Iranian Media on the Nuclear Issue

by Pupak Mohebali and Saeed Aganji

Certain conservative media outlets are an important platform for Iran’s security and military services such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Ministry of Intelligence. These media function as tribunes for the hardline political groups close to the Iranian Supreme Leader. They usually disseminate the news with specific and biased viewpoints to persuade the public of the government’s positions. One Iranian news source, which is a resource for so many foreign media, is the Fars News Agency.

On the Iranian nuclear issue, the security media demonstrated their opposition to the ongoing negotiations through headlines and news articles until ordered to change their position. After the Lausanne agreement, they suddenly changed their ideas, and their news coverage shifted to support the agreement. Only the Kayhan newspaper, which was opposed to the agreement from the beginning, has proven to be an exception, but even it eventually used gentler and less provocative headlines.

In an interview with the Nasim News Agency, Mehdi Fazaeli, former managing director of the Fars News Agency said: “Even if the White House PR department ran a newspaper in Iran, their views would be milder than those in the local media.” Fazaeli was addressing the reformist media, which showed their strong support for the nuclear negotiating team. He added that these newspapers did not maintain political independence, resist Western pressure, or pay sufficient attention to domestic empowerment. Although the nuclear issue is of utmost importance, he argued that it shouldn’t be the primary focus of public opinion.

On the other hand, some security media like Fars and Tasnim news agencies, which usually published extremist political content in opposition to Iran’s nuclear agreement, started to show their support after the Lausanne agreement for Iranian senior officials, from the IRGC commander to the parliament’s chairman.

Authoritarian regimes are not afraid of establishing media affiliated to security institutions and supporting them financially. By investing in these various media outlets, the Islamic Republic is able to strategically place security officials in management positions within these organizations. As an authoritarian regime, the Iranian government uses the media related to the security and military entities to achieve its goals. One of its areas of interest has been the Iranian nuclear program. By means of the security media, the government has been able to guide both political and public opinion in the direction it wants.

Although Iranians are aware of the nature of these media outlets, many foreign media use these sources for their citations. The Fars and Tasnim news agencies and Vatan-e-Emrooz newspaper are among the media outlets affiliated with the security and military entities and hardline groups in Iran.

The Fars News Agency

Established on February 2003, the Fars News Agency is a subset of the Basij, which the IRGC also supports. Mehdi Fazaeli, a member of the Public Culture Council that operates under the auspices of the Office of the Supreme Leader, was initially appointed the managing director. However, following the 2005 elections and the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the security bias of the Fars News Agency and its affiliation to the IRGC became clearer. Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far, a commander of the IRGC who was managing director from 2007 to 2011, pushed the agency in a more conservative direction and more aggressively promoted features to other media outlets.

On the nuclear issue, when Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili was the chief nuclear negotiator, all the security media outlets such as the Fars News Agency fully supported the nuclear negotiating team because of Jalili’s close ties to hardline groups. Also, parliamentary representatives close to the hardline groups were using the Fars and Tasnim news agencies as vehicles to support Jalili and the negotiators. Even when the former Iranian nuclear negotiators suggested an enrichment level of 3.5% to the West, the security media outlet and hardline groups supported the negotiators and called them “heroes.”

However, these same media outlets and hardline groups described the acceptance of the nuclear agreement by the new negotiating team chaired by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as a betrayal of the nation. Some hardline groups are still trying to jeopardize an agreement.

Following the Lausanne agreement, however, the Fars and Tasnim news agencies shifted their policies suddenly and allocated space to individuals who supported the agreement. Among those people were the commander of the IRGC and the chairman of the parliament. The IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said: “The children of the Revolution defended the nation’s rights in a diplomatic battle.” Chairman of the Parliament Ali Larijani also declared: “Parliament’s representatives should talk about the core nuclear issues with full awareness.” In an interview with the Fars News Agency, a representative close to Larijani stated that the “chairman supports the nuclear negotiations and Lausanne joint declaration.” This shift in the news coverage has certainly been done by the order of supportive entities, such as the IRGC.

Tasnim and Javan

After leaving the Fars News Agency, Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far became again the commander of the IRGC for cultural and social affairs. In this capacity, he launched the Tasnim News Agency, which works in parallel with the Fars News Agency, both under the auspices of the IRGC.

Just recently, the Tasnim News Agency removed part of the statement of Ali Akbar Velayati, representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who opposed publishing Iran’s fact sheet of the Lausanne nuclear accord. Velayati argued that publishing the fact sheet would only attract public attention and harm the nuclear talks between Iran and P5+1. However, Tasnim removed this part of his statements from their website. Instead it published comments by conservative member of parliament Hamid Rasaei, who emphasized that publishing the fact sheet would clarify the situation of economic sanctions and provide details of the negotiations for the public. Despite Khamenei’s desire to reach the comprehensive nuclear agreement, he doesn’t want to show it openly, because he might lose the support of Iranian hardliners. And because of their affiliation to the hardliners, the security media outlets prefer not to publish statements that are directly in favor of the final nuclear agreement.

The newspaper Javan, the only media outlet that belongs to the IRGC, still writes in opposition to the Lausanne agreement. Its editor, Mehrdad Bazrpash is politically close to Ahmadinejad and currently a representative in parliament. An article published last week entitled “Deception Chapter VII” discusses the perils of Zarif’s idea to gain UN Security Council approval of the nuclear agreement.

The IRGC, Basij, and other military and security institutions are under the auspices of the Supreme Leader, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the provisional chief of the three branches of government (the judiciary, the legislature, and the executive). Thus, all the media outlet belonging to these security institutions receive financial and managerial support from the Office of the Leader. As a vehicle for the IRGC and Basij, these media outlets disseminate the news content aligned with the Leader’s opinions. In case of the nuclear negotiations, these media outlets have never announced their agreement until the Leader supported the negotiating team and their achievement.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei told military commanders that the United States had created the “myth” of nuclear weapons to portray Iran as a threat but that the main source of threat is the United States itself. The Tasnim news agency covered Khamenei’s speech with the headline “Supreme Leader’s Official Mandate to Increase Military, Defense, and Martial Readiness for the Navy, Army and Air Forces.” Although the Iranian Leader previously announced in his remarks that he neither agreed nor disagreed with the Lausanne agreement, he adopted a fierce stance toward the U.S. and Europe in his meeting with military commanders. The security media dutifully reproduced his remarks.

Photo: Mohammad Ali Jafari 

Pupak Mohebali is a Ph.D. candidate in international security and a teaching assistant in the Department of Politics, University of York, UK. She earned her M.A. in international relations at Allameh Tabatabaei University, Iran. Currently she conducts her doctoral research on the impact of Iranian elite conceptions of national identity on decisions affecting Iran’s nuclear program and E3+3 nuclear negotiations. She is also a researcher on the WMD Proliferation Desk at Wikistrat. Saeed Aganji is an Iranian journalist, researcher, and former editor-in-chief of the Saba student publication. 

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One Comment

  1. There is no substantive “Lausanne agreement.” There are various interpretations.

    Khamanei, Apr 20:
    “Some ask why the Leader has not adopted any stance on the recent nuclear negotiations. The reason is that it is pointless to take a stance at this juncture because state and nuclear officials say nothing has been finalized yet and there is no binding agreement between the two sides. Such a situation does not call for assuming a stance.”

    This differs from Obama’s claim of specific agreements on the nuclear issue. So the two leaders diverge in their approach. Khamanei is purposely vague to bring along the Iran hardliners, Obama is purposely specific to neuter the US hardliners. One issue, two approaches, and still a lack of real agreement.

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