A 40 percent budget increase for Iran's state television, the main propaganda media outlet for the clerical regime, has led to criticism even among hardliners.
Parliament (Majles) Research Center has attested that 90 percent of the government's budget for all media will go to the state television IRIB (the Islamic Republic Broadcasting Organization) next year.
In a rare development the parliamentary institution has called for reducing IRIB's budget and urged the national broadcaster to return to the treasury some of its hefty advertising revenues, as its audience is declining. The Parliament is dominated by conservatives and supporters of Supreme Leader Khamenei, but it is making demands from an institution controlled by him.
According to the research center, IRIB has annual advertising revenues of nearly 140 trillion rials ($560 million). This is apart from its share of the government budget, which is equal to the annual payroll taxes of all government employees.
IRIB will receive 50 trillion rials ($200 million) from the government budget, which is 42 percent higher than last year. But this is not all that IRIB gets. Khamenei whose office directly supervises IRIB's operations and appoints its chairman, gives hard currency from the country's foreign currency reserves to the IRIB. The media conglomerate also benefits from advertising revenues and refuses to send the money back to the treasury according to law, according to media reports including one written by Homa Hosseini for Rouydad24 website.
The report by parliament’s research arm is an odd event in which one hardliner organization calls for the reduction of the budget of another hardliner organization. But ever-growing funds allocated to the IRIB and religious organizations including seminaries during the past two years have been so controversial that even the country's hardliners and staunch supporters of the regime could not ignore them.
It has been revealed during the past two years that parts of the seminary such as the Al-Mustafa School which trains young clerics from foreign countries receives the lion's share of Iran's cultural budget. Other religious organizations receiving big budgets from the government include the headquarters for prayers, which coordinates what prayer Imams should say every week to promote the "values" advocated by Khamenei. The Islamic Propagation organization, which promotes the party line using the medium of art, and the high council of seminaries are other beneficiaries. Increasing these organizations' budget led to protests on social media.
According to an Iran International TV report, funds allocated to some of these organizations have had a growth over 126% in the next year's budget. This includes over two trillion rials allocated to the Islamic Propagation office in Qom which mainly publishes anti-US posters and pamphlets to promote the slogans of the Supreme Leader and other clerics in the system.
On the other hand, the IRIB is so unpopular among viewers that when the state TV was hacked twice during the past week, no one would have noticed it if the hackers did not talk to the media after the event, some Iranian social media users joked.
Next year, the IRIB will get over 25 trillion rials ($100 million) for creating animated cartoons such as those it produced to demonize the United States after IRGC Qods Force Commander Qasem Soleimani was killed in early 2020.
The Majles research center noted that the nature of IRIB’s advertising, which is mainly about food, causes dissent in the society when most viewers' purchasing power has sharply declined because of the current economic crisis and food price hikes topping 60 percent.