A shopper in Iran. Undated

Fast rising prices have left millions of people in Iran unable to afford basic necessities

Iran Official Warns Radio Staff Not To Bring Up Economic Woes


Management has warned staff at a state-run radio station in Iran not to bring up economic hardship, as these is now viewed as a national security matter.

In a recent voice message sent to all producers and presenters of Radio Farhang, the radio station's director, Alireza Habibi strongly warns them to avoid reporting economic woes and the government's responsibility and threatens them that mistakes will not be forgiven because these issues are now "viewed as [national] security matters."

In an audio recording of the message, which Iran International has acquired, Habibi also says that instead of discussing these problems, in the current circumstances, the media should strive to advance the "psychological security" of the society. "And don't include newspaper headlines that are gloomy, critical, or about high prices in the programs," he tells them.

Avoid criticizing the government, the official tells staff, until "the dust settles and smoke clears" because criticism of government may turn into "criticism of the state" in its entirety.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who charts the country's macro-policies, including the economy, takes no personal responsibility for the failures and has on several occasions publicly blamed the government of President Ebrahim Raisi's predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, for economic troubles. In his speech to workers Monday, he made no mention of the politically sensitive rise in bread prices and urged everyone to support the Raisi administration.

Since 2017, Iran has seen several major protests fueled by economic demands rather than any specific political issue. The driving force of the unrest, including the nationwide November 2019 protests following an increase in fuel prices that left hundreds of protesters dead, and the 2021 water shortage protests in Khuzestan and Esfahan, were mainly ordinary people rather than political groups and parties.

In recent weeks, Raisi and his economic team have come under heavy fire for economic mismanagement from a wide range of critics -- including other hardliners who helped him to power in last year's elections.

Many blame Raisi's government for failing so far to reach an agreement with world powers to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement, which would lift US sanctions and give a boost to the badly ailing economy. But economic failures of the government, and the regime, are becoming more and more difficult to justify, even given US sanctions.

Raisi says his government has stopped the "growth of inflation", which is above 40 percent now, and that it will soon go down and show its effects but the hike in prices do not help convince those most affected by the hardships, that is a good majority of Iranians.

Poverty has soared in the country to unprecedented levels. According to official figures released by the interior ministry, in total, around 60% of the 84 million Iranians live under the relative poverty line of whom between 20 to 30 million live in "absolute poverty". In 2010, for instance, the number of those living under the absolute poverty line was around 10 million according to government statistics.

In the past few months prices of many commodities have risen, by several-fold in some instances, and the government is planning to remove the subsidies it pays for some foodstuff and other basic commodities. The announcement of plans to remove flour subsidies has already pushed up the price of many products including pasta, biscuits, pastries, and sandwiches.

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