Iran’s top leader Ali Khamenei has appointed a new head of state television, which is suffering from audience losses due to political and cultural censorship.
The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei, appointed Payman Jebelli as the new head of Iran’s national broadcaster, the Islamic Republic of Broadcasting (IRIB), on Wednesday, putting an end to months of speculation about the top management of the IRIB.
Almost in all reviews since March, Jebelli was the most likely candidate for the post. News sources, including Noor News, affiliated with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SCNS), had named Jebelli, a veteran news director for the IRIB, as the most likely person to replace former director Abdolali Aliaskari, whose tenure ended in April .
The announcement of Jebelli’s appointment has been reportedly delayed because of the presidential election, but it comes at a difficult time for the station, which is losing viewership.
Jebelli, born in 1966, former Iranian ambassador to Tunisia, was director of the Iranian news channel English Press TV and deputy IRIB chief for the external services of the national broadcaster, which are closely linked to the IRGC’s Qods troop (Quds). As Director of External Services, he has been overseeing broadcasts in multiple languages in the Middle East, Europe, North America and Latin America since 2016.
His previous position as news director required close ties with Khamenei’s office, where all decisions are made, including reporting policy and the appointment of the organization’s top managers.
Recently, Iranian conservative journalists revealed that Jebelli, a longtime political analyst for the IRIB, was “the informed source” who received his often controversial news about nuclear negotiations with the P5 + 1 from Press TV. Jebelli is, of course, no stranger to Iran’s nuclear issues, as he was Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili’s deputy for news distribution a decade ago.
This position earned him a hard-liner reputation, while his decisions at IRIB were often based on organizational needs rather than political affiliation. Otherwise, according to his analysis, he is an “open-minded conservative who believed in openness and transparency”. This characteristic can be seen most clearly in one of the programs he started on channel 2 of state television. The program Special Interview is usually broadcast after the evening news and, depending on who is conducting the interview, mostly highlights Iranian politicians by asking difficult questions.
Khamenei praised Jebelli for his religious and revolutionary devotion, as well as his expertise and years of experience at the IRIB and his thorough knowledge of the responsibilities of national broadcasters. Part of his mandate, as Khamenei put it, included: “Strengthening the national identity of Iranians, promoting the Islamic-Iranian lifestyle, advocating national solidarity and raising the bar for qualitative standards in programming.”
This is a mandate that is difficult to fulfill given the level of censorship prevalent in IRIB programming. Last week, a number of new censorship rules dictated that no IRIB program should have men pouring tea for women and that no two men should be seen together in the same house lest it spark ideas in people’s minds. Men and women alone are out of the question.
Meanwhile, Jebelli takes over as IRIB chief, while an opinion poll by the state polling institute ISPA found that IRIB news viewership has steadily declined over the past five years, and its popularity rose by 57.7 percent between March and September 2021 decreased to 42.1 percent.
Additionally, the survey found that most of those who turn to the IRIB for the news and current affairs are less educated Iranians, ages 50 or older, while disaffected young Iranians turn to social media for the news obtain.