Radio Farda: isn’t it time for a house cleaning?
By Majid Mohammadi
President Trump has chosen a new foreign and security policy team, Bolton and Pompeo, who have a passion to put more pressure on Islamic Republic of Iran and change its behavior. Any strategy to bring such change needs a good messaging tool; Radio Farda and VOA are US main messaging tool but they still breathe in 2009 climate. They have put all their money on reformists while they are now part of the establishment and against any change in the country.
Radio Farda runs a 24 hour radio program, one hour TV program and a news website. As someone who has worked for a dozen of media outlets inside and outside Iran for thirty years, I believe “how to direct a media outlet” is more important than “who directs it.” I listen to Radio Farda programs everyday and read most of the pieces on its website on a daily basis. Based on my observations, there is a distance between Farda’s policies, choices, and decisions with new strategies to control Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East and expansions of its WMD stockpiles.
Forgetting its mission
Radio Farda does not play as an “alternative” news source for IRI propaganda machine. It treats IRI as a regular state while it is an authoritarian and totalitarian one inside the country and a rogue one in the international arena. For example, Radio Farda has press review as if Iran has a reliable press. Hundreds of current pieces and reports of Radio Farda could be published and broadcast (and are already published and posted) inside the country that is a waste of resources.
Radio Farda should focus on publishing and broadcasting what could not be published and broadcast in Iran. When resources are limited an institution should prioritize. The editors of website and radio should reject any report that is published or could be published inside the country.
Parroting regime’s propaganda
Radio Farda usually relays news that is already published and broadcast in Iran, manipulated and engineered by military and security sponsored news agencies such as Mehr, Fars, and Naseem. Most of the materials of Farda website are cut-and-paste from Islamic Republic propaganda machine without critical input. A lot of times you get the news and reports from Radio Farda (radio and website) without an input of other side(s) of the story. Pieces on how IRI propaganda works have no place on Radio Farda op-ed section. The only fact checking program (two minutes per day) was recently off the air.
If Radio Farda does not have reporters in Iran it should not have raw news; instead it should have reports with fact checking and providing background. For example, when it reports Khamenei’s statements, a critical voice to provide a rebuttal is missing. The writers and editors usually do not challenge the propaganda of the Islamic Republic. Fact-checking is a must.
Radio Farda’s discourse is mostly left wing- and religious reformist- oriented. There is no balance of opinions and comments. Some of them even have anti-American and anti Israeli sentiments. There is no voice on Radio Farda to express this fact that Islamic Republic is a threat to international security. This is directly projected into content, recruitment and selecting guests. Some voices are over-heard and some are under-heard. For example, a letter to Khamenei signed by one Islamist reformist (Mr. Ghadayani) is covered and on the same day a letter signed by 120 people thanking President Trump for his Nowruz message to Iranians and a letter signed by 700 Iranians asking Golrokh Irani to end her hunger strike were not covered.
Some sections of the Iranian opposition have more voices as guests and analysts in Radio Farda programs than others. Activists who are against Khamenei and not the regime itself and people who have an Islamist point of view and do not see the Islamic Regime as a totalitarian/authoritarian one are the majority of the guests and writers. Radio Farda rightly claims that its mission is not to topple the Islamic government; but its mission now is practically to reform it. Most of the guests and op-ed writers do not see Islamic regime as a security threat to the world. There is not a balance of ideas and opinions in this respect.
Activists, not journalists
There are some members of the staff (producers and hosts) who are more activist, and less journalist. For example, during Iran’s phony elections they invite people to vote. Some of the staff members still behave as they are doing their job in the framework of the reformist outlets in Iran; they do not appreciate the freedom that they have to challenge the foundations of the Islamic regime’s propaganda machine. Activists should leave and more professional journalists should be hired. If necessary, the current staff should be professionally re-trained.
The governing discourse in Radio Farda website is biased and partial. In rare moments, there is a piece against another piece just for decoration and faking diversity. Anything against this biased discourse is censored in the name of neutrality. Anything that criticizes fundamental ideas of the left and anti-imperialist sentiment is redacted or rejected. Among a section of the staff, the leftist bias (considering anti-American sentiment and respect for Islamist and leftist point of view as resistance against imperialism) does exist. When added to the Islamist attitudes, it goes far from liberal democratic values. This section gives priority to regime’s interest (not even Iranian national interest) rather than the U.S. interest. This is due to the problematic background of journalism in Iran (Islamist/leftist). For example, in Radio Farda news reports Russian backed operatives in Ukraine are called mercenaries but Afghani and Pakistani Shi`is who are recruited by Quds Force to fight in Syria do not receive this deserving label. They both have the same function and receive money to fight. American taxpayers should not pay for any bias against their values. Anti-American sentiment should not be tolerated in a U.S. government funded institution.
Censorship is a rule in Radio Farda, not an exception. The editors redact and censor pieces and analyses not based on fact checking or hatred or insults but political leanings, sometime even without informing the writers and producers. This is a pattern in Iranian press and radio and TV stations inside the country, and Radio Farda has not been able to change this inherited culture.
If an investigator looks into the relationships among staff members (brothers, husbands and wives, cronies), s/he will be able to see nepotism and cronyism in the staff. Any director of a media outlet (with Iranian born staff) should prohibit having more than one member of a family as a staff member or contractor. Nepotism and cronyism is a culture in Iranian bureaucracy.
In its news programs, Radio Farda uses terms such as elections, representative, media, press, and culture as there are such things in Iran. These terms have no meaning in Iranian context. There is none of these in a totalitarian Islamist state. Radio Farda ignores this fact that it reports development of a society that is under a totalitarian and authoritarian regime. It follows the IRI political agenda reflected in its language and terms. Radio Farda may use more objective terms such as bay`ah (confirmation of government’s candidates) instead of elections, member of Islamic Assembly instead of representative, website and outlet instead of media, and propaganda instead of culture.
In the recent months, instead of changing course, Radio Farda has chosen a different path. It has removed staff members and contractors who do not agree with status quo and almost stopped posting op-ed pieces on its website. Low key would seem reasonable for its officials to save their jobs but not a good policy to be a part of something bigger, i.e. informing Iranian people and giving them hope.
Majid Mohammadi is an Iran analyst who has published more than three dozen books on Iranian politics and society. For nine years he was a freelance contributor to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Radio Farda programs for radio, television and digital platforms. RFE/RL is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).