Iranian Press Mostly Quiet In Run-up to Election

The crackdown on the media which started five months before the election has effectively stifled critical press inside Iran.

al-monitor Iranians sit next to electoral posters of Hassan Rouhani (L) and Mohsen Rezai (C) in the religious city, June 9, 2013. Photo by AFP/Getty Images/Behrouz Mehri.

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reformists, press, news and media, iran

Jun 9, 2013

In the run-up to the June 14 presidential election in Iran, a critical approach from newspapers and websites is highly absent, even compared with previous election cycles.

The outcome of Iran’s presidential election in 2009 prompted public demonstrations in the capital, Tehran, and several major cities; the protests were of a size that were unprecedented since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In the aftermath of the election protests, security forces reacted excessively. Many people were detained, several were killed on the streets and in prison and the Green Movement leaders were put under house arrest. Several reformist journalists and political activists received long-term prison sentences.

Now, with the picture of the 2009 presidential election in mind, authorities are trying to prevent this election from becoming a security issue. “The main goal for those seditionists is to take revenge in the upcoming election and strike back at the system,” said Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi, following the detention of 17 journalists nearly five months ahead of the June 14 election. He added that Iran’s aim is to “prevent the emergence of sedition prior to the election.” The word “sedition” is the term used for the Green Movement, its leaders and all those who questioned the validity of the 2009 presidential election.

The government’s first preventive step was suppression of journalists and the press. The detained journalists worked for mostly reformist newspapers and websites. Moslehi said they were “puppets of world arrogance” and said their arrests have created “havoc” in the network of the country's enemies. In a statement on Jan. 30, the Intelligence Ministry further announced that the arrested journalists were spies and affiliates of the BBC news network and promised further arrests.

One month later, three leading social and political publications — Aseman weekly, Tajrobeh monthly, and Mehrnameh monthly, all belonging to the reformist camp — were banned. Their readers were mostly among elites and academia.

In an interview with Fars news agency on April 26, Deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance for Press and Information, Mohammad-Jafar Mohammadzadeh, called on the country’s media to exercise “self control” ahead of the June election. “During the next two months, supervision carried out by [my] department will increase. But we hope that members of the press themselves also exercise self control and publish the news in a responsible manner,” Mohammadzadeh said.

A day earlier, the opposition website Kaleme reported that the Ministry of Intelligence had recently summoned the managing directors of leading newspapers to inform them of the “red lines” in covering the upcoming election. According to the report, the editors were briefed by an individual who presented himself as an Intelligence Ministry deputy and warned that any form of “accentuating the negative” in the run-up to the presidential race “would be dealt with severely.”

On April 27 — days before the election’s candidate registration process began — the reputable Baztab Emruz website, which had been blocked earlier, published an article about a tape known as “the 8 million tape.” This was an alleged audio recording of a conversation between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some officials that reportedly proved organized fraud in the 2009 election. The website was brought down completely hours later. Ali Ghazali, the website’s managing director, was detained on the same day. Foad Sadeghi, the website’s founder and editor-in-chief, was arrested on May 18.

One of the detained reformist journalists who was released on bail told Al-Monitor that he was summoned to the Intelligence Ministry a couple of days before nominations started, in order to be informed of their “presence” and “constant control and monitoring.” The journalist said, “They reminded me that ‘You are still under supervision and shouldn’t participate in any activities against the election.’”

The scope of pressure on the media even extended to publications close to Ahmadinejad. The widely circulated IRAN newspaper received a 6-month suspension from a court in Tehran on June 2. The verdict is said to refer to an article published in October 2011 titled, “Where are the political artilleries located?” The article discussed the political views and activities of Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliament speaker. Ahmadinejad fell out with conservatives supporting Ayatollah Khamenei in 2011, after he challenged the authority of the supreme leader.

In another recent move, Iran’s filtering authority ordered the Mehr news agency to be blocked. The order came after the agency interviewed the managing director of Serat News – which was blocked earlier by authorities. Mehr dismissed the order as illegal, saying that the country’s news agencies are supervised by the Press and News Agencies Observatory Committee. The blocking order was revoked by Prosecutor General Mohseni Ejei.

In the run-up to the presidential election, it seems that most of local newspapers and websites have left behind their critical approach toward the election process in order to escape the possibility of suspension of their activities, confirming that security officials have successfully silenced the local media.

In such an atmosphere, the state-run TV and radio (IRIB) has taken the lead — by using a lot of airtime for election and debate coverage — in trying to persuade the population to vote in the upcoming election.

Mani Fardad is a pseudonym for a reporter covering the elections in Iran.

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