In a rare glitter of real journalism, news anchor Elmira Sharifi grilled a hardliner lawmaker for his attacks on those who oppose restrictions on social media.
Mehrdad Veis Karami, one of the 18 members of the Iranian parliament (Majles) who support a highly controversial bill to restrict social media access, called opponents "dogs on long leashes." The group of 18 hardliners last week claimed that they had ratified the bill in a committee and that there was no need to put the bill to vote by all the 290 lawmakers.
Later 167 Iranian members of parliament objected to the unlawful act and subsequently the parliament officially annulled the result of the voting. The bill is to be put to vote at the Majles later.
In the meantime, Karami started a campaign on social media against the opponents of the restrictive bill who in fact supported freedom of expression on social media. When critics lashed out at him, he said the "long leash" comment was a quote from a statement made by a former CIA chief. Iranian social media users quickly responded to remind him that no former or current CIA chief had made any such comment and suggested that the hardliner lawmaker do a google search before attributing fake statements to anyone.
Hardliner Iranian lawmaker Mehrdad Veis Karami speaking in parliament
In a telephone conversation with Karami on live TV, Ms. Elmira Sharifi questioned Karami's presence on Twitter, which is officially banned in Iran, leaving the hardliner speechless. She further told him that he has insulted millions of opponents of the restrictive bill. The lawmaker slightly changed his complacent tone and said that he was not talking about the nation and that he was criticizing the opponents of the bill at the Majles. But the news anchor did not take that either and accused Karami of insulting nearly 200 of his colleagues at the Majles.
Although Iran's state TV is strictly controlled by the government, still anchors at times criticize some parliament bills before they are approved and become laws. Nonetheless, not every news anchor is brave enough to challenge even low-key politicians such as most members of parliament.
On the other hand, grilling Karami appeared absolutely legitimate, considering that even some clerics had lashed out at him for the controversial comment and his support for a legislation that would restrict people's freedoms and hurt millions who use Western apps, such as Instagram for commerce. In a video posted on Twitter, Iranian cleric Vahid Heroabadi returned the insult to Karami.
Numerous Iranians on social media lashed out at Karami and he had to take back his comment in a series of tweets. Some of the comments about Karami's insulting tweets were made by hardliner users and supporters of the government. As an example, Farid Modarresi said Karami was a mad dog who attacked the people and accused him of making the people angry by spreading irrational statement.
Nonetheless, most of Karami's critics called on him to leave social media platforms that are officially banned in Iran because of restrictions he and his likeminded colleagues have imposed.Thousands of small businesses operate from social media platforms and many Iranians, including the children use social media to voice their ideas or to vent their frustration
Over 220 of Iran's 290 predominantly hardliner lawmakers have their own Twitter accounts and use them for messaging as they are not important enough to be quoted on traditional media outlets.