Khabarnegaran.info-Niki Azad: Local journalist Mahdieh Amiri speaks of the hardships of practicing journalism in the southern Iranian province of Bushehr. Amiri has been working as a journalist in Bushehr for years. Since 2007, she has been the editor-in-chief of a few local websites, biweekly and quarterly magazines. She is now the editor-in-chief of hamooniran.com website and Ava-ye Dashtestan biweekly.
Tehran Overshadows Provincial Journalism2 May 2013
Reported by Sara Mohseni
Translated by Rose Arjmand
Khabarnegaran.info –The centralization of media in the Iranian capital, Tehran, is an incontrovertible fact. As the role of provincial media is downplayed, news on minority groups and small cities are underreported and journalists residing in provincial areas are blatantly disregarded.
“Iran is one of those countries whose media are excessively dependent on the capital. Therefore, news stories gathered from Tehran and other big cities are often highlighted. Reporters and journalists working there come to the fore hundred times more than their fellow workers at other provinces and small cities,” says KavehGhorayshi, journalist specialized in ethnicities who now lives in Germany and works for Rooz Online magazine.
He underlines the considerable pressure that local journalists withstand: “Journalism is very repressive in these areas, where they are subject to severe court rulings. Reporters often face charges like cooperation with opposition parties abroad, threatening national security, propaganda against the regime and waging war against God.”
“In some cases, journalists even receive death sentences. Although these sentences are most often appealed against and quashed later, they still get harsh sentences and are imprisoned. The severity of court rulings for local journalists is also evident in the large amount of bail set for them,” Ghorayshi added.
The news censorship of provincial cities, especially those with religious and ethnic minorities, is not only done by both state-funded principalist and reformist media. Many foreign-based Iranian media overlook these news under the influence of political tendencies or on the grounds of territorial integrity. In the best scenario, these news are either not covered or, if covered, are distorted.
Arrests of Provincial Journalists Underreported
Twelve journalists were arrested in western province Ilam recently, almost at the same time with the arrest of 17 Tehranijournalist, which was given a vast media coverage. In contrast, the arrest of Ilami journalist was extremely underreported and were only circulated in social network websites.
To confirm the news, I try to contact the family of one of arrestees by phone. Once she understands that I am calling to get information about his child, she hangs up the phone. I try to contact the magazines these journalists were working for. A man answers the phone after several attempts. I ask him whether what has been published in social network is true. He answers doubtfully. First he says that he knows nothing about it. After several seconds, he tells me “they have stopped working with us for a long time.” He does not want to continue the conversation and hangs up the phone. I call another magazine. A voice behind the phone just repeats a single sentence: “I haven’t heard anything about it.”
Over the past years, intimidation against reporters and journalists in the provinces have been far greater that in Tehran. However, the news never break or are underreported.
Confirming Provincial News
Ensuring the accuracy of news in provincial areas has become ever difficult. The number of local news sources is lessening, and reporters are less active than ever in these areas. “Many journalists there have been already trumped up with fabricated charges and are now in prison. However, popular social network websites, though much more inaccurate, have somehow made up for this lack of professional resources,” says Ghorayshi.
Government Restricts Severely Provincial Media
The provincial media in Iran are mostly under the strict control of state. “Now, in practice, there is no independent media in the provinces. These media are now mostly active in publishing obituaries, advertisements, official news and provincial news on local administrative organizations,” says Ghorayshi.
“The solution is to decentralize media in Tehran and run training courses for journalists outside the capital. Foreign-based Iranian media should also embark on employing more experienced provincial journalist to properly cover the latest news there,” he added.
Invisible ThreatsNot Disclosed
Provincial journalists are summoned and suppressed significantly more than their fellow workers in Tehran. However, many of them prefer not to disclose the threats they receive from the government. This helps these threats remain yet invisible.
“The first problem with provincial media is paying little attention to their news and the low penetration rate of internet and media there,” says experienced provincial journalist HamdiMafi, who has been arrested for two times.
The families of arrested journalists are constantly threatened not to disclose news and information. They are told that if they remain silent, the case of their children will be favorable. But, in fact, disclosing information on the arrest of activists and journalist has a favorable impact on speeding the case and interrogations. Unfortunately, many families even deny the arrest of their children due to simplistic optimism or intimidation by security organizations.
Minorities News, Trumped Up Charges, Long Sentences
Journalists who follow news on minority groups are always under more pressure. Said Matin, a journalist from Zanjan Province, is now serving his eight-year prison term. Matin, who worked for Yarpagh Weekly magazine and local newspapers of Eastern Azarbaijan Province, has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment on the grounds of “association with aliens” and one year discretionary imprisonment for “propaganda against the regime”.
Many Kurdish journalists have also faced with similar or even harsher sentences. “The condition of journalists in Kurdistan Province deteriorates day by day, as they become victims of more threats, unlawful arrests and being held in secret detention centers,” published Reporters Without Borders in a report.
KhosroKordpour and MasoudKordpour, both reporters of Mukrian News website, are now in prison. MasoudKordpour was arrested and sentenced to one year imprisonment in 2008. Another Kurdish journalist Mohammad SedighKaboudvand, editor-in-chief of suspended weekly PayamMardomKordestan, is also serving 11 years imprisonment.
Provincial journalists are incriminated, intimidated and threatened in the shadow of centralized media in the capital. The question is, when will be this focus lifted?
Khabarnegaran.info-Niki Azad: How is life for Iranian journalists after prison? Does their attitude toward their journalism – the profession that put them in jail – change? Are they more conservative than before? Or bolder?
Khabarnegaran – Niki Azad: He has been put in jail three times for his journalist writing, though he says that jail has not made him feel disappointed with the profession of journalism.