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Responsive censorship: Iran cuts live broadcast mid-sentence

Hamid Baghaei, right, close ally of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, kisses his head after registering their candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections at the Interior Ministry in Tehran, 12 April 2017
Hamid Baghaei, right, close ally of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, kisses his head after registering their candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections at the Interior Ministry in Tehran, 12 April 2017

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

This statement was originally published on globalvoices.org on 14 April 2017.

In an unusual broadcasting flub this week, Iran's official state media network cut off the live video feed of a reporter in mid-sentence when she mentioned the name of presidential hopeful Hamid Baghaei, one of the more controversial politicians who has filed to run for president next month.

Baghaei served as vice president to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both represent a frequently contested hardline political position, and both men now have registered to run for president in Iran's May 2017 elections.

The broadcast, which aired on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcaster's Shabakeh Khabar channel, featuring a reporter identified as Ms. Nouri, was shot on location from the Ministry of Interior on Wednesday as prospective candidates filed their registration forms.

A video clip of the incident has gone viral on social media. The video plainly shows that within less than a second of the the reporter mentioning Hamid Baghaei, the broadcast feed abruptly cuts and goes back to the anchor in studio. As the anchor waits to resume the report, Nouri's voice can be heard asking her producers, "I shouldn't mention Baghaei?"

Shabakeh Khabar did not give their reporter the permission to announce the registration of Hamid Baghaei as a candidate.

The hashtag #نگم_بقایی_رو, translating into Nouri's question, "I shouldn't mention Baghaei?" started trending amongst Iranians remarking on the broadcaster's censorship. IRIB gets more shameless everyday. A broadcaster with lies, broken screenings, and censorship. There is a lot missing #I_shouldn't_mention_Baghaei

Candidate registration for the 12th Presidential elections of the Islamic Republic of Iran began on April 11 and will last for five days, followed by a period when the registrants will be screened for their political and Islamic qualifications by the hardline and religious body tasked with vetting, the Guardian Council. The Council typically disqualifies the majority of registrants.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcaster (IRIB) is known as a mouthpiece for Iran's hardline conservatives, echoing the concerns and opinions of this establishment. The IRIB's director is a position directly appointed by the country's highest power, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

When it comes to reporting on elections, the IRIB's decisions about who to mention - and who to omit - are often seen as a reflection of internal sentiment about the prospective candidates. The interruption of Nouri's report is a sign that Baghaei may be disqualified from the running.

It is unknown whether Nouri already knew not to report on Ahmadinejad's registration as well, or if she was deterred post-facto.

Wednesday's registrations made headlines as former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, flanked by his close confidants former Vice President Baghaei and former Chief of Staff Esfandiar Mashaei, stopped by the Ministry to announce that he and Baghaei had registered.

This is a change in course for Ahmadinejad, who in September 2016 announced he would not join the race, after being warned by the Supreme Leader that his candidacy would cause polarization and harmful divisions in Iranian society. While also banned in 2013 from running for reelection, Ahmadinejad campaigned for the candidacy of Mashaei, who ultimately failed to win the Guardian Council's approval.

The IRIB is known for inserting bias an censorship into election reporting. During the 2013 presidential campaigns, several of the candidates remarked on the IRIB's unfair coverage and use of censorship. Rouhani accused the state broadcaster of defaming prominent figures during an interview on 27 May 2013, while the reformist candidate Mohamad Reza Aref's campaign accused the IRIB of cutting his campaign appearances in an “inappropriate manner.”

While the broadcaster is watched by millions of Iranians, it is notorious for not giving airtime to those who do not fall in line with Khamenei and the clerical establishment, and for serving the interests of Iran's intelligence agencies, sometimes going so far as to air forced confessions of political prisoners under duress.

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