3 خرداد 1392

Government Draw Red Lines for Journalists in Seminar

24 May 2013

Babak Movahedi

Translated by Mehrdad Safa

Khabarnegaran.info –Iranian journalists were invited to a seminar organized by the Ministry of Islamic culture and guidance last week to “discuss and debate the strategy of media for the election”. However, it resembled a monologue rather than a dialogue, where the government dictated the red lines that journalists must work within.

The seminar is named “Heralds of Epic”, with a reference to Supreme Leader Khamenei’s naming of this year as “political and economic epic”. The first hours of the event pulls in a large crowd. It is difficult to find a place to sit, or even to stand.

The first speaker, Mohammad Jafar Mohammadzadeh, deputy Islamic culture minister for press relations, asks journalists not to publish disappointing, negative news on the economy during what he calls an “all-out economic war”.

An economic reporter who is sitting beside me murmurs “with all this inflation, soaring prices, and economic misfortune, how can a journalist report that all is fine?”

Mohammadzadeh then pours out a stream of uplifting words: “media must stand firm in the frontline of the battle against sanctions, and promote self-assurance and the spirit of resistance.”

The same reporter tells his fellow workers: “without asking us, they have called us the heralds of epic – yes, the heralds who are in dire need of survival and see the duplicities and unscrupulous state of authorities better than anybody else. How can they express simplistic optimism about this dark situation?”

“This seminar was unnecessary, since the government already imposes strict censorship on the press. Journalists are not allowed to express the realities society. Also, intelligence ministry has recently called in managing editors of media and notified them about what they must and must not write about,” says a reformist journalist.

Morteza Agha Tehrani, head of cultural commission at the parliament, starts his speech about “Muslim reporter” and complains why reporters report every comment they hear.

A journalist says without delays that “MPs don’t know what they’re saying. Instead, they expect us not to report. If a photo is taken from an MP who is nodding off, why should the photographer be to blame?” The next speaker is Mohammad Hossein Rahimian, the representative of Supreme Leader in Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs. He sees the role of media very influential and decisive in the upcoming election: “with our experience of last election in 2009, the media should make every attempt to thwart the conspiracies of our enemies.”

Islamic culture minister Mohammad Hosseini also joins the event in the final moments. In his speech, he recommended to media to “make every attempt to pave the way for holding a fervent election.” At the end of event, journalists and others of that ilk are expressing their thoughts about the seminar in friendly groups. One of them says “this seminar, other than its propaganda, was another meeting for marking the red lines for journalists. Once again, on the verge of an election, the officials start to remember journalists.”

Curious about the unusual large crowd that got here, I ask a reporter about what he thinks about this seminar. “The public relations (of Islamic culture ministry invited me to come here via phone and emphasized that gifts of remembrance will be given to all reporters. Maybe this is why here is so much crowded.”

Some books were given to audiences of the seminar as gifts. “Normally, many reporters will come to meetings if they have been told that gifts will be distributed there. But apparently, this seminar has disappointed reporters, because it is not a special gift,” he adds.

A girl who introduces herself as a graphics student says “we were told that a book fair is going to be held in this place and we are going to receive ex gratia book coupons.”

Another student says “we were told that you would be considered absent in the class if you couldn’t make up for this seminar, since the class is already called off, you have to attend this seminar.”

The coordinator of these students explains for what reason they had attended this unrelated seminar: “The Islamic culture ministry had ordered the university to do so. Since our students of public relations are at work now, we had to bring students of graphics and accounting here.”

Another reporter says that he is confused why non-professional people have been invited to this seminar, speculating that it was a plan by the ministry to make the seminar look crowded and well-attended. On the exit door, several large posters read: “Heralds of Epic”. But how can journalist be real heralds, when authorities like this dictate the red lines for the media?

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