30 شهریور 1393

Draft law to put journalists under stricter state control

21 September 2014

Translated by:Mehrdad Safa

Khabarnegaran.info - Sara Mohseni: Only two months after his appointment as the Deputy Islamic Culture Minister for Press, Hossein Entezami announced the preparation of a Comprehensive Framework for Media on the state-run TV on November 4, 2013.

Such a framework had been repeatedly hinted at in the statements given by Entezami. However, after nine months of speculation, Rasaneh.org (Media Planning and Research, affiliated to the Ministry of Islamic Culture) was finally updated last week with a post titled “Islamic Republic of Iran’s Media Framework Organization Draft Law.”

The leading architect of this draft law is Hossein Entezami, a fundamentalist close to Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. Many journalists had voiced their objection before against his appointment as Deputy Islamic Culture Minister for Press.

The draft is deemed important as it would abort any possible action aimed at reopening of the Association of Iranian Journalists, which was banned by the Attorney General on August 4, 2009.

Antithetical propositions

Chapters 1 and 2 of the Law are full of rather antithetical propositions. As defined by the law, “the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Media Framework Organization is a specialized, non-governmental, non-profit foundation, with an independent legal entity, which is established in order to accomplish the objectives and missions stated in this Law.”

Although the first chapter clearly states that the organization is “non-governmental”, the second chapter, paradoxically, stipulates that 7 out of 15 members of the Supreme Council of the organization are appointed by the government. More interestingly, the law itself has been drawn up by the government.

The fifteen members of the Council include eight journalists, the Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister or his fully-authorized representative, a member of Parliament, a circuit judge member of the Press Supervision Board, Qom Seminary’s representative in the Press Supervision Board, and a Communications Studies professor as appointed by the Cultural Revolution Supreme Council, and finally a Web expert who is appointed by the Cyberspace Supreme Council. Furthermore, the appointment letter of the Organization’s General Director must be signed by the President.

Organization’s General Director can rank journalists

The Organization has granted its General Director beyond-the-pale authorities. For instance, the General Director will have to do the ranking of journalists and lay down the criteria for discovering the true identity of journalists. His other responsibilities may include giving expert opinion to courts and executive bodies upon their request, drawing up Articles of Association for Journalists Trust Fund, as well as running training courses on journalism.

But how can one join this organization? The Topic 5 of Chapter 2 stipulates that a journalist must at least have two years of experience related to journalism, as well as authorship of at least 10 published articles in the media.

“Journalism license” despite protests

The Topic 6 of Chapter 2 states that a Provincial Media Framework Organization must be founded in every province of Iran. One of the responsibilities of the Provincial Media Framework Organization, by law, is “to issue journalism license for local journalists of a province as granted by the Licensing Board.”

The concept of licensing journalists and reporters was first put forward by Hossein Entezami in an op-ed months ago. However, after his proposal met strong objections, he had to withdraw his initial stance about three months later. Yet again, the licensing of journalists has been pointed out in this law. Upon Entezami’s proposal on licensing of journalists last year, some members of Iranian Journalists Association voiced criticism of the proposal, identifying it as “governmentalization of journalism”.

Soon, more than 400 Iranian journalists expressed their disapproval of the proposal in a letter addressed to President Hassan Rouhani. As a result, Entezami withdrew his initial comments in a press conference: “The government was planning to grant reporters ‘press passes’, and we [just] wanted to change the procedure temporarily, in search for an optimum solution, by founding a council made up of representatives of associations, media and government. However, we decided to call off the plan following the protests of unions. Because we care about what the union thinks.”

Rights that hardly can be established

Chapter 3 addresses the rights and responsibilities of journalists. Rights of journalists have been listed in detail in 15 clauses. Perhaps, the most noteworthy of these rights is “the right to join national, regional and international union or association.”

Considering the status quo of journalists, many of them currently being charged with or convicted of espionage for foreigners, such rights deserve attention.

Clause 7 also states another noteworthy right: “the right to enjoy the trial procedure on professional allegation according to the Principle 168 of the Constitution.”

Budget allocation

Chapter 4 addresses the organization’s budget, clearly stating that “the initial expenditure of establishing the organization, including provision of buildings and amenities, are provided by the government, municipalities, media, or donations given by charities.”

“Government funds” have been repeatedly referred to in other clauses throughout this chapter: “the organization’s budget is allocated from member fees, government funds…. and will have to be annually approved by the Supreme Council.”

“Acceptance of any gift, donation or fund from foreign organizations and country is forbidden,” a note asserts.

Chapter 5 addresses the elections procedure for the organization. General Assembly, Supreme Council and Provincial Board of Managers are all limited to four-year term of service. A Central Election Monitoring Board, whose all members must come from state and governmental organizations, will be established in the first term. Only for later elections, two media experts, as chosen by the Supreme Council, can join the supervisory board.

Investigation Boards governed by government

Chapter 6 deals with investigators and Chapter 7 addresses “Investigation Boards for Professional Misconducts”. These boards, by definition, will be formed in order to deal with professional misconducts of media workers for a four-year term at two levels: Board of Initial Investigation and Board of Appeals. According to a note, the Supreme Council will have the power to delegate investigation of professional misconducts of media workers of several provinces to an Initial Investigation Board, whose members are mainly chosen by state-run and governmental bodies.

The Board has five members, including a judge chosen by the provincial judiciary head with a good command of media laws, two board members of Provincial Organizations as chosen by the Board, a journalist chosen by the Provincial General Director of Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, and a journalist as chosen by the Islamic City Council of the province capital.

Chapters 8 and 9 are titled “Trust Fund” and “Miscellaneous” respectively. The draft law, upon its release, met with negative reviews on social networking websites, as well as news sites and agencies. Many media experts and journalists has expressed their concern that enactment of this draft law would put journalists under much stricter state control.

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