In the following two-part series of articles, we unwrap the IRGC’s three major media outlets: Tasnim and Fars news agencies, as well as the daily newspaper Javan. A look at these media organizations’ board members uncovers a cohort of the Islamic Republic’s top spin doctors, including the IRGC commander who helped establish them, Hamidreza Moghaddamfar. An analysis of the Rooznameh Rasmi business registry shows that a vast majority of the board members of these media organizations have been IRGC commanders or individuals employed by the Supreme Leader’s office. A separate document shows that the deputy commander of the IRGC’s intelligence branch has been the chairman of the Fars News Agency board since 2008.
Fars News Agency
Founded in 2003, Fars News Agency is the most established of the IRGC’s major media outlets. Hamidreza Moghaddamfar, an IRGC commander who also influenced the founding of Tasnim news agency and Javan newspaper, was on the board of Fars until April 2012, after which he transferred his shares in the agency to Seyyed Nezamoldin Mousavi and exited the organization, Rooznameh Rasmi documents show.
The identity of the news organization’s founder helps explain the political leanings that motivated Fars’ disinformation drive against those who participated in the recent nationwide uprisings in Iran. One of Fars’ recent targets was Sarina Esmailzadeh, a 16-year-old girl was killed on September 23, 2022 in Karaj as a result of baton blows to the head from IR thugs, according to eyewitness accounts cited by Radiozamaneh, BBC Persian and Radio Farda.
On October 12, 2022 Fars News Agency alleged all these reports as fake, and that Esmailzadeh died as a result of jumping from a building. The news agency went on to cite a poll conducted by its research branch, which allegedly showed BBC Persian, Radio Farda, Iran International, VOA, and Manoto had published 17,312 fake news stories about the protests in Iran between September 14, 2022 and October 8, 2022.
In a separate instant on October 4, 2022, after 11-year-old Fatemeh Rezaei died in Qom under unusual circumstances, Fars conducted an interview with her father. He is quoted as saying she died from an infection and kidney problems, not poisoning. Currently, schoolgirls in various cities in Iran are said to have been poisoned by the authorities as revenge for participating in anti-hijab protests, according to various international news reports.
Last November, the Iranian hacktivist group “Black Reward”, which has targeted various Islamic Republic institutions and infrastructures, leaked an audio recording said to have been obtained from Fars News Agency’s internal servers. The recording was of a secret meeting between the Deputy Commander of the Basij, Qassem Qoreishi, and the managers of “aligned media” [meaning aligned with the regime] about the uprising in Iran and the regime’s plans to create a counternarrative.
In the two-hour meeting which took place late in November 2022, several individuals gave reports about the protests. Qoreishi briefed them on how the regime wanted to counter and mitigate them. His suggestions included placing institutional pressure on female actresses and other celebrities who publicly removed their hijab in solidarity with the protests and using the FIFA World Cup in Qatar as an opportunity to reframe the protests as a public celebration.
Qoreishi also mentioned a “fact-finding mission” to intimidate Molavi Abdolhamid, the prominent Sunni cleric and Friday Prayer leader in Zahedan, following the September massacre of protesters. Qoreishi also instructed state-run media to stop referring to “the protests” in their reporting, and instead use the terms “past riots,” “Mehr riots,” or “black sedition.”
A detailed look at the figures behind Fars News Agency
Seyyed Nezamoldin Mousavi
While not an IRGC member, Mousavi is an influential presence in Iran’s conservative media scene. His previous roles as a spin doctor for various Supreme Leader-controlled “bonyads” and media regulators has contributed to his rise to political power. Now an MP for Tehran, Mousavi was a member of the board of directors of Payam Avaran Nashr Rouz, the organization that owns the daily newspaper Javan, from 2012 until 2017, according to Rooznameh Rasmi documents.
Payam Avaran Nashr Rouz is a Basij Cooperative Foundation, or Bonyad Taavon Basij (BTB) subsidiary, which in turn is controlled by the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, or Bonyad Taavon Sepah.
Moghaddamfar is an IRGC commander and the culture and media advisor to the IRGC commander-in-chief. He is also the deputy head of the office for the Preservation and Publication of the Supreme Leader’s works which is tasked with printing, promoting, and distributing Khamenei’s works.
He has been on the board of Payam Avaran Nashr Rouz since 2012 and is also one of the founding and current board members of Tasnim News Agency. He was the CEO of Fars News Agency in 2012. He is also the secretary of the People’s Headquarters for Commemoration of Qassem Soleimani.
The third notable figure on Fars News Agency’s board of directors is Mohammad Mehdi Sayyari Zahan, who has been the board chairman of Fars since March 2008, according to Rooznameh Rasmi documents. Mehdi Sayyari is an IRGC Commander and the deputy commander of the IRGC Intelligence organization, according to the Afkar news portal. (In a Rooznameh Rasmi ad from March 2008, Sayyari Zahan’s father’s name is stated as Mohammad Ali and his place of birth is Qaenat in South Khorasan. When his father died, a host of IR officials sent Sayyari Zahan condolence messages in which they name his father as Haj Mohammad Ali Sayyari.)
Tasnim news agency
Tasnim News Agency is the largest IRGC-owned media outlet. Tasnim’s media license is held by Atisazan Farhangi Tasnim Institute. Rooznameh Rasmi documents show that this news agency was founded on June 30, 2012 by IRGC commander Hamidreza Moghaddamfar (see above), Jafar Darouneh (board chairman) and Majid Qolizadeh Zahmatkesh (CEO).
Jafar Darouneh, who was head of Tehran’s Department of Education in the Ahmadinejad administration, in addition to his position at Tasnim, is the secretary of a convention called “Tolou Haqiqat,” which aims to commemorate two letters that Khamenei wrote to western youth in 2015, preventing them from being forgotten.
Majid Qolizadeh Zahmatkesh has remained the CEO of Tasnim since its establishment and has been chosen as a Qard al-Hasan ambassador by Mehr-e Iran Qard al-Hasan Bank, a sanctioned financial institution whose shareholders include the armed forces-owned Bank Sepah, as well as other bonyad-affiliated banks, as shown by this Rooznameh Rasmi document and reporting by Tehran Bureau.
Moghaddamfar, Darouneh and Qolizadeh Zahmatkesh are all on the board of the Imam Hasan Mojtaba Charity for Orphans and the Needy, according to Rooznameh Rasmi documents.
Tasnim and the crackdowns
The identity of the Tasnim’s founder and shareholders helps explain the agency’s active role in the state-led disinformation campaign against protesters.
On March 1, 2023, Radio Farda reported that security officers assaulted the mother of one of the students poisoned at the 13 Aban School in Tehran. On March 2, Tasnim published an exclusive report that quoted a police spokesperson saying an investigation concluded the woman had no children in 13 Aban School and had no familial connection to any of its pupils. He added that the individuals who assaulted the woman in the video have been identified and arrested.
The news agency also ran a smear campaign against Esteghlal FC forward Mehdi Ghayedi, who refused to discuss his winning performance in a match on December 26, telling reporters that “Football is not what concerns people right now.”
On January 1, 2023, Tasnim reported that a number of footballers, including some who lack “the motivation to compete or even talk about football”, were arrested at a party “in an abnormal state caused by the consumption of alcoholic beverages.” According to other news reports, Ghayedi was one of the detainees.