Iran’s Culture Ministry, which had announced that it planned to shut down news websites operating without a license, is now accused of targeting only conservative sites critical of the Hassan Rouhani administration while allowing Reformist news sites and those supportive of the administration to continue to operate without a license.
Hossein Entezami, Iran’s Culture Ministry’s deputy for media affairs, announced Sept. 5, “According to Article 7 of the media laws, news websites without a license from the Press Supervisory Board would be closed and the directors of the sites would be referred to the appropriate judiciary authority.”
Entezami said that more than 230 news agencies and websites in Iran are operating with licenses and that the Culture Ministry would deal with those applying for licenses for the first time “without prejudice.” He said the measure was being taken to prevent “professionally unethical” work that “undermines the trust of journalists,” such as reports that include “insults, accusations and invasion of privacy.”
However, as Entezami announced the closing of certain websites with “tens more” to come, even asking citizens to report any websites operating without a license, conservative officials have accused the ministry of targeting only conservative websites so far.
Massoud Basiri, a member of the conservative Muslim Journalists Association, said, “Tens of thousands of websites are operating without a license, and the Culture Ministry has not created any obstacles for them.” He added, “Unfortunately, the Culture Ministry is working with double standards and … even software that is controlled by the Zionist regime, such as WhatsApp and Viber, is operating without filters.”
Basiri also claimed the ministry had no authority to filter websites without the permission of the judiciary.
Deputy Attorney General Abdolsamad Khoramabadi also criticized the decision to close down the websites. “Not only the Culture Ministry, but also the Press Supervisory Board cannot directly give the order to close electronic publications,” he said. According to Khoramabadi, the Culture Ministry’s responsibility is to report media violations to the judiciary and it cannot “issue sentences” to close websites on its own.
The secretary for the Press Supervisory Board, Aladdin Zohourian, defended his agency's actions against the accusations by conservatives, saying, “There is no selection or priority at work.”
Mehr News Agency listed a dozen websites it claimed were either Reformist or supported the Rouhani administration that have not been filtered or closed down.
A number of conservative parliamentarians also criticized the decision. Seyed Shokr Khoda Mousavi said, “Rouhani’s policy was not supposed to be to confront sites critical of the administration and filter them. They should know that criticism of them is to their benefit and if there is no criticism, problems will accumulate and smoke will be in the eyes of the administration and the system.”
While all news agencies and newspapers in Iran require a license to operate and most receive government subsidies from various institutions, many websites have operated in Iran for years without a license. Some news sites, especially conservative ones, enjoy much more editorial leeway than the agencies and papers.
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