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Analysis: Iranian media outlets face further restrictions

BBC Monitoring

By BBC Monitoring's Media Specialists on 4 July

    Another newspaper has been banned in Iran, the reformist Ham-Mihan; and at the same time, the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) has apparently shut down temporarily after its managing director Mas'ud Heydari submitted his resignation on 3 July.

    ILNA has been a thorn in the side of the conservative factions of Iran ever since it started operating in 2003. It began by focusing on workers' demands, with a specific section on labour rights, but its coverage has since extended to include other issues.

    According to Heydari, ILNA does not receive any financial backing from any centres and operates under the supervision of the Labour Higher Education Institute.

    ILNA has been in trouble before. In April of 2006, over 30 reporters were dismissed, ostensibly on financial grounds. A number of other journalists subsequently resigned, claiming that the sackings were politically motivated. (Rooz 18 Apr 06)

    ILNA is popular with Iran's diaspora opposition websites, especially those on the left of the political spectrum. Most of the news about labour protests in Iran carried by the diaspora websites is from ILNA. (For example, etehadefedaian.org; 3 July)


Increasing pressure

    There have been recent indications of increasing pressure on ILNA and Heydari.

    Aftab news website (aftabnews.ir), a moderate, right-of-centre website financed by the Research Centre of the Expediency Council, which is headed by ex-President Hashemi-Rafsanjani, said on 2 July that "the board of directors of this non-governmental news agency has agreed to the resignation of ILNA's managing director in order to reduce the existing pressures".

    And on 3 July, the reformist newspaper Farhang-e Ashti website reported that "the Iranian Labour News Agency group was under such pressure that its board of directors had been told to choose between continuing their functions as a news agency or keeping Heydari as managing director".

    Farhang-e Ashti went on to quote a source close to the government as saying that the judiciary had received complaints about ILNA from the Ministry of Education for its coverage of student issues.

    "The president [Mahmud Ahmadinezhad], the Ministries of Labour and Social Affairs, [Culture and Islamic] Guidance, Education and Research and Technology are among the most important critics of the news agency who had been exerting immense pressure on them during this period of time," the newspaper added.

    Heydari's resignation letter was carried by ILNA on 3 July. He does not make it clear exactly why he was resigning, other than to say: "As the most humble member of ILNA and as someone who has considered it the greatest honour of his life to serve in this aggregate and has never been prepared to exchange it for anything, I am resigning as the managing director of Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) so that my presence does not inflict any further harm than the harm that has already been directed at this blessed offspring."

    The current status of ILNA remains unclear. The Iranian newspaper E'temad-e Melli on 4 July reported the "temporary closure" of the news agency. E'temad-e Melli (National Trust) was launched in January 2006, and is the newspaper of the National Trust party, founded by former Majlis Speaker and defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi.

    But the conservative Fars news agency, which is close to the judiciary, said on the same day: "The fact that the Iranian Labour News Agency is not operating is said to be due to a technical fault."

    At the time of writing, ILNA's website had not been updated.


Second ban

    Meanwhile, Ham-Mihan newspaper - managed by former Tehran mayor and Rafsanjani ally Gholamhoseyn Karbaschi - was banned on 3 July because "its previous court case did not go through the right procedures", according to Fars.

    According to Alireza Malekian, the deputy minister of culture for press affairs, "the procedure of dealing with Ham-Mihan's previous case was illegal... This is why the newspaper has been closed down following the ruling of Tehran's Public Prosecutor."

    Tehran's prosecutor is Sa'id Mortazavi, renowned for previously being in charge of the "special press court" which was responsible for the banning of reformist newspapers back in 2000.

    Ham-Mihan was first banned a few years ago, but received permission to print earlier this year. The daily had produced 42 editions since then, the pro-conservative Baztab news website noted. (baztab.com; 3 July)

    The order to stop Ham-Mihan going to press took place on the same day as its supplement ran a feature criticizing the well-known conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.

    The newspaper on the same day ran an article under the headline: "The Energy Ministry can ration electricity."

    The piece, which seems to have touched raw nerves in the light of Iran's petrol rationing, was on Ahmadinezhad's remarks during his tour with visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to the Asaluyeh oil facility in southern Iran.

    Source: BBC Monitoring English 4 Jul 07


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