Since May 2021, when the five-year term of the current head of the organization, Abdol Ali Aliaskari, came to an end, the Iranian media have speculated about the impending appointment of the new head of Iranian state television. He was appointed to the post by Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei, in May 2016.
As for the Iranian regime, state television, officially known as the Broadcasting Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRIB), is the most significant part of Iran’s crowded but controlled media landscape.
Why is IRIB so important?
The reason for the importance of the IRIB is obvious, it is available to everyone almost free of charge, as every Iranian household pays a small fee on their electricity bill for viewing the IRIB.
Its news and current affairs programs are strictly controlled by Khamenei’s office and it has exclusive rights to broadcast in Iran. All other TV shows broadcast via satellite in Iran are officially banned and their viewers can be caught if they are unlucky. The least that can happen to them is the confiscation of their receiving devices and the payment of a hefty fine.
Most Iranians, however, can get around the punishment after having a good “Iranian talk” with law enforcement officers, who may be content with getting a little less than the actual fine and turning a blind eye.
An inside candidate, most likely
What delayed the appointment of the new IRIB chief was partly the presidential election and partly the country’s serious commitment to tackling the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Both hurdles are now more or less cleared out of the way, as the Raisi administration is officially on duty and the long-awaited vaccination program has picked up speed.
What is almost certain about the new boss is that he should come from the ranks of the huge organization that operates more than 50 television stations and as many or even more radio stations aimed at audiences inside and outside Iran. The reason for preferring an insider is that, firstly, this is a highly specialized company and, secondly, the staff at the IRIB have shown over the years that they can hardly work with an outsider.
Peyman Jebelli (Jebeli), the most likely candidate for office, is an insider. Noor News, a website affiliated with the Supreme Council for National Security of Iran, has also named Jebelli as the most likely candidate. The website states: “Jebelli’s academic background, hands-on experience and work in various positions at all levels within the IRIB, as well as his role in promoting the quality of programming at the IRIB, make him an ideal candidate.”
Connections to Khamenei’s office count
In addition to all of his professional qualifications, Jebelli has another advantage as a longtime news director in various areas of the IRIB. He is close to Khamenei’s son Mojtaba, who is rumored to be preparing to become the country’s next supreme leader.
Aside from comments from well-informed Iranian journalists on social media about Jebelli’s proximity to Mojtaba Khamenei, there is also the case of his former boss Mohammad Sarafraz, who was fired in 2014 under pressure from the IRGC and Mojataba while Jebelli kept his post and entered the his career.
Jebelli’s last position at the IRIB was Director of External Services. This is a part of the IRIB that is closely related to the security organization and the hard core of the Khamenei-friendly politicians who control Iran’s foreign policy from outside the Foreign Ministry. Jebelli was good at listening to them while running major outside service channels, Press TV (in English), Al-Alam (in Arabic) and Hispan TV (in Spanish).
The world vision presented by the three international channels is based on the tough standpoints of Khamenei and the Qods troop of the IRGC.
According to Saba News Agency, which covers cultural developments, there are at least two other candidates for the top post at IRIB: the dean of the IRIB college, Shahab Esfandiary, a UK-trained aspiring manager, and Mostafa Mohammadi, who is also affiliated with Khamenei’s office is . But none is as closely linked to centers of power as Jebelli.
Orientation of the top candidate
Born in Tehran in 1966, Jebelli holds an MA in Islamic Knowledge and Propaganda from Imam Sadeq University, the well-known cadre education institute of the Islamic Republic, and a Ph.D. in culture and communication at the same university. After many years as a news editor and news director on various channels, he became the organization’s external services director in 2016. It is known in Iranian cultures that IRIB messages are managed directly from Khamenei’s office and not from his headquarters.
Jebelli was an advocate of Khamenei’s theory of the Western cultural attack on Iran and his paranoid ideas about a media war raging in the world, particularly against the Islamic Republic and its “values”.
With over 18,000 official staff and many others working with it as contractors, the IRIB is a huge organization with buildings all over Iran as well as its huge Jaame Jam headquarters. But the bulky organization is so inefficient that it has to outsource almost every program except news and breaking events, which ultimately requires constant vigilance, control and monitoring.