The director general of Iran’s ministry of culture and Islamic guidance, which is responsible for overseeing media affairs in Iran, threatened Iranian media with license revocation if they published any photos of two leading opposition figures, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi. This is not the first time that domestic media in the country are threatened over reports on the post 2009 presidential election and leaders of the green movement.
No Support Without Support for Regime
The official threatened those media outlets which he said had not written a single positive report on the events of December 30, 2009, Iran’s international day of solidarity for Palestine or anything in favor of the regime and its principles with withdrawal of any government support or financial assistance.
On Saturday, culture ministry director seyed Ehsan Ghazizadeh met the managing editors of a group of publications and the directors of news agencies in the province of Kerman and made the above threats. He also threatened that if any publication published images of the “leaders of the sedition”, the licenses of the media would be revoked and the publication would be banned, according to Iran’s official news agency, IRNA.
Ghazizadeh’s remarks and threats come after the culture minister, seyed Mohammad Hossein announced that government financial and other support to the media would depend on their postures, meaning reporting on the recent controversial issues. He specifically said that his ministry could not support those publications, books or films that “moved in the opposition direction of the goals of the regime.”
Last September too, Iran’s supreme national security council issued a directive to the media banning them from publishing any news about Mousavi, Karoubi and the tenth presidential election that was held in June 2009. This directive came just a day after ayatollah Khamenei charged at the Friday prayers that critics of the 2009 election and opposition personalities were holding “a sword against the regime,” and threatened them with a response.
Such government interference in media affairs comes despite article 3 of the media law that specifically bans “any official, government or non government to exert pressure on the media or engage in censorship or control of the media.” The law also provides for punishment of those who violate the law that ranges from six months to two years of prison, and for government officials includes permanent dismissal from government service.
These provisions in the law conform to international standards as defined in human rights conventions which the Islamic republic has committed itself to respect and uphold.
In his talk, Ghazizadeh also confirmed that during the last year publication licenses of a number of publications had been revoked because they had “insulted the principles of the regime and religious leaders.”
He also boasted that since Ahmadinejad’s administration had come to office, the number of publications in the provinces had risen from 5 to 24.
Experts and observers however point out that the quality of the media in Iran has not only deteriorated during this period, but in fact the country has gone through one of the most critical periods in its history.
Last September, managing editors of 15 publications from Golestan province, wrote a letter to the media officials in the province, requesting an investigation into the critical condition of the media in the province. “News dissemination had been reduced from 130 pages to a mere 50, and some 100 professionals in the field had left their jobs,” they wrote in their letter.
The appalling condition of the media in the provinces even bothered some hardline Majlis representatives. Mehdi Isazadeh, deputy from Miandoab, Takab and Shahin told Fars news agency that media in the province had turned into a tribune for “special individuals.”
Just last August, Kurdish journalists too responded to the claims of the director general of media affairs over the issue of quality in the Kurdish press and said, “Most Kurdish publications are either permanently temporary banned from publication, and from the large number of newspapers that used to be published during the reform period (a reference to Mohammad Khatami’s administration between 1993-2001) only three publications remain and these are published irregularly.”
In addition to the condition of the newspapers, a group of journalists from the provinces are still in prison, and among them are Adnan Hassanpour and Mohammad-Sadigh Kaboodvand from Kurdistan and Saeed Matinpoor and Heydar Karimi from Azerbaijan province.
It should be noted that the threats that Iranian officials make against domestic media come amid condemnation from international human rights and journalist organizations over the last twelve months, particularly since the June presidential election, after which unprecedented controls and limitations have been imposed on Iranian journalists and the media.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Iran ranked fourth among the list of worlds countries with the worst record of freedom of press and treatment of journalists. The three countries which had worse record than Iran were Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
The media is under such pressure in Iran that the highest prison punishments in the post election trials went to journalists, many of whom continue to remain behind bars or have emigrated from Iran.
According to the Association for the Defense of Freedom of Press, some 1,200 journalists in Iran lost their jobs in the first Ahmadinejad administration. Reporters Without Borders also reported in April 2009 that more than 110 reporters had been arrested, imprisoned and more than 20 publications banned in Iran during the last 8 months.