Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a visit to the state broadcaster in July 2023

How Iran's Ideological State TV Lost Its Viewers To Satellite TV

Sunday, 11/26/2023

In September, Iranian state television shut down its Jam-e Jam channel, designed to convey the Islamic Republic's message to millions of expats in the diaspora.

The closure, largely overlooked by Iranian media and officials, underscored the regime's struggle to propagate its ideological messaging among Iranians who had emigrated to avoid exposure to such totalitarian and biased content.

Saeed Fanian, a former manager of Jam-e Jam, contends that the channel's shutdown highlights the breakdown of the state television organization's monopoly on TV broadcasting. He specifically pointed the finger at Vahid Jalili, the deputy chairman of IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting), for lacking the necessary expertise to lead the channel.

Fanian also criticized IRIB Chief Peyman Jebelli for failing to fulfil promises to restore the broadcaster's credibility. According to Fanian, a successful television program should challenge authorities and convince the audience of its fairness -- elements he believes the state TV failed to achieve.

Fanian, an Iranian academic headed IRIB's newsroom from 1988 to 1994 and the Jam-e Jam channel from 2003 to 2009. He believes that the state television launched Jam-e Jam to confront the influence of foreign-based satellite television channels which were new in the Iranian media landscape in the 1990s.

IRIB Chief Peyman Jebelli

However, with the proliferation of more foreign-based professional Persian networks after 2009, the channel lost its appeal for expatriates, who appreciated the transparent political slant of the foreign-based networks. The viewership of Jam-e Jam's three channels for Europe, US and Australia began to drop and during the past years only one of the three channels were beaming to Europe and parts of the United States. However, even Iranian officials admitted that very few Iranian expats tuned to Jam-e Jam for news or entertainment.

Toward the end of its lifetime as hardliners at home pushed their radical cultural policies, the channel stopped broadcasting Iranian music which was more or less the only interesting program on Jam-e Jam after 2009. On the other hand, the channel did not have anything to offer to Iranians who became increasingly politically minded after the disputed presidential election in 2009 and particularly with the start of major protest demonstrations in 2017. There was no trace of the protests and dissent in general on the channel whatsoever.

It was around the same time that major foreign-based channels including Iran International, BBC Persian and Manoto TV began to offer more programming on Iran's domestic politics and hot issues such as human rights violations in Iran. They catered to the needs of Iranians inside and outside of the country for accurate and unbiased information about events in the country.

In his interview, Fanian admitted that Jam-e Jam was somewhat successful before these channels appeared on the Iranian media landscape. While he still believes that Jam-e Jam's winning edge toward the end of its activity was broadcasting Iranian TV sitcoms, a recent report on Kahabr Online website indicates that the state TV lost its edge as online platforms in Iran started to produce their own series with less radical censorship. 

A study cited by Khabar Online reveals that despite the state TV's monopoly on broadcasting and its extension of censorship to video-on-demand (VOD) services, TV series produced by the state were significantly less successful than those offered by VOD platforms. Notably, even though state TV provided its content for free, VOD series such as "Fatal Wound" and "Return" had nearly double the viewership of all state TV series combined. Another example is the comedy series "How Many Springs There Are in A Lifetime," which has maintained successful viewership on VOD platforms for over five months.

The decline in viewership extends to both news programs and entertainment shows on state TV and its Jam-e Jam channel, losing audiences to online platforms within Iran and foreign-based satellite television channels. Polls conducted domestically and internationally corroborate the substantial drop in state TV viewership. As a result, the government may find it increasingly difficult to justify investing funds in a propaganda machine that has lost its efficacy.

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