8 مهر 1393

“New law enables state agencies to rule media”

30 September 2014

Translated by:Mehrdad Safa

Khabarnegaran.info – Niki Azad: The new draft law on Media Framework Organization in Iran, prepared by the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance a month ago, is still drawing plenty of criticism from media experts. Among the strongly critical voices is Ali Asghar Ramezanpour, former Deputy Islamic Culture Minister for Culture under Mohammad Khatami’s administration.

He pointed out the drawbacks of the draft in an exclusive interview with Khabarnegaran.info.

Ramezanpour believes that the draft law could hardly be amended. If the law proposal is passed, media will be put under much stricter control of government organizations and state agencies.

You’d stated before that the Media Framework Organization Law is sort of like appointing a proxy for media and press. How do you support this argument?

Under the pretext of media rights advocacy, the law proposal has granted state organizations the authority to control the media. The media rights to administer their own affairs have not been recognized; instead, a proxy has been appointed for the media and press.

This authority has been given to a council made up of representatives of the Islamic Culture Ministry, Attorney General, Qom Seminary and other state organizations. What’s more, for the final fatal shot, the Director of the Media Framework Organization shall be appointed by the President. If you really want to see how awful this looks like, just put the common optimism about President Rouhani aside and imagine how it would really be if the Director of an organization supposed to promote journalists rights was appointed by Mr. Ahmadinejad.

What is the main drawback of this draft in your opinion?

It is quite the reverse of Rouhani administration’s plans. Instead of giving the media the authority to administer their own affairs, a bureaucratic governmental organization has been given the power to control these affairs, and this organization can only be effective as long as it is important to suppress journalists.

Do you mean there’s no legislative basis for its enforcement?

The legislative basis is referred to in the draft law; however, the details of the law must conform to its general objectives. The “spirit” of this law, both on the whole and in every single part of it, contradicts that legislative basis.

Some believe that the preparation of this draft is legally based on Article 10 of the Fifth Development Plan (enacted in 2010) which requires the government to organize the country’s media. What do you think?

The paragraph (a) of Article 10 of the Fifth Development Plan clearly mentions “the preparation and formulation of the Comprehensive Media Framework by the end of the first year of the [development] plan with an approach that would facilitate the activities of non-governmental sector.” First, the establishment of an organization is not what the Comprehensive Media Framework means. Such an organization, by law, must be non-government; however, now, almost half of the members of its High Council are government officials. This organization does not meet the visions of the paragraph (a). Furthermore, there is a fear of establishment of a bureaucratic organization at provincial and national levels that would hinder any facilitation.

According to the proceedings of negotiations of the Committees that prepared the Cultural Chapter of the Fifth Development Plan, the Comprehensive Framework does not suggest the establishment of an organization that would be responsible for both administrative and supervisory activities at the same time. Instead, it was supposed to be a clarification of definitions, rights, and the responsibilities of state organizations on media; and definitely not the governmentalization of media administration. It is in the Judiciary Power’s authority, and not the Comprehensive Media Framework’s, to define the crime, punishment and civil procedure .

The organization defines itself as “non-governmental”. However, state officials are widely present in several chapters, particularly one that addresses the structure of the organization. How do you see these contradictions?

This is one of the baseless claims of this draft law. It is ridiculous that you put a powerless journalist on one side and representatives of Executive, Judiciary and Legislative powers and Qom Seminary on the other, and insist on saying that all are equal as far as their voting rights are concerned. This looks like an insulting joke rather than an authentic legislation.

Is providing reporters with a Journalism License, as defined by the draft law, a wide practice in other places in the world? Or is it just a way to confine the role of Iranian journalists?

Only closed governments such as former Soviet Union or present North Korea had such an experience. In most countries, especially the Western countries, the media issue Press Passes for their reporters themselves. Even those journalists that do not work for a particular media are considered as “independent” journalist, and they will be able to get a Press Pass if they identify themselves so. A press pass only is an identification card, and by no means, is indicative of a license for journalism.

Chapter 3 of this draft law addresses “the rights and responsibilities of journalists. Under the section of journalism rights that include 15 clauses, the right of membership to a local, regional or international association or union has been officially recognized. Can this be seen as a positive aspect of the draft?

This is another instance of the expropriation of rights of journalists. Journalists do innately have the right to join a local or international association. I don’t understand why a government should give such a basic civil right only to those journalists that have already joined the [Comprehensive Media Framework] Organization and agree its objectives – ones that are in contradiction with civil rights.

Do you think that this draft law will be introduced to the Parliament despite criticisms?

If this draft law becomes a bill, it will definitely face further limitations in the Parliament, and this would certainly put more pressure on media and working conditions of journalists.

Do you think that this draft law could be amendable after all?

If amendment means a fundamental change, exclusion of state representatives, and recognition of the rights of independent journalists to set up their own associations, then we can talk about the possibility of amendment. Otherwise, nothing will change with slight changes of details.

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