship on films or music, broadcast by these services and even prevent the films by filmmakers and actors that it does not approve of from being shown by these streaming services. 

Until now, the ministry of Islamic guidance and culture was responsible for vetting the content, whether film or other programs as well as music, streamed by privately-owned streaming platforms in collaboration with SATRA (the Iranian Audio-Visual Media Regulatory Authority), which is affiliated to IRIB. 

Critics argued that SATRA’s involvement was not lawful. 

The council itself is the highest body for making policies and decisions in connection with cultural, educational and research activities within the framework of the general policies of the system and its decisions are legally binding. Most of the council’s members are appointed by Khamenei. 

In June, the government film watchdog warned producers that their films could be banned if they hired actresses who have removed their hijab in public in support of the anti-compulsory hijab movement and anti-government protests. Several members of the entertainment industry have also suffered punishments including bank account freezes and flight bans.

Protests erupted in Iran in September 2022 after Mahsa Amini, a young woman was arrested in the street by the notorious ‘morality police’ and died in hospital after allegedly having received a fatal blow to her head at the time of her arrest.

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