Payman Jebelli, new head of the Islamic Republic Broadcasting (IRIB).

Khamenei Appoints New Iran State TV Chief Amid Decreasing Viewership

Wednesday, 09/29/2021

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed a new chief at the state TV, which suffers from loss of audience due to political and cultural censorship.

The Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Payman Jebelli, as the new chief of Iran's national broadcaster, the Islamic Republic Broadcasting Organization (IRIB) on Wednesday, putting an end to months of speculation about IRIB's top management.

Nearly in all assessment since March, Jebelli was the most likely candidate for the post. News sources including Noor News, affiliated with the Iranian Supreme Council of National Security (SCNS) had named Jebelli, a seasoned news director at the IRIB as the most likely person to replace former director Abdolali Aliaskari whose tenure ended in April.

The announcement about Jebelli's appointment was reportedly delayed because of the presidential election, but it comes at a tough time for the broadcaster that is losing viewership.

Jebelli, born in 1966, a former Iranian Ambassador to Tunisia, has been the director of Iran's rolling news channel in English Press TV and the deputy IRIB Chief for the national broadcaster's external services that are closely linked to the IRGC Qods (Quds) Force. As external services director since 2016 has been overseeing broadcasts in several languages to the Middle East, Europe, North America and Latin America.

His earlier position as news director required close links to Khamenei's office where all decisions including coverage policy and appointment of the organization's top managers are made.

Recently, Iranian conservative journalists revealed that Jebelli, a long-time political analyst on the IRIB was "the informed source" that Press TV got its often controversial news about nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 from. Jebelli, of course, is no stranger to Iran's nuclear issues, as he was the Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili's deputy for news dissemination a decade ago.

This position gave him a reputation as a hardliner, while his decisions at the IRIB have often been made based on organizational needs rather than political affiliation. Otherwise, based on his analysis, he has been an “open-minded conservative who believed in openness and transparency.” This characteristic is most evident in one of the programs he has launched on the state television's Channel 2. The program, Special Interview, is usually broadcast after the evening news and depending on who is conducting the interview, most of the time it challenges Iranian politicians by asking tough questions.

Khamenei praised Jebelli for his religious and revolutionary devotion, as well as his expertise and long experience at the IRIB and his thorough knowledge of the national broadcasters' responsibilities. Part of his mandate, as spelled out by Khamenei, includes: "strengthening Iranians' national identity, promoting the Islamic-Iranian lifestyle, advocating national solidarity and raising the bar for qualitative standards in programming."

This is a mandate difficult to accomplish with the extent of censorship that prevails in IRIB programming. Last week, a set of new censorship rules dictated that in no IRIB program men should pour tea for women, and no two men can be seen together in a home, lest it ignites ideas in people’s heads. Men and women alone is out of question.

Meanwhile, Jebelli is starting his mandate as IRIB chief while an opinion poll conducted by the state-run ISPA polling agency said the viewership of IRIB news has been constantly declining during the past five years, and that even between March and September 2021, its popularity dropped from 57.7 percent to 42.1 percent.

Furthermore, the poll revealed that most of those who turn to the IRIB for news and current affairs are less educated Iranians of 50 years of age or older, as disillusioned young Iranians turn to social media for getting the news.

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