A US government-funded survey on mass media trends in Iran found that state television remains by far the most common source of news for Iranians, though roughly half its viewers admit that they don't consider it to be entirely trustworthy. At the same time, Iranians are skeptical of the content in foreign news broadcasts too.
Eighty-six percent of Iranians consider the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) television network to be among their top three sources of news. That far outpaces any other source: the highest such figure for any other source of news was 11 percent. News from foreign sources made up only a tiny fraction of the average Iranian's news diet, according to the survey, which was conducted by Gallup on behalf of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a US federal agency that oversees international broadcasters, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The survey's results were announced at a mid-June event held at Gallup's Washington, DC, headquarters.
Despite living in a restrictive media environment, where the internet and satellite television are restricted, Iranians are relatively well-connected, the survey found: Ninety percent of households had at least one mobile phone, 67 percent had a computer and 26 percent had a satellite dish. That put the prevalence of such technology in Iran roughly on par with that in Turkey, less well-connected than the rich Persian Gulf states, but more so than North African and Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
When it comes to news, 49 percent of IRIB’s viewers rated its programming as “very trustworthy,” while 40 percent said it was “somewhat trustworthy.” The fact that so many respondents expressed less than total satisfaction with IRIB is significant, given that they were speaking on the phone to a foreign pollster, and likely were self-censoring, said William Bell, the BBG's director of research. “If people were fearful about talking about state television, it's striking that half of them would say it's not very trustworthy,” Bell said.
The perceived trustworthiness of foreign broadcasting, however, was not dramatically different, according to the same survey. Of four international news sources (which the BBG did not publicly name), the number of respondents rating them either very or somewhat trustworthy ranged from 65 percent to 80 percent.
Iranian news consumers are cynical about all sources of news, Bell said. While they appreciate international broadcasters' lack of censorship and the airing of entertainment programs not shown by Iranian broadcasters, they also tend to believe that international broadcasters have a political agenda and they resent criticism from outside, he said.
Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East. He is the editor of EurasiaNet's Bug Pit blog.