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Iran media under pressure tilts in favour of government

BBC Monitoring

By Saeed Barzin of BBC Monitoring on 11 July

    Control of the Iranian media is tilting in favour of the government and the right wing as increasing number of news outlets are put under pressure or banned.

    Government supporters say opposition journalists are campaigning to bring down the country's legitimately elected cabinet. But their opponents say the government is weak, intolerant or fearful of its own collapse.


Agencies and news outlets

    Among the main national news agencies and internet new outlets the tilt in favour of the right wing is clear.

    Two conservative news agencies, Fars and Mehr, are becoming increasingly dominant, and although they are not affiliated to President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad's faction they operate in favour of the conservative camp.

    Iranian Student News Agency, ISNA, which has had a pro-reform posture for a number of years, is under increasing pressure for a "negative attitude towards the government". The previous head of the agency resigned in February 2007 over policy but pressure continues, according to Rajanews.com.

    Iranian Labour News Agency, ILNA, which is close to the centrist faction affiliated to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has been banned by the judiciary and has had its output filtered by the state communications organization which supervises all internet traffic inside the country. The pressure comes despite the change of the managing director and the suspension of operations for one week.

    Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, the official state news outlet, has the most extensive news operation in the country but it limits itself to reporting mainstream official government stances, rather than controversial political stories.

    Among the smaller internet news outlets, the tilt is also in favour of the pro-government sites, such as Rajanews.com, which seem better organized and professional.

    Centrist web sources, such as Aftab and Baztab, are active but pro-reform sites, such Norooznews and Emruz, seem to be suffering from a lack of resources.


Press, radio and TV

    The press is roughly divided between pro-government newspapers and the loyal opposition, while when Ahmadinezhad came to power in 2005, the tilt was in favour of the reformists.

    "The pro-government press enjoy subsidies, huge budgets, access to advertising, good quality [subsidized] paper and modern print machines, but none of this is available to the private [non-government] newspaper," according to one columnist, Behruz Behzadi. (E'temad, 5 July)

    The radio and television are supervised by the Supreme Leader who recently expressed clear backing for Ahmadinezhad's government.

    However, government supporters have criticized Radio Youth (Javan) and Radio Dialogue (Goftegu) - which target the younger and the better educated audience - for broadcasting several programmes critical of the government.


The pressure

    Some of the recent actions taken against journalists and the media include:

    * The arrest of Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand, a Kurdish journalist (Advarnews, 1 July)

    * The banning of Ham-mihan newspaper (3 July)

    * The suspension of the licence for Mosharekat daily, affiliated to the pro-reform Participation Front (5 July)

    * The banning and filtering of ILNA (11 July)

    * The continued detention of eight students from Amir Kabir university for allegedly publishing material insulting religious sensibilities.


Warning signs

    There have been warnings of a new government offensive for sometime now.

    The Minister of Islamic Guidance Mohammad Hoseyn Saffar-Harandi said on 7 July that there were signs that a "creeping coup" is being organized by the press against the government.

    "The expression creeping coup is appropriate... a creeping coup in a medium means that someone is moving in the framework of a subversive move."

    "When we say a creeping coup is taking place we mean some one is moving in the direction of overthrowing" the government, he said.

    Harandi did not say how the government would deal with the subversive journalists, but pointed out that a new press law could be a possibility.

    "A war has begun between the media supporting the revolutionary values and those who are the agents of the enemy," Harandi said in Mashhad. (ISNA, 7 July, E'temad, 8 July)


Support for government position

    According to president's adviser on media, Mehdi Kalhor, the government strategy is to rectify a policy weakness.

    "The government has failed with its media endeavour. There are not many who oppose the government. [But] we are weak in communicating with the people and the enemy has penetrated our media." (E'temad, 8 July)

    Iran newspaper, which is affiliated to the state news agency, has spoken in defence of the government position and against accusations of authoritarian and arbitrary rule.

    It said in an editorial that "democracy is not the dictatorship of the majority. However it demands respect for the vote of the majority... Democracy without law is anarchy and you should not break the law in the name of democracy." (9 July)


President's men

    The "Office in Change of Media Affairs" is where the new government policy is being drawn up.

    According to Mohammad Ja'far Behdad, senior communications officer at the presidential office, the unit has taken "an active policy against the vulgar elements and the source of black propaganda against the government". (E'temad, 8 July)

    The office has already been able to "pacify the enemies and the envious", he said.

    A hard-line journalist, Morteza Qamari Vafa was recently appointed to head the unit. He was a reporter for Kayhan daily for eight years before joining the editorial board of the Iran newspaper. He is the author of book "The Silent Overthrow".



    Government critics have provided various explanations as to why the government is increasing the pressure.

    Participation Front, the main loyal opposition party which supports the former president Mohammad Khatami, puts the pressure down to intolerance.

    "A clear message is being sent that the government is not willing to accept the slightest criticism," the Front said.

    "There is a new wave of confrontation against the press. There is an unprecedented degree of pressure resulting in censorship and self-censorship." (emruz.info, 9 July)

    A mainstream reformist university lecturer, Sadeq Zibakalam, who regularly comments on public affairs blamed the pressure on political "underdevelopment" and said "in our society, it is very easy to condemn newspapers to death, and easier to carry out the order." (roozna.com, 9 July)

    Abbas Salimi Namin, himself a right-wing journalist, was an unexpected critic of government position.

    He said he did not agree with the minister that the media is trying to stage a coup against the government

    "Mr Ahmadinezhad's government is very weak in terms of media support and media management. Maybe this is why the government looks harshly at criticism which is expressed in the press," he said. (E'temad, 10 July)

    A veteran reform journalist, Essa Saharkhiz, made the harshest comment.

    "The authoritarians fear the collapse of their government and great changes in the country... There are clear indications that the president, his masters and pawns have lost the focus." (roozonline, 10 July)

    A member of the Majlis cultural committee, Sa'id Abutaleb, said the government was suffering from "conspiracy delusion".

    "The government's media team is failing to recognize there are notions such as public opinion, the free flow of information and free media. It has all the tools under its control and continues to resort to inappropriate methods," he added. (Aftabnews, 26 June)

    Source: BBC Monitoring research 10 Jul 07



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