Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Anahita Razmi looks at the open secret that is satellite "exile TV" in Iran.
“Iran: one of the fastest developing consumers markets in the Middle East…” That’s how the video clip “Why advertise on PMC“ starts. PMC is the acronym for Persian Music Channel, an MTV equivalent for the Iranian population. The channel is broadcast via satellite and is very popular. I remember watching it several times with friends when visiting Iran.
The clip “Why advertise on PMC" was uploaded just 4 months ago, a significant time as this is amid threats of war and heavy sanctions on Iran. By highlighting the TV advertising possibilities for western brands in the country, the clip gives a particular insight into Iran’s consumer market and media landscape. At the same time, it is leaving essential things unsaid. Most notably in comparing state TV to satellite TV, it neglects to mention that satellite TV itself is completely illegal in Iran.
Official TV stations in Iran are all state owned and mostly show little entertaining, untempting propaganda. The counterparts to these are “exile” TV stations broadcasting from outside of the country via satellite. PMC is broadcasting from Dubai, other Iranian channels are based in London and California. The list of these channels is long, the audience is large.
Despite their illegality, satellite dishes can be found everywhere in Iran. When I was filming last year on the rooftops in Tehran, I saw a sea of dishes more or less hidden on every roof. Mohammad Rasoulof’s documentary “The Dish” is a very informative piece to watch about this subject.
I find this teaser from MBC PERSIA, showing mostly western movies and productions with Farsi subtitles, a very entertaining example of a channel advertising their programming. “You have an opportunity. This is a rebirth,” says George Clooney to the music of David Guetta’s “Titanium.” It might also be seen as a reflection of the producers themselves about Iran’s media reality, as well as the channel’s own working conditions.
The clip also shows that watching satellite TV in Iran might not be so much of an underground political issue as some would like to see it: people want to get entertainment and Hollywood is there to provide it.
Other examples of popular channels fulfilling this need are FARSI1, mainly showing soap operas and game shows, or MANOTO1 that is producing formats like “Googoosh Music Academy” and a Persian version of “Come Dine with Me.”
Even without understanding any Persian, one easily gets what these teasers are about; the formats are standardized and one-to-one resembling western channels.
The decision of the Islamic Republic to ban these channels does not affect their popularity, even though police forces frequently come to private homes and roofs to destroy or take down the satellite dishes.
Furthermore, many channels are forced to repeatedly change their frequencies as the state regularly tries to jam the signals of unwanted media. BBC PERSIAN, a channel broadcasting from London, is very much affected by this chase. This clip was aired as a teaser for the launch of the channel in 2009:
Alongside other formats, the channel is showing news in Farsi, tackling Iranian political issues from a designated non-ideological point of view. Last year, they broadcasted an interview with Hillary Clinton, offering Iranian viewers the opportunity to pose questions via the internet. Also last year, the Iranian authorities arrested six filmmakers, accusing them of having worked for BBC PERSIAN.
Here the fear of the authorities over satellite broadcasting seems to come into play when entertainment is mingling with information: a fear that — while eating popcorn — the revolution will be televised.
— Anahita Razmi