Iran: Hassan Rouhani's interview

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, is interviewed live on state television in Tehran. (Iranian Presidency / February 5, 2014)

TEHRAN -- Did a presidential appearance on Iran's state broadcaster become the latest battlefield in the struggle for influence between the nation's hard-liners and reformists?

When Iranians tuned in to state television's Channel One on Wednesday evening for a live interview with President Hassan Rouhani, they found an Islamic soap opera on their screens instead.

The interview finally went ahead more than 90 minutes after the scheduled time. It ended close to midnight.

The reason behind the delay?

According to some media accounts, including the news site Alef, a disagreement broke out over who would conduct the interview. Rouhani's office preferred Sonia Pouryamin, a female journalist regarded as sympathetic to the reformist camp that backs Rouhani, according to a report on Alef. But some reports indicated that the head of state TV, Ezataollah Zarghami, had someone else in mind: Kazem Rouhani-Nejad, regarded as a hard-liner sympathetic to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In the end, Alef reported, an agreement was reached to let both interviewers put questions to the president.

Some local journalists interpreted the dispute as a sign that the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting has become the latest arena of the power struggle between hard-liners and reformists. An appointee of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei runs IRIB, but a representative of the president is included in the organization’s supervisory council.

“President Rouhani has the right to insist to have his own chosen interviewer,” said Farshad Qoubanpour, a pro-reformist journalist, who said the state broadcaster had not been sympathetic to Rouhani since he assumed office last year. “For the past six months, Rouhani has been under barrage of criticism from IRIB."

A number of local news agencies, including the official Islamic Republic News Agency, reported that Zarghami was responsible for delaying the broadcast.

During the interview, Rouhani addressed a range of domestic and international issues, including cash subsidies for the needy, international talks on Iran’s nuclear program, and European trade delegations that have visited the country in recent days.

At one point, Rouhani apologized for how his administration handled this week's handouts of food baskets to low-income residents. Needy Iranians lined up in freezing weather to receive their rations, a process critics called demeaning.

At the end of the interview, Rouhani alluded to the delay in broadcasting the session but provided no details as to why it happened.

“For some reasons which I don't want to reveal now, my interview was delayed,” Rouhani said. “But it is late and people are tired.”

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Special correspondents Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Sandels from  Beirut. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.