Paris, 9 Aug. (IPS) On Wednesday 8 August, the Islamic Republic of Iran celebrated what it is naming cynically, if not ironically, “The Reporters Day”, as the regime, because of its repression and crackdown of the press, is under growing pressure and criticism by international press and human rights organizations.
The “Day” was declared on the occasion of the assassination of Mahmoud Saremi, a correspondent for the official Iranian news agency IRNA by the Taleban on 1998 by the Afghan Taleban when they invaded the city of Mazare Sharif and stormed the Iranian consulate there.
only in the past year, 1.200 journalists have joined the other 2.800 newsmen and people working in the media who have lost their jobs since the year 2000.
Visiting the IRNA’s office, Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad, the fanatic President of the regime said that “the work of journalists is of the same essence of the prophets: informing”.
“Journalists have a sacred mission. They are in charge of informing people everywhere in the world. But unfortunately, the arrogant powers (imperialists) have turned this sacred mission into one of the most evil one in order to impose their hegemony on other peoples an d nations”, he stressed, adding that IRNA and the Iranian media as a whole must become “a model, a flag bearer of telling and disseminating the truth”.
But he did not add that whereas the prophets had been free to inform, Iranian journalists are arrested because they just try to do the same mission.
The Iranian authorities are celebrating the so-called “Reporters Day” as Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based international press watchdog has declared the Islamic Republic of Iran as “one of the world’s most repressive regimes against journalists” and placed the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i and the Iranian Presidnt, Mr ahmadi Nezhad, among the world’s “most dangerous predators of press freedom”.
Right now, two Kurdish journalists have been sentenced to death, while at least eight others are in jail, waiting the Islamic Judiciary to decide of their situation.
According to highly reliable Iranian sources, “only in the past year, 1.200 journalists have joined the other 2.800 newsmen and people working in the media who have lost their jobs since the year 2000”, as the result of closure of more than 150 publications by the authorities.
“This means nearly 5.000 journalists made jobless, meaning penniless. Considering that the number is much higher, this means thousands of families having nothing to live on”, the source explained.
“Plotting for the toppling of the regime”, “propaganda against the security of the State”, “confusing the public’s opinion and mind”, “cultural assault”, “sabotage”, “disseminating enemies pervert ideologies” etc.. are among routine “package” accusations invoked by the authorities justifying the closure of newspapers and publications which are not in total coherence with the ideas of the Iranian leader and the policies of the Government.
According to Mr. Masha’allah Shamsolva’ezin, the spokesman of the Iranian Association for the Defence of Press Freedom and a former Editor of several highly popular and influential newspapers during the presidency of the moderate Mohammad Khatami and all shut down on orders from Ayatollah Khameneh’i, the Ahmadi Nezhad’s Government has targeted the press as a scapegoat for all its failures.
“I believe that the Ahmadi Nezhad Administration has reached a complete dead-end, particularly when it comes to the press. On the one hand, it suffers from severe political divisions and heavy criticism. On the other hand, it’s main opponents, the reformists, are criticizing them for their handling of domestic and foreign issues. Hence the Administration tries, in its own imagination at least, to manage the crisis by pointing the finger at the press. Essentially, when you look at things from their point of view, you see that they have no other choice: they have to accuse the press”, he told the internet reformist newspaper “Rooz”, based in London and Paris.
Mohammad Hoseyn Safar Harandi, the Islamic Guidance and Culture Minister, a former deputy Chief Editor of the radical daily “Keyhan”, was instrumental in the closing of “Ham Mihan” and “Sharq”, two independent, pro-reforms dailies as well as the workers news agency ILNA.
Ham Mihan, which had re-appeared after a seven years absence under the ownership of Mr. Qolamhoseyn Karbaschi, a former Mayor of Tehran, had been stopped after 44 issues while Sharq, closed down three months ago, had just been allowed to print after it bowed to the authorities by changing the Chief Editor, Mr. Mohammad Qouchani, some journalists and managers not liked by the Government.
Earlier in the year, the authorities had shut down four bulletins published by university students after an article criticizing both Mr. Khameneh’i and Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad had been “incorporated” in the four publications, all of them faked.
“What the Islamic Guidance and Culture Ministry does is to reduce as much as possible the breathing space to the non-governmental press. The implementation of this project of purging and cleansing of the Iranian press and bringing all the Iranian media in one single line, that of the Government, and one single way of thinking, that of r. Khameneh’i, has been given to Mr. Hoseyn Shari’atmadari, a high-ranking intelligence officer appointed by Mr. Khameneh’i as Chief Editor of Keyhan, a journalist victim of the purges told Iran Press Service on condition of anonymity.
At the same time, the semi-official students news agency ISNA saw a dramatic change at its highest decision-making level and now the official news agency is under pressure by the Guidance Ministry to become a fully propaganda tool for the Government of Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad.
Being a journalist in Iran today is like walking in mine field.
“Being a journalist in Iran today is like walking in mine field”, Mr. Rouzbeh Amir Ebrahmi, a journalist who has left Iran told Radio Farda, the 24 hours Persian Service of the Prague-based Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, sponsored by the American Administration, explaining the difficulties of the press in Iran.
As a result of each closure, hundreds of journalists are made redundant. After some time of resistance, few of them, the most talented, leave the country and go abroad in the hope of continuing their carrier in a free land. Some quit the profession for good while others, the majority, bows, joint the remaining media, accepting all the red lines traced by the Government, including the most humiliating for any real journalist, that of self censorship.
According to many Iranian observers, the new wave of crackdown on the press, but also on the intellectual and academic communities, including students, is to leave clean the field of the media from the category of the press that is critical of the actions of the Government and give free space to the official and semi-official press before the start of the next presidential campaigning, an event that most political analysts agree that in case of neutrality by the all powerful Leader, Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad would have little chance of being re-elected.
Not being able to fulfill his electoral promises, above all helping improve the economic situation of the poor classes, facing growing domestic and international pressures, mostly due to his insistence of making Iran a nuclear power, Ahmadi Nezhad, following directives from his boss, Ayatollah Khameneh’i, is implementing the old Islamic principle of “be ruthlessness with the enemy when in situation of weakness”.
In the space of less than two years, a man who was elected president thanks to the massive backing of the Revolutionary Guard, but also the poor majority, whom would consider him as a “man of the people, the son of a ironsmith, a poor teacher”, Ahmadi Nezhad had become immensely unpopular, mostly in his own power base.
Hence, the greatly unpopular Police crackdown on the women and youngsters accused of bad Islamic dress, pervert Western hair styles, listening to corrupting Western music that started with the hot summer season, the badly thought, badly implemented and at a very bad time decision of rationing fuel consumption, a project that almost killed the local tourism industry and increasing the already generalised corruption.
All these problems, plus the daily increase of the prices for basic foodstuff and housing, bad economic performances, incompetence of the cabinet, growing international isolation of the country were attributed to the … press and professional journalists, accused by Mr. Khameneh’i to be “the nest of the enemies”, by the Intelligence Minister as “tools for soft revolution in Iran” and by Mr. Saffar Harandi of “staging a creeping coup” against the Government of Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad.
“Take a look at Iran’s recent history: whoever has begun a war with the press has been toppled. Journalists might suffer some occasional setbacks but they will be triumphant at the end”, Mr. Shamsolva’ezin had warned. ENDS REPORTERS DAY 9807