February 6, 2018 | Policy Brief

The Case for Designating Iran’s State Media

During the recent protests in Iran, dissidents both inside and outside the country asked the U.S. government to enforce sanctions against Tehran’s state-run media enterprise, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Despite Congress imposing sanctions on IRIB in 2012, the Obama and Trump administrations have continually issued waivers suspending IRIB sanctions every 180 days for the last four years. Since IRIB and its partners continue to facilitate human rights abuses inside Iran, this IRIB waiver policy should be reversed. 

The Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act of 2012 directed the president to impose human rights sanctions on IRIB for “broadcasting forced televised confessions and show trials.” In February 2013, the U.S. Treasury designated IRIB and its executive director pursuant to Executive Order 13628, adding both to the list of Specially Designated Nationals, as Congress instructed. 

The conduct of IRIB and its leadership continues to justify sanctions. As part of the regime’s efforts to crush the recent protests, IRIB published pictures of individual protesters, asking the public to share their identities so the security forces could arrest them. Once in prison, systematic abuse led to deaths that the regime sought to excuse as alleged suicides. 

Last month, the Guardian reported that the Trump administration was planning to re-impose sanctions on IRIB as a response to the regime’s violent suppression. However, the State Department reportedly intervened and persuaded the Trump White House to follow President Obama’s lead and continue waiving sanctions on IRIB. According to the report, a State Department official said that IRIB sanctions needed to be waived in keeping with a little-known deal the Obama administration made with Iran in which “Iran committed to ensure that harmful interference [of broadcasts] does not emanate from its territory.” 

The State Department’s argument might be persuasive if not for ample evidence that Iran has continued its jamming operation by shifting from orbital jamming to terrestrial jamming. Therefore, to continue honoring an agreement that Iran has violated serves no purpose. 

It is time to rescind the IRIB waiver and punish state media that facilitate human rights violations in Iran by designating IRIB’s partners: Tasnim News, Fars News, and the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). 

During the protests, Tasnim published pictures of individual protesters and asked its readers to identify them. Tasnim later published the forced confessions of jailed protesters. Beyond human rights abuses, according to IRNA, Tasnim News and Fars News are both controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), making them perfect candidates for sanctions designation under Executive Order 13324. Last year, Tasnim's CEO, Majid Gholizadeh, met with Hassan Nasrallah and other top Hezbollah officials. Shockingly, not only is Tasnim not subject to any U.S. sanctions, the U.S. allows it to have a correspondent in Washington, DC. 

Fars News is Tasnim’s older and more powerful brother. It has access to prisons controlled by the IRGC and frequently publishes forced confessions. Tabnak, a website controlled by Mohsen Rezaei, the former commander of the IRGC, reported in 2008 that the IRGC had been funding Fars News. The top directors at Fars News are all IRGC-connected. For example, its former CEO, Hamid Reza Moghadam Far is now a senior adviser to the overall commander of the IRGC. 

IRNA is part of the executive branch. It falls under control of the Ministry of Culture and Guidance, which is in charge of censorship and has previously been designated by the Treasury Department. Despite publishing derogatory and threatening commentaries about the protestors, IRNA itself has somehow managed to avoid designation. IRNA has offices around the world that could be shuttered if the United States finally imposed sanctions. 

Iranian state media are an integral part of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s war against the so-called “enemies of the revolution.” The time has come for the U.S. to stop waiving sanctions on IRIB and designate the rest of state media empire, including Tasnim News, Fars News, and IRNA

Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Saeed Ghasseminejad is a fellow. Follow them on Twitter @rich_goldberg and @SGhasseminejad.

Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.