Television is the leading medium through which people have access to the news, and the control of IRIB guarantees the Supreme Leader and his allies a powerful political tool that they can use also against other high level officials. During the campaign for the presidential elections of 2009, for example, Ayatollah Khamenei rejected the request of former President Rafsanjani, a leading figure in the Islamic Republic since its foundation, to have access to the television to answer the accusations of corruption raised against him and his family by President Ahmadinejad during a televised debate. One month after the elections the television did not broadcast a sermon of Rafsanjani during the main Friday prayer in Tehran, in which he criticised the crackdown of the protests and asked for a reconciliation in order to overcome what he was describing as a crisis. State television is also known for airing programs aimed at smearing and discrediting opposition activists and critical journalists and has a record of airing forced confessions by dissidents.
Despite a ban on using satellite equipment in force since 1994, foreign TVs are widely watched all over the country. Satellite dishes and the other necessary equipment can be bought on the flourishing illegal market. The police confiscate them in periodic operations and from time to time launch a major crackdown, especially in periods of political tensions. Normally - but not always - the owners of the dishes are made to pay a fine. The authorities also engage in jamming of foreign satellite signals. In recent years some officials and media reports have raised concerns over potential health consequences of the signals used for jamming. In any case, none of these measures can prevent millions of Iranians from watching the programs of the foreign-based stations. According to a 2010 survey by BBC Monitoring, about 40 percent of the population were watching satellite channels broadcasted from abroad.
The State Television operates 17 national channels (including News , Sports, Science, Economy, Documentaries, Quran and Youth), 30 provincial channels and 9 international channels, with programs in eight foreign languages. Among the international channels there is Al Alam in Arabic, launched in 2003 with a style similar to that of the major pan-Arab satellite news TVs like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. PressTV, the all-news channel in English, is another international channel and has started its programs in 2007. Sahar is a multilingual channel that started its activity in 1990 and broadcasts programs in Kurdish, Urdu, Azeri, Bosnian and French. Jam-e Jam (the same name of the newspapers published by IRIB) broadcasts Farsi programs for Iranians living abroad, including TV series and films, sometimes with English subtitles. Other international channels are iFilm, whose production is based on Iranian films and TV programs, with Arabic and English subtitles or language options, Al Kosar, in Arabic, and Hispan TV, in Spanish.
Among the channels broadcasting in Farsi into Iran from abroad, the most watched are BBC Persian, funded by the UK government, Voice of America-Persian News Network (VOA PNN), funded by the United States and Manoto TV. There are no recent and precise figures on the number of viewers for either of these channels. According to a BBC Media Center article, BBC Persian had an audience of 11.4 million in 2014.
BBC Persian television was launched in January 2009 to target Persian speakers in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It is a subdivision of BBC World Service and it broadcasts from London. During the nationwide protests in 2009, BBC Persian was regarded by many Iranians as the best and most precise source of information about the unfolding events. Therefore the authorities started jamming the channel, forcing it to switch to two other satellites in order to be able to continue the coverage. BBC Persian offers a wide range of programs of news, art, science, culture, technology and sport. The channel also introduces interviews with young, well known Iranian artists and musicians, who, due to the political and social situation in Iran, are forced to live abroad.
Voice of America - Persian News Network (VOA-PNN) started broadcasting from Washington DC on October 1996. In the first years after its launch, it enjoyed a high viewership, offering a variety of programs on political and social issues and organizing roundtables and debates with exiled Iranian activists and politicians. The station offers also programs on art, music and culture. But in recent years, especially after the launch of BBC Persian TV and Manoto TV, it is believed to have lost a large number of viewers.
Manoto TV has been broadcasting from London since 2010. It is owned by Marjan Television Network, established by Kayyan and Marjan Abbassi. The television is funded by venture capitalists, according to a 2011 report by the Foreign Policy Centre, a UK-based independent think-tank. But its officials decline to give details about their sponsors. Manoto TV targets a large population with a wide age range, as its programs vary from news to TV series and entertainment, like talent shows and reality shows. The station also produces documentaries focused in particular on pre-revolutionary Iran that seem to indicate a leaning for the former monarchic regime. The clearest sign of this tendency so far has been a 150-minutes-long interview with the former Queen Farah Diba, aired in December 2016.