When Mohammad Sarafraz was appointed in November 2014 to take over as head of Iran’s national television, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), expectations were that he would clean up a highly partisan institution suffering from budget and management issues. But Sarafraz, who founded IRIB’s foreign language programs Press TV, Al-Alam and HispanTV, has been beset with a number of controversies in recent months.
On March 22, a number of Iranian websites published rumors about Sarafraz’s alleged resignation and absence from work. Entekhab website wrote, “Under the circumstances where the days before Nowruz are the busiest days for the IRIB, Mohammad Sarafraz, the head of this organization, has not been present at his office for 10 days.”
The article continued, “With the exit of the special inspector of the IRIB and her residence in the capital of Oman, there have been whispers of [Sarafraz’s] unhappiness.” The article did not go into details of the story regarding special inspector Shahrzad Mirgholikhan, but according to Aftab News, Mirgholikhan had clashed with the deputy of technology at IRIB.
Mirgholikhan’s tale and history adds another level of mystery to Sarafraz’s reported absence. Before suddenly leaving, Mirgholikhan left a video message published by Iranian websites in which she said she did not regret working at IRIB or with Sarafraz. She added, “If there is one real man in the Islamic Republic, it is Dr. Mohammad Sarafraz.” Before becoming entangled in the current IRIB drama, Mirgholikhan had served five years in an American jail for attempting to purchase night vision goggles for Iran. Aftab News wrote that while conservative media had held up Mirgholikhan as a symbol of “resisting against the arrogant powers,” their media silence on her sudden departure is strange.
IRIB Public Relations answered back against the accusations of Sarafraz’s absence and resignation. Their statement called the articles about Sarafraz’s absence “media mischief and a clear example of disturbing public opinion.”
The statement denied that Sarafraz was absent for 10 days and claimed that he held meetings with Iranian officials on March 15, March 17 and on the days before the Iranian New Year (March 20). According to IRIB, critical media, in order to weaken and destroy Iran’s national television, created the rumors about Sarafraz’s resignation. The statement continued that they would use all of their legal resources to file a complaint against media publishing these rumors.
The last time such an Iranian figure was absent from work was 2011. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had clashed with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the position of the intelligence minister. Ahmadinejad never politically recovered from his 11-day absence and public spat with Khamenei.
What caused the rumors about Sarafraz’s absence is still unclear. He has not publicly addressed the media himself, though based on the variety of reports and the video of Mirgholikhan, it is certain that there is some type of trouble behind the scenes.
The last time IRIB made news was in February when a Press TV reporter recorded a senior manager sexually harassing her in a phone conversation. Two executives were fired over the incident.