Created in 2007 as an affiliate of the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the IRTVU is officially governed by the Supreme Council, the General Secretariat, and the Permanent Committees; however, in practice the IRGC runs it. This umbrella organization encompasses the media outlets owned by Iranian proxies. According to the Washington Institute, “IRTVU provides [the proxy militia news] outlets with financial, technological, and organizational support, helps train their personnel, and devises a unified strategy for them to follow.” The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated the IRTVU as a Specially Designated National in October 2020 for being owned and operated by the IRGC Quds Force, in effect extending its designation of the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization to its media arm. A U.S. Treasury Department press release from October 2020 stated that IRTVU is “a propaganda arm of the IRGC-QF.” Not only does the IRGC have a hand in directing the military operations of Iranian-backed proxies, but it also takes a role in their media affairs.
The IRTVU includes 100 satellite TV channels, 30 radio stations, and dozens of websites. As Iran’s leading proxies are located in Iraq and Lebanon, these countries are naturally where the IRTVU is most active, however it has also expanded to Yemen, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. The Iraqi branch of the IRTVU, known as the Iraqi Radio and Television Union, is headed by Hamid al-Husseini, an Iraqi cleric with close connection to the Office of the Supreme Leader. He said in the past that he worked “under the command of Soleimani,” the former Quds Force commander killed in a U.S. drone strike in January 2020. The Iraqi city of Najaf issued a warrant for his arrest on terrorism charges in 2021. He stands accused of orchestrating an attack on the Al Rafidain Center for Dialogue in Najaf, but Iraqi authorities have not acted upon the warrant.
Iran funds both the Iraq and Lebanon branches of the IRTVU, and uses them to counteract activists and media professionals opposed to the Iranian proxies. The Iraq branch has helped to set up and sustain numerous news outlets on behalf of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, including the television networks al-Etejah (run by Kataib Hezbollah), Al Ahad (run by Asaib Ahl al-Haq), al-Nujaba (run by Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba), and al-Baeenah (run by Saraya al-Jihad). In the view of the deputy secretary of the Federation of Arab Journalists in Europe, Hilal al-Obeidi, these networks engage "in subversive propaganda activity that explicitly incites violence and hatred and spews sectarian rhetoric, misinformation and distorted facts.” For example, the information network encouraged violence in support of the PMF militias’ campaign to suppress protest movements against Iranian meddling in the country. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has established a number of media centers under the IRTVU, including the Union Centre for Media Training, the U-News press agency, and the Union Centre for Research and Development, transforming the southern suburbs of Beirut into an Iranian media hub. The terrorist group broadcasts programs and disinformation campaigns that attack critics. It promotes war and enflames sectarianism via its networks and online media platforms in the Iraq, Syria, and Yemen theaters.
Based on a prior U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) determination that the IRTVU disguised itself as legitimate “news organizations or media outlets [to] target the U.S. with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations,” DOJ seized 33 websites used by the IRTVU in June 2021, including those associated with Al Alam TV and Press TV, adding to the 92 IRGC-linked domain names seized in 2020. The U.S. was able to seize the .com domain names of these websites because they are run by a U.S.-based operator, Verisign, that is obliged to abide by U.S. laws. However, Al Alam TV and Press TV quickly came back online using the Iranian domain name .ir.