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.
How Do Journalists cope With Elections Coverage
Censorship, Self-Censorship, Crossing Redlines and Fearing Tomorrow7 May 2013
Reported by Saba Etemad
Translated by Rose Arjmand
Khabarnegaran.info – On the eve of the presidential election in Iran, media is struggling find out where it is standing, under a security observation or temporary open atmosphere? Can journalists cover criticisms against the government or should they still consider the truth about the ruling party a crime?
Journalists Worry about Arrest
A journalist, who writes for a reformist newspaper evaluates the election’s impact on the media atmosphere is the country saying: “our newspaper is publishing what it used to publish a few months ago. I can say that our strategy hasn’t changed so far. I, personally, do not agree with extremism. But the managers at this newspaper believe that the newspaper will not last longer than a few weeks and will be closed down before the election; so they aim to criticize the government as much they can and as long as time allows them.
Another journalist that works another reformist newspaper says: “the Iranian media is much freer today. Our newspaper is affiliated to one of the presidential candidates. We have started our work with criticism against President Ahmadinejad’s government and still we do the same, especially after the Intelligence Ministry announced criticism against President Ahmadinejad are allowed. At the moment we are allowed to write about everything except for the Supreme Leader.”
These days, newspapers name the opposition leaders MirHosseinMousavi and MehdiKarroubi frequently. Bearing in mind that the National Security Council ratified a note banning coverage of any news related to such figures, this is a bold move. No wonder why journalists call this a freer time.
Journalists find it ironic that any criticism against Ahmadinejad would be answered by prison or whip four years ago, however, today it is promoted by the Intelligence Ministry. The Intelligence Ministry decided to hold the election under security pressure and freer observation. A journalist says: “when it comes to Shargh and Etemaad newspaper, both reformist, it seems the Intelligence Ministry is more sensitive. The Intelligence Ministry representatives stay at the publishing house at nights to check the news before they are printed. They do not have the same policy for other newspapers.”
She continues: “in the last four years we paid a lot to write. Critics are imprisoned and their crime was writing. I got to a point that do not use my real name to support a candidate because I do not know how my own article will be used against me in future.”
Self-Censorship institutionalized Among Journalists
Critic journalists are now focused on their writing style to make sure that they will not be imprisoned after the election or their newspaper will not be closed down.
Such journalists have become fluent in self-censorship after receiving many warnings from the Culture Ministry and security pressure. Culture Ministry authorities “suggested” that the media consider self-controlling in their job and also bear in mind that the Culture Ministry watches them closely.
Media critics rather write their articles under pennames for websites that they would not be tracked down; if they choose to write for newspapers or news websites, they have mastered self-censorship and they know how to write to avoid arrests.
Journalists and Election Campaigns
Presidential election campaigns are journalists’ other concern. A journalist tells khabaranegaran.info: “I used to write for MirHosseinMousavi’s campaign four years ago. However, in this round of election I will not write for anyone’s campaign. I learned by experience that it is very unprofessional of a journalist to take part in an election campaign. Unless a journalist resign from his or her job as a journalist then joins an election campaign.”
He goes on saying: “if a journalist joins an election campaign, he will not be able to stay unbiased. This is against journalism.” A journalist that worked for Hamshahri Newspaper says: “some campaigns use amateur journalists, who cannot create the impression that a veteran journalists leaves. Some campaigns hired people who know absolutely nothing about newspapers to cover their news.”
The election will be held very soon and journalists still find their future vague. They do not know if they will be arrested in future for covering news about a certain presidential candidate; or they will be any newspapers left open after the election.
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.