20 اردیبهشت 1391

How do Iranian journalists cope with political and financial pressure

9 May 2012

Niki Azad

Translated: Rose Arjmand

Khabarnegaran.info- Independent journalists and critics of the Iranian government are suffering both from political pressure and also financial burden. Censorship, interrogation, imprisoning of independent journalists and closing newspapers, many journalists lost their job, they don’t have national health insurance, and even if they do they only have access to the minimum services.

The journalists had already been paid minimum wages. That could be one of the reasons why they quit their job as journalists and start new careers that pay them more.

How have journalists coped with such pressure? Is the minimum wage enough to run a family? Do they have a chance of get the state pension and benefits they are entitled to? How about the journalists that left their career? How about those journalists that live under threat of interrogation and vague future? We interviewed some journalists to reflect their opinion about such dominant fear. They accepted our request for an interview; however, they agreed to carry on with the interview under condition on anonymity.

Shoes vouchers instead of insurance and New Year bonus/Organizations do not support us

A number of independent journalists and critics who refused to work in state-run newspapers say their situation is grave and not even comparable to ten years ago. They believe the managers had considered journalists’ rights. However, they believe after 2009 presidential election in the country had tightened the already-suffocating situation.

One of the journalists that agreed with a short chat says that has worked for newspapers, news websites and news agencies for 8 years. He states: “in all these 8 years of my career, employers sponsored me and covered my health insurance and pension benefits for only a few months. Such an irresponsibly happens for some key reasons.”

He went on to say: “one reason is that newspapers are closed down one after another. It does not mean that managers ignore our rights completely. This year, our manager gave us vouchers of a brand of shoes as our New Year bonus, and did cover or health insurance since they hired us. There are no organizations to support us. While Association of Iranian Journalists was running, it looked after the journalists’ rights. But now that it is closed down media in the country treat us as they wish and the journalists do not have a choice and always carry on with the destructive situation. This journalist adds: “although we do not have health insurance, we receive our paycheck pretty much on time. I know many my fellow journalists receive their paycheck every two months.”

He states that freelancers, who are paid per article they write, suffer from the late payment dates. Newspapers pay only 15 to 20 dollars for each page and they pay date is at least two months after the article is published.

Security organizations decide who can stay at newspapers

Despite journalists who work for state-run media and semi-state-run media, Iranian independent journalists suffer from sever conditions. Many of those keeping up with the current situation and staying in this career say that they are passionate about their job and also they spent so many years in this field and they do not have any experiences in any other field.

A journalist, who is worried about job security in this career, says: "I had always be worried about my job security. I was either worried about the newspaper and losing my job and dealing with financial problems, or concerned about my social security and being arrested or being taken to custody. Now, I have to add another problem to my list, I am concerned if I am banned from working for state-run news agencies or newspapers. Lately security forces have been contacting newspapers and ordered manager to sack or keep certain writers."

He states that some of his fellow journalists lost their job after such calls. They were sacked without any compensation being paid to them.

However he reassures us that stat-run newspapers and semi-state-run newspapers do not suffer from such horrid situation. He says: "journalists working for such media enjoy better benefits. The least they are sponsored for their health insurance."

He adds: "while the poverty line in Iran is 500 dollars, independent journalists do not even earn 300 dollars to pay their rent."

Journalism in Iran is among low income jobs — like teaching and office clerks — and journalists’ income is lower than what the Iranian Finance Ministry announced as the poverty line. Teachers and office clerks enjoy the health insurance and are sponsored for their retirement pension. However, journalists mostly do not even sign a contract and are paid for earache article they write.

I quit my job because no one sponsored me

Another journalist that I interviewed her left her job and is working in an irrelevant field. Still she write for a newspaper only because she is passionate about journalism, not that writing is a source of financial revenue.

She states: "I was working in a semi-independent newspapers. Either the ambience or the pay was not satisfying me. Both censorship and low income were bothering me. They did not even sponsor to cover my health insurance. Although I had so much trouble, I continued the job because I enjoyed the concept of journalism.” She went on and added: “However, when I took my son to a clinic and did not have an insurance policy to cover the expenses, I found such unjust environment irritating and I quit my job. Now I have a job that its pay is enough to pay the rent and manage my family. The new employer covers mu health insurance as well.”

“Health insurance is our biggest of our worries. There is no system to support us after an accident or after losing our jobs. I was even sceptical of Ahmadinejad’s new policy for the Culture Ministry to cover journalists’ insurance; I did not even register and did not fill forms. I quit as my as a journalist as whole!” she states. She says: “the Association of Iranian Journalists was the only body that would deal with such problems. However, they closed down our only home, now there is no association to fight for us.”

Another journalist, who quit this career long time ago, says: “lack of support and facilities are the main reason that I quit. The sharp blade of censorship was bothering me a lot. I did not earn much money and also the employer did not cover my insurance. I quit my job as a journalist and I pursued my career as a researcher. The pay in this field is not much either; however, I have more time for me and can have some part-time projects.

Iranian journalists are spending the most days of their professional life. Many of their colleagues are imprisoned; many other journalists are banned from working in this field; the rest are working under censorship, threat, difficult financial situation. Iranian journalists are dealing with many unanswered questions: how long will this situation go on? Will their colleagues quit their jobs under such pressures?

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