Iranian hardliners apoplectic over Shakira photo

The Observer

Fri, Jul 05, 2013 - Page 7

When the cameras panned to the Colombian singer Shakira cheering on her soccer player husband, Gerard Pique, during a Confederations Cup match, to many it was just another shot of a glamorous celebrity. However, in Iran, the few seconds of a woman with bare arms and a revealing top broadcast on national television for the first time prompted furious debate.

Hardliners in Iran attacked the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) network this week for a series of gaffes, showing “indecent” and “un-Islamic” images in the middle of its live sports coverage, including the glimpse of Shakira.

The images came as a surprise to millions of viewers. Thousands of her Iranian fans quickly posted the still images of her appearance online and tweeted their delight.

“Everyone tune in to [IRIB’s] channel 3, they’re showing Shakira,” tweeted one.

Iranian women are not allowed to accompany men in stadiums for national soccer matches, and international games, usually streamed from foreign-based satellite channels, are strictly moderated.

However, censors appear not to have had enough time to react during last week’s coverage.

Another big challenge for the state TV came within a few days.

This time, Iran’s national volleyball team was in a rare high-profile game with Italy on Sunday in Sardinia, where high temperatures had prompted yet more spectators to wear revealing clothing.

To the dismay of fans, officials at the IRIB decided to broadcast the match with a seven-second delay and repeatedly cut live coverage to show archive images in order to avoid scenes deemed inappropriate.

Despite this, it was unable to black out all images, and those broadcast on national TV included scenes showing Iranian exiles with Western clothing.

Both occasions prompted Tehran’s conservative MP Ali Motahari to issue a warning to the IRIB asking it to take more care.