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Iran political dispute reveals leader’s influence in media

BBC Monitoring

By Saeed Barzin of BBC Monitoring on 23 January

A political dispute between the Iranian parliament and the president has revealed the extent of the influence that the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i enjoys in the country's media.

Reporting the dispute between the conservative-controlled parliament and President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad, almost all the main newspapers which represent the main political factions came out in support of Khamene'i's ruling.

The affair is important in the light of the intense political rows now taking place ahead of the parliamentary elections in March 2008, and the role that the leader could play in settling disputes.

The affair also demonstrated that President Ahmadinezhad's influence among the print media at least when it comes down to factional struggle among conservatives is not extensive.

The dispute The dispute began with a letter to the Majlis Speaker Gholamali Haddad-Adel from Ahmadinezhad disputing the legality of a parliamentary ratification on the finance of gas supplies to rural areas.

Iran's Guardian Council is the body which rules on the constitutionality of Majlis bills, but in this case, the Speaker wrote a letter to the leader seeking guidance.

Khamene'i responded by saying that "legal ratifications that have undergone the process specified in the constitution are binding for all the country's branches of power". (ISNA, 21 January)

Speaker Adel brought the matter into the public domain by reading the letters from the Majlis podium.

Pro-government paper In the reporting of the affair by the print media on 22 January, the only newspaper to stand up in defence of the government and President Ahmadinezhad was the "Iran" daily.

The paper which is now seen as the unofficial organ of the government in terms of daily political positions reported the story on its front page but made no reference to the leader's ruling.

Stressing that the president was only seeking to guarantee proper legal procedure, Iran published the full text of Ahmadinezhad's letter.

The following day, the paper was the only one to continue reporting the case as its lead story again without reference to the leader's position.

The fact that Iran was the only newspaper to stand up in defence of Ahmadinezhad indicates that president's influence in the media can be limited when it comes to crucial political disputes at the highest echelons of power.

But as events unfolded, it became evident that pro-government activists were already on the case.

On the same day as the Majlis affair, the Ministry of Islamic Guidance which supervises the media granted permits to pro-Ahmadinezhad politicians to pu! blish two newspapers. (Fars, 21 Jan)

The dailies, Vatan-e Emruz and Atiyeh, are expected to hit the newsstands before the crucial Majlis elections on 14 March 2008.

The former will be managed by Mehrdad Bazrpash, a 26-year old ally of the president, while the latter will be financed by advertising from the state Social Security Organization. (Hezbollah newspaper, 22 Jan)

Conservative papers follow leader In contrast, almost all other conservative newspapers on 22 January endorsed the supreme leader's judgement.

Their support is an indication that the influence of Khamene'i in the print media is distinct from that of other older political figures such as former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami who receive a mixed press, and at times are subject to acerbic personal criticism of their actions.

Reporting among the conservative newspapers was uniform.

Tehran-e Emruz - which is close to the Tehran Mayor, the conservative rival of the president brought an emotional element into the story with a flattering portrait sketch of the Majlis Speaker on its front page. Of all the conservative papers, Tehran-e Emruz probably had the clearest comment on the affair, so far as it concerned the leader.

"The way that the supreme leader deals with differences of view among the three branches of power, shows that his Excellency has refrained, as much as possible, from getting directly involved in the disputes and from using his legal prerogatives," the p! aper said.

"It is much better if government officials do not waste the important capacities of the system on minor and inconsequential issues," the paper warned.

Hezbollah newspaper which is also close to the conservative rivals of the president - referred to the affair as "an appeal to the Supreme Station of the Guardian Jurisconsult (i.e. the leader) by the parliament", and said that Khamene'i's "order was the final ruling".

The three traditional and hardline conservative papers Resalat, Keyhan and Jomhuri-ye Eslami reported the story as the "leader's response to a question put by the Majlis Speaker", and they all had identical front-page headlines: "Majlis ratifications are binding for all branches of power".

The conservative Javan and Jam-e Jaam newspapers which target a more modern and younger audience followed in the same vein and the same headlines.

Reformists highlight right-wing split Meanwhile, the pro-reform press highlighted differences between the Majlis and the president giving passing reference to the Ayatollah Khamene'i's position.

"Is the president in the place of the Guardian Council?" asked Aftab-e Yazd, referring to the constitutional duties of the Guardian Council.

Two other papers, E'temad and Hambastegi, reported the leader's ruling only within their story. The former said the Majlis Speaker was sending a message to his conservative rivals that he will maintain his post in the next parliament, and the latter said the action of the Speaker had woken up the parliament from its winter sleep.

Seda-ye Edalat referred to the action of the Speaker, and his appeal to the leader, as a "late defence" which should have been taken years before.

E'temad Melli, a centrist newspaper affiliated to the National Trust Party, said the Majlis was standing in the way of the government.

President Ahmadinezhad was not happy with the reporting of the affair. He told reporters that "certain people are publishing certain articles that have nothing to do with my letter." (Fars, 23 Jan)

Source: BBC Monitoring research 23 Jan 08



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