Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iran State Television: Where Beer Becomes Lemonade

Reza Valizadeh
Iranian state television has aired Michael Moore’s documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story,” with Iranian media reporting that some of the dialogue and narration in the documentary was changed.

The website Kalame quotes the Iranian daily "Tehran Emrooz" as reporting that Moore said things in the version of the documentary aired on state television that the real Michael Moore “would never have thought of."

The website has not provided a video of the documentary aired on state television, but the report does not come as that much of a surprise, as there have been other cases where state television has altered movies and documentaries to make them more "Islamic" or to remove what it considers damaging content. For example, scenes in Western movies of people drinking alcohol are often changed to make it appear as if they are drinking juice, since alcohol is forbidden in the Islamic republic.

Iranian journalist Reza Valizadeh worked for some four years as a reporter, presenter, and producer with Iran’s state-controlled radio and television. He says changing dialogue in foreign movies and documentaries is common practice. Valizadeh -- who fled Iran following last year’s postelection crackdown -- talked about his experience working for Iran state broadcasting in an interview with Persian Letters. He also talks about his detention in 2007 over a blog post.

Persian Letters: What were the impediments you faced while doing your job as a journalist for Iran state broadcasting? What were the so-called red lines and how bad was the censorship?

Reza Valizadeh:
In state radio, the limitations were less than in state television. In the radio, we were told to report less on negative news and cover more news considered positive. We were told to focus on news and reports that would portray the work of the government and the establishment in a positive light. We were told not to talk about news that would demonstrate the inefficiency of the government. Reporting news about the work of the security and military forces was a major red line. We didn’t have the right to even get close to it.

Persian Letters: Please give us some examples of the red lines on state television.

On television, there were rules, for example, on how male and female presenters could interact with each other, the words they were allowed to use in their dialogues, the amount they were allowed to smile. There were special limitations for all of these. The way female presenters but also male presenters would be dressed -- for women, there are much tighter rules and also for their makeup.

Regarding news and information, instead of bringing the focus on the responsibilities of the policymakers and officials, we always had to focus on the other side of the coin, which was the irresponsibility of the people and their lack of attention. For example, regarding the lack of water, the report would not focus on the role of officials and their responsibilities in that matter but it would look at the role of people -- whether they were saving water and not if officials were doing their job and making sure people had access to water.

There were many reports and programs that were produced directly on the orders of the security organs. We saw some examples after the presidential vote.

Persian Letters: Did you know where the orders were coming from?

No, it wasn’t clear, but it was obvious that the news was coming from an organ that wasn’t a media or news organization. They would emphasize those types of news items, and even the presenter was chosen carefully.

Persian Letters: State television was accused of biased reporting and of favoring Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad before the presidential vote and during the campaign. What role do you think it played after the vote, during the crackdown that followed?

All the news and reports aired on state television were aimed at neutralizing the protest movement of the Iranian people. They wanted to delegitimize the reports that were spreading on the Internet [about the protests] and also reports by satellite television. Reports about the show trials of [key reformist figures, activists, and journalists] were aired and also false confessions. All of it was a continuation of state repression. All they wanted to do was to legitimize Ahmadinejad and portray the protests against his reelection as riots by foreign-backed elements.

Persian Letters: Could you give examples of how foreign movies and documentaries are changed?

Romantic dialogue is often changed. For example, it isn’t proper for a woman to say to her partner, "I love you." It isn’t considered decent. It's clear how dialogue about sexual proposals is dealt with -- they are changed to marriage proposals. Also we see that beer becomes lemonade on state television and whiskey becomes orange juice. Also dialogue about politics is often changed.

Persian Letters: How effective is state TV? It has come under a lot of criticism, yet some say it is still a main source of news and information for Iranians.

I think a very small percentage of Iran’s educated class and middle class turn to state broadcast for news. They use Farsi television stations and other sources from outside the country. Even people within the establishment – even the managers of state television -- watch BBC Persian and VOA Persian television to become informed about the latest news. State broadcasting has maintained its traditional role to a certain extent. It's the only tool that [Iran’s leaders] use to defend the Islamic establishment, using the same methods and style that the Revolutionary Guards use in the streets.

Persian Letters: You were jailed in 2007 for blogging about bomb-sniffing dogs that you revealed had been purchased in Germany for about $150,000 each, as part of the security team for Ahmadinejad. What were the official charges against you?

I was charged with spreading lies, disrupting public opinion, revealing military secrets, and insulting the security team of the president. They would tell me that I had unveiled state military secrets, while what I wrote was not classified. Everyone at the press exhibition saw the dogs. And then they would say that I had spread lies, which contradicted the charge of revealing military secrets.

I didn’t know how, by writing about dogs, that I had disrupted public opinion. The headline of my story said: "Four Dogs Worth $600,000 To Protect Ahmadinejad," and they would say that that was insulting Ahmadinejad’s security team.

Persian Letters: Was that because of the sensitivity about dogs, which are considered dirty in Islam?


-- Golnaz Esfandiari

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


Latest Posts