Millions of Iranian viewers had to spend a Monday night without "90," a wildly popular soccer show hosted by Adel Ferdowsipour, who is widely believed to have kept Iranians tuned to a national broadcaster that has been grappling with a serious audience crisis.
Ferdowsipour's debate-oriented program was starkly different from conventional Iranian TV shows, breaking away from common clichés and formalities. The show has uncovered rampant corruption, nepotism, mafias and more in the world of Iranian soccer — topics that might have otherwise remained hidden from the eyes of the common viewer.
The challenging face-to-face program put its guests in the hot seat, making them address accusations and face furious fans. Not only soccer enthusiasts were drawn to the open nature of the show, which would often continue well past midnight. Many young Iranians have stories about late arrivals at work on Tuesdays, having stayed up late to watch the raucous debates.
But ever since the paramilitary Basij Organization's Ali Foroughi, the new hard-line director of the national broadcaster's Channel 3, took the helm last year, rumors circulated that the time had come for Ferdowsipour to leave the show he created, developed and took to the pinnacle of popularity.
The rift between Ferdowsipour and his new boss was laid bare after the national broadcaster launched a rating competition for top programs via regular mobile phone messaging. Only a few days into the polling, the minister of communications and information technology came out with a shocking revelation about a manipulation of votes by the national broadcaster in favor of a rival show and meant to block Ferdowsipour's highly anticipated win.
The embarrassed state broadcaster blamed rogue individuals for the foul play. Ferdowsipour ended up winning awards for both best program and best producer. At the podium, the overwhelmed TV host couldn’t help opening up about "the toughest year" in his career and "unkind treatment" from his superiors, while Foroughi sat in the front row with rage all over his face.
"Ferdowsipour paid the price for his popularity," proclaimed pro-Reform paper Aftab's front page, criticizing the CEO for a "childish" fight with the widely supported host. Reformists have been attacking Foroughi as an inexperienced leader. However, in an official statement March 19, Foroughi denied making critical comments against Ferdowsipour and accused the Young Journalists Club, a news agency affiliated with his own organization, of fabricating a report in his name.
Hard-liners have been accusing Ferdowsipour of vying for a bigger audience by intentionally creating controversy and raising issues of no relevance to his program. On various occasions, Ferdowsipour has addressed issues of public concern. "If the same had happened in any other country, several managers would have resigned or gotten fired," Ferdowsipour said on one of his programs in the wake of the massive conflagration and collapse of the iconic Plasco high-rise mall in central Tehran in 2017 that claimed the lives of some 30 firefighters.
Embracing Ferdowsipour's dismissal, ultraconservative news agency Mashregh slammed the host for failing to observe administrative hierarchy. It claimed that Ferdowsipour's case is Iran's last priority amid its ongoing economic difficulties and hailed Foroughi for his bravery in the face of violations of professional ethics.
Rambod Javan, a popular actor and host himself, expressed solidarity with his colleague. In an emotional Instagram post, Javan urged Ferdowsipour "to breathe deeply and think of better days to come."
Touching upon the viewership crisis faced by the national broadcaster, senior Reformist figure Mostafa Tajzadeh traced the roots of Ferdowsipour's removal to a policy of intolerance that "very well explains why the so-called national TV is fast losing viewers and why it remains the most wasteful public institution of the national budget in Iran."
"Ferdowsipour had to be removed because he grew too big and popular," tweeted Abdolreza Davari, who served as an adviser to the interior minister under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "To refuse to bow down and to grow big costs you your position in the era of petty rulers."
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