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.
Creative Broadcasting Mechanisms in the Absence of a Free and Independent Media In Iran2 July 2011
Khabarnegaran. info-Niki Azad: In the absence of a free and independent media and widespread censorship, the questioned raised, is how journalists can effectively inform the public at large regarding current affairs. As a result of the systematic, extensive shutdown of daily newspapers, many reporters with access to accurate news and information had no means of disseminating the news amongst Iranian citizens.
This issue was of such vital importance in the daily lives of so many ordinary citizens that those with limited access to free and independent media, pondered upon creative ways to spread important information with other members of society with little to no direct access to independent media outlets.
This article will touch upon a number of creative ways in which Iranian journalists have managed to circulate the important news in Iran to others. It goes without saying that ordinary citizens have also played an active role supporting journalists in the collection, reporting, analysis and dissemination of news and information.
The Birth of an Underground Press
In an era of extreme censorship when independent media outlets have been banned, underground, often single page newspapers have become one of the main tools for the dissemination of information. These underground newspapers are published widely and distributed openly through a network of online opposition websites with the goal to inform as many people as possible regarding the current affairs and the activities of the Green Movement. The opposition websites often request that ordinary citizens print and distribute these single page newspapers within their respective communities and amongst those who have little to no access to online media outlets.
Upon the closure of many reformist newspapers, these single page newspapers posted on opposition websites, gained popularity and many were published using the same names as their banned counterparts. “Kaleme”, Etmad e Melli”[Saham News] and “Ghalam” are amongst the current, well known opposition media outlets. “Kaleme” and “Etemad e Melli” [Saham News] were daily newspapers banned by the government of Iran belonging to Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi the leaders of the Green Movement.
“Khiyaban” a multi-page newspaper also published by anonymous journalists, was in circulation long before the single page newspapers became popular. Khiyaban’s activities were reinvigorated as a result of the street demonstrations that ensued after the rigged, tenth presidential elections in June 2009. At the time, Khiyaban declared itself as the offspring of the revolution of June 2009 with the goal to disseminate information regarding the Green people’s movement to the society at large. Khiyaban’s first edition was published on June 19th, 2009, seven days after the controversial presidential election in Iran.
Citizens Arrested for Distributing Underground Newspapers
The single page newspapers published on opposition online media outlets cover the most important news of the day as it relates to the Green movement and have been printed and widely used on important days such as Student Day across universities in Iran.
The unfortunate killing of Haleh Sahabi while attending her father’s funeral and the details of the martyrdom of incarcerated journalist, political activist and nationalist-religious figure Hoda Saber after launching a hunger strike at Evin prison were also published by these single leaf newspapers, creating awareness amongst some citizens in Iran. The manner in which information is collected, prepared, published and disseminated is completely clandestine. These single page newspapers are much like the “pamphlets” that used to be secretly distributed to people’s homes at night, leading to many arrests and interrogations of ordinary citizens.
A journalist involved in publishing the aforementioned single page newspapers states: “Although I work for an official newspaper in Iran, a publication that somewhat opposes the current government, as a result of the heavy censorship, I am nevertheless, unable to publish the important news and current affairs. This is mainly because we are restricted [by the government] from covering certain topics. As a result, when it comes to these controversial topics, I collaborate with one of the banned single page newspapers and prepare reports and the news for them. Our newspaper is released and distributed weekly. For instance, I recall once writing an editorial on the house arrest of the leaders of the Green Movement for one of these banned newspapers and we asked everyone to support us in the distribution and dissemination of this news. The government must understand that as journalists, many of us see our role first and foremost as reporting the news in a fair and transparent manner without taking sides.”
Although these single page newspapers are referred to as “newspapers”, as a result of the extensive censorship they cannot be published daily. Many of the individuals working to ensure that these single page newspapers are published do so voluntarily. Even though they are not published on a daily basis, the goal is to ensure that the most important news regarding the current affairs in Iran are published and disseminated on a regular basis.
It is not uncommon to find one of these single page newspapers at the entrance to your house, or to find one in a taxi, left behind by the previous passenger – and this is how the news is read and passed on to the next person. The banned, single page newspapers are also found in banks, parks and many public places. In their own capacity and depending on the nature of their job, Iranian citizens all help in the dissemination of these single page newspapers.
There is a distinction however, between underground newspapers and online newspapers. In the absence of an independent media and given that a limited segment of the Iranian population has access to the internet these underground newspapers play a vital role, providing the public at large with accurate news and information. [translator’s note: some opposition media outlets such as Kaleme, that are mainly considered online mediat outlets, also provide their news online in the form of single page newspapers specifically for the purpose of making it easier to print and distribute as an underground newspaper.] Online newspapers have a long history. “Rooz Online”, for example is one of the newspapers that has been published online for years and now operates under the supervision of an editorial board.
Journalists Blog, Citizens Write on Bank Notes & Public Walls
These days it looks as though everyone in Iran is looking for ways to spread important information and news to others. Independent journalists play an important role as active bloggers disseminating important news and sharing information either under their own name or using a pen name. More than any other segment in society, journalists are working hard to ensure the public is informed. They often share online news in the form of links or provide summaries of the important current events on their blogs.
Ordinary citizens also play an active role in the circulation of information and the news. This is often done by writing slogans on bank notes [toman bills] and on the walls of public buildings. “As long as there are no independent media outlets and we witness such widespread unawareness throughout our society, while unpleasant, strange incidents such as people dying for no reason occur before our very eyes, we will continue to use every communication tool at our disposal to inform our communities. Whether through bank notes, or the white walls throughout our cities, our words and beliefs will be heard.”
Bank notes [toman bills] are one of the most widely used tools in circulating information. Iranian citizen often express their opposition and make a statement by writing slogans and other important information such as dates for certain demonstrations on toman bills using a “green pen”. The information written on bank notes is not limited however, to the demonstration dates. After the sudden death of Haleh Sahabi, her name and a brief description of how she died while attending her father’s funeral appeared on bank notes throughout Tehran.
Iran’s Central bank declared writing on bank notes illegal last year and an effort was made to collect all defaced bank notes. The project was cancelled however after a few months after it was determined that millions of bank notes had been defaced and collecting them all would be an impossible task at best!
Some bloggers stated that they will not only write slogans on the bank notes they spend, but also use smaller notes of less significant value to write slogans on and leave on the streets around Tehran.
Mahta a 20 year old student describes her experience writing on bank notes as follows: “During the Persian New Year, I decided to use the tradition that Iranians gift each other brand new bank notes for the New Year as a means to distribute information. I acquired a few packs of brand new 100 toman bills with much difficulty from the Central Bank, and began writing the important news of the day on each of them in red ink, leaving them in public places such as supermarkets, banks, parks, cinemas and hospitals.”
Mahta believes that people like band new, untouched bank notes and will therefore gladly remove them from the ground and pass them along to others. Like many others, Mahta is also playing a role in inspiring others to spread the news.
The dissemination of underground newspapers, writing slogans on walls and bank notes and blogging are only some examples of methods used to circulate information in the absence of free, independent media outlets in Iran. Although far from ubiquitous, this form of information dissemination proves that even if all independent media outlets are banned by the government of Iran, it is impossible to stop the circulation of real news and Iranians will find creative ways to spread information and the news throughout their communities.
Translated by: Roja Gholamhosseini
Edited by: Banooye Sabz
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