TV Game Show Canceled after Khamenei Blasts “Lottery” Mentality

April 28, 2019
Shima Shahrabi
6 min read
Ali Foroughi, the young and novice director of Network 3, has attracted much criticism
Ali Foroughi, the young and novice director of Network 3, has attracted much criticism
Mohammad Reza Golzar, the host of the “Be a Winner” game show, is reportedly paid more than $10,000 per episode
Mohammad Reza Golzar, the host of the “Be a Winner” game show, is reportedly paid more than $10,000 per episode

A popular television game show has been taken off air just days after the Supreme Leader warned against a culture of gambling and called for more emphasis to be placed on the value of hard work.

“We must promote the culture of hard work and production,” Ayatollah Khamenei told a group of workers on April 24. “We must do away with the mindset of expecting unearned riches and we must not promote fads like lotteries.” He then warned government institutions, including the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), which has a monopoly on radio and television, to take heed.

Exactly a day after Khamenei’s speech, the game show “Be a Winner” was removed from the programming schedule of Iranian television’s Network 3.

“Be a Winner,” hosted by movie star Mohammad Reza Golzar, is one of the most popular programs on Iranian TV, and claims to boost the general knowledge of its audience and participants. People have flocked to be contestants on the show, pulled in by its promise of hefty cash prizes. 

The size of the cash prize depends on how many questions the contestant answers. As the questions become harder and harder to answer, the prize becomes bigger and bigger — the maximum prize is 100 million tomans, over $23,000. The winner of the prize is also given another opportunity to participate in the contest one more time.

To participate in the game show, contestants buy questions from the show’s online app. The four participants with the most correct answers are then invited to take part in the TV show. “The app is designed in a way that you have to, on average, answer three questions per minute,” one contestant told Fars News Agency. “You fall into a cycle of answering questions; how many you answer is very important. This allows them to make the most amount of money. Regardless of the prizes, they are making a mind-boggling amount of money from this contest because you have to buy a package of 500 questions for 20,000 tomans [$4.72]. To participate in the contest on TV, I answered more than 70,000 questions and this cost me around three million tomans [$708].”


Anti-Gambling Sentiments

Recently, a Shia religious authority compared the prize money disbursed to the TV winners, who sit in a chair facing Mohammad Reza Golzar to give their answers, to gambling. He then issued a fatwa. “This is gambling and the prizes do not [rightfully] belong to people who participate,” announced Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, who is well known as a perennial cultural gadfly.

Gambling and betting are prohibited under Islamic jurisprudence, and Article 705 of the Islamic Code states: “Gambling by any means is forbidden and the offenders shall be sentenced to one to six months’ imprisonment or up to 74 lashes; and if they commit gambling publicly, they shall be sentenced to both the punishments” [PDF].

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi is one of the most influential and hardliner Shia religious authorities in Iran, and his views on issues affecting society have often led to controversy — he is also a Holocaust denier. Two days after Makarem Shirazi issued his ruling, the TV game’s public relations office announced that the question put to him about the show had been defective and, therefore, the ruling did not apply to “Be a Winner.” However, the statement failed to calm the controversy, and a day later Ayatollah Khamenei essentially endorsed Makarem Shirazi’s fatwa, warning the IRIB against promoting “lotteries.”

The Supreme Leader did not mention “Be a Winner” by name — a tactic he often uses when making public statements about current affairs, choosing to talk in general terms so that it falls on others to interpret his words and deliver his message in a more direct way. After his speech to laborers on April 24, Gholamreza Kateb, a member of the IRIB Supervisory Board, said that, following the Supreme Leader’s warning about the importance of avoiding a lottery mindset, the “Be a Winner” game show should be taken off air [Persian link].


Khamenei has “the Last Word”

Soon after, Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, the Minister of Information and Communications Technology, tweeted: “The Supreme Leader has the last word.” He promised that, from now on, the matter would be pursued in a more serious manner. And Hesamodin Ashna, President Rouhani’s advisor and a member of the IRIB Advisory Board, tweeted that the board was putting the topic of “commercials, contests and sweepstakes through [the app] Rubika” on its agenda [Persian link]. Rubika is a multi-purpose app that, according to one website that reviews apps, “offers access to unlimited content and services from various operators,” and sponsors popular TV programs in Iran, including "Be a Winner."

In recent weeks Iranian TV’s Network 3 has been the target of numerous criticisms, most of them to do with Ali Foroughi, the network’s young and novice director. After Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech, he said that the network would get a new sponsor for “Be a Winner" and promised to“reform” the show.

This is not the first time that “Be a Winner” has met with controversy and criticism. Previously, controversy arose when the high fees paid to the host, Mohammad Reza Golzar, were made public. It was reported that he is paid 45 million tomans, or more than $10,000 per episode. The show’s public relations spokesman denied this but, IranWire spoke to an informed source who confirmed the amount. “Golzar only agreed to host the show because he would be receiving this amount,” the source said.

“Be a Winner” marks Golzar’s debut as a game show host. In fact, before this, Golzar had never appeared in a television series, and had focused solely on movies. 



Another controversy “Be a Winner” fuelled was linked to the Jam-e Jam Television Festival. Viewers had voted for the game show, and chose it over “Navad” (“Ninety”) as the best program on Iranian TV. For the last 20 years, Navad, which broadcasts Iran Premier League football matches, has been the most popular TV program in Iran — until Foroughi removed its host Adel Ferdosipour in March and stopped airing the program pending “reorganization.” As a result, there were fraud allegations linked to “Be a Winner” receiving the accolade. And the reports were taken even more seriously when people reported on social media that they had received text messages from IRIB informing them that they had voted for “Be a Winner” despite the fact that they had not participated in the survey and had not taken part in the voting. [Persian link]. At that point the minister of communications stopped the voting process due to allegations of fraud and vote-rigging.

Eventually, both “Navad” and “Be a Winner” received prizes at the Jam-e Jam Television Festival. During the ceremonies, Adel Ferdosipour criticized Foroughi onstage. However, Mohammad Reza Golzar praised Foroughi, inviting the audience to cheer and applaud the head of Network 3.

But now that Ayatollah Khamenei has spoken, Foroughi has no option but to obey and take "Be a Winner" off the air. So Golzar can praise him all he likes — at this point, none of it will make any difference. 



Related Coverage:

The Ban on Telegram, April 30, 2018

Is Khamenei Afraid to Contradict Grand Ayatollahs?, December 13, 2017

Ayatollah Gives Thumbs Down to Women in Stadiums, December 12, 2017

“The internet is a dangerous bomb planted in homes!”, January 21, 2015

The Business Behind the High-Speed Fatwa, September 2, 2014




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