Iran’s state TV broadcast a report last week featuring man-on-the-street interviews showing Tehran residents seeming to say that they agreed with the government’s new social media ban. However, two of the interviewees have spoken out online to say that the report completely misrepresented their views.
On December 31, after protests in several cities in Iran, authorities blocked two popular social media sites, Instagram and Telegram. These were used not only by protesters but also millions of other Iranians. Instagram access has since been restored, but Telegram, a messaging application which was used by more than 47 million users in Iran, remains blocked.
The 2-minute report broadcast by state television on January 6 featured a journalist interviewing people in the streets of Tehran. From the report, it appears that all interviewees were happy with the social media ban and defended the decision.
However, since its broadcast, at least two of the men interviewed took to Instagram, separately, to denounce the report as manipulative. Both men explained that their quotes had been truncated, and that their full message was actually a criticism of the ban. One of them did this in a selfie video (subtitled in English below).
The second, Alireza Manani, posted a text message, and was later interviewed by an online TV station. He was quoted in the state TV report as saying that he went to visit his parents face-to-face – which, taken in the context of the report, seemed to imply that he did this only now that Telegram was no longer available - but he explained to the online TV station that he had also told the state TV journalist that his parents had never used social media. He added that all of the report’s interviewees – which he said he listened to since they were all gathered in the same spot – were critical of the ban.
Alireza Manani's post on Instagram.
Their accusations were shared so widely on social media that the state TV issued a response. In a January 9 report, the same journalist defended his report by saying that he had limited time to cut the interviews and showed slightly longer versions of the interviews – the content of which supported the disgruntled interviewees' claims.
For example, the first man, in the initial report, was quoted as saying this about Telegram: “I was looking at a photo [on Telegram] while driving and I hit a car in front of me.” In the extended version, he went on to say: “If you burn yourself with a cup of tea, will you prohibit tea? Drinking tea and driving is not OK either, but does that mean you should ban drinking tea in general?”
The second report featured by state television, which featured the extended interviews.
Iran’s state TV is known for advocating conservatives’ views while barring other political opinions. The country’s head of state media is chosen directly by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. While there are no independent statistics, surveys conducted by privately owned Iranian news sites report that between 33 and 44 percent of citizens do not watch state TV channels.
According to the head of Tehran’s chamber of commerce, between 10,000 and 15,000 jobs could be lost due to the social media ban, as online vendors rely on Telegram to conduct their business.