2013 Presidential Debate or Game Show?

ASL 19 and Iran Media Program examine responses to the first 2013 presidential debate.

Broadcasted on IRIB, the first three and a half hour presidential debate took place on June 1st and was followed by an onslaught of criticism from the eight candidates, other politicians, and the media. News websites and Iranian newspapers across multiple political affiliations criticized the "offensive" nature of the debate. Out of over eleven- thousand participants asked in an ISNA survey if they agreed with the IRIB’s decision to produce the debates in this format, 91.3% reported they were dissatisfied.

Many viewers likened the debate to a televised game show, as during the debate the moderator posed multiple choice questions with “yes” or “no” answer options to the candidates and asked the candidates to comment on presented images. The stark resemblance of the debate to television game-shows, which can be explained by director Hossein Fardoo’s former career as a game show director, prompted many to declare that it was not properly formatted for candidates aspiring to a presidential position.

Many commented that the debate "lowered the dignity” of the presidential election and was an “insult to the presidential position.” Asr-e Iran dedicated a special section to the mass text messages and jokes circulated within twenty-four hours of the debate’s broadcast.

Experts and candidates speculate that IRIB’s motivation for the format of the debate stemmed from the desire to impair the status of the president’s position, should the president threaten the authority of the Supreme Leader, who appoints IRIB’s director. On this note, media expert Hamed Youssefi commented that this debate is actually typical of of the ruling elite's attempt to diminish the president’s role to “executive director” instead of “head of state” and that the heated 2009 debates were an anomaly.

During the debate, candidate Mohsen Rezai said “In order to create a strong government, we must respect the value of the president.” All eight candidates expressed dissatisfaction with the debate and called it an insult to the dignity of the people and the position of the presidential office. In reaction to the candidates' humiliation during the debate, reformist candidate Seyyed Hassan Rouhani said “The debate reminded me of my first year in high school when the teacher used to test us.”

Some also commented that the IRIB may be attempting to reduce potential post- debate controversy by formatting the debate in a manner that would not lead to challenges to the status-quo of society. Because of the controversial 2009 presidential debates involving Mir- Hoseein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, some experts believe presidential debates are a security issue for the country.

Thus far, commentary on the format of the debate has dominated media coverage. The nature of the debate’s game show like format distracted from the most pressing policy issue of the election- the economy.

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