24 بهمن 1393

Local newspaper goes all blank to protest massive unemployment

13 February 2015

Translated by:Mehrdad Safa

Khabarnegaran.info: Local Iranian weekly newspaper Seda-ye Azadi ran blank pages for its eleventh anniversary issue to protest massive unemployment in the western Province of Kermanshah.

Seda-ye Azadi, literally meaning the Voice of Freedom, ran blank pages in its 418th issue published on January 19, 2015.

All pages of the weekly newspaper were blank, except the front-page which featured photos of Kermanshah governor, MPs and other officials. The front-page carried the big banner “Reading Blanks” with a kicker that read: “Why do [officials] not think of a serious way out of unemployment in the province of Kermanshah?”

This is the first time that an Iranian newspaper is published without any text. In fact, it has been quite a while since an Iranian publication ran a blank item as a means of protest. During the past years, a few newspapers published one or two blank columns, but Seda-ye Azadi is the first to go all blank. The newspaper also carried a small headline on the right that read: “Seda-ye Azadi weekly was published blank to protest the high figures of unemployment in Kermanshah.”

A staff writer of the newspaper told us in an interview: “Unemployment is extremely high in our province. The high figures, of course, do not show all problems of the youth of the province, though, every season, it reminds everybody of their agonies.”

“For long, some writers and local media have addressed this thorny issue, but year by year, the high figures parade before the eyes of our people in the province. The staff of Seda-ye Azadi intended to remind officials of this problem in a different way. In fact, this is a kind of protest to the provincial officials, who have always been announcing contradictory figures of unemployment,” the staff writer who wanted to remain anonymous told Khabarnegaran.info. “May this serious problem be untangled after reading blank pages of this issue,” the staff writer stressed.

Reactions in social media

The initiative taken up by Seda-ye Azadi was shared widely in social networking websites, being considered by many as an interesting means of protest which could be influential and encouraging in times of suppression and censorship.

In the Facebook page of Jalil Ahangarnejad, managing editor of Seda-ye Azadi, some opinions about running blank pages can be seen.

“Even if it is useless, you introduce journalism to me today – a journalism that still remembers breathing and is likeable,” a Facebook user wrote.

“Joblessness in our province isn’t a problem of today or yesterday, or even a near past. Rather, Kermanshah has ranked among the most unemployed provinces of Iran for decades. The absence of a strategic look into water, land, mine and border resources, which is combined with a security attitude, has led to stagnation in the province, furthered these untapped potentials, and increased unemployment. I wish you had run a blank page during Ahmadinejad’s administration – which had the highest income from oil exports – when unemployment rates skyrocketed despite government vows to create 65,000 job opportunities,” another user wrote in response.

“I feel that once again you revitalized the value of whiteness in the context of blackness. Once a wise man noted that freedom-seeking and civil publications would be more influential and lasting if published in blank pages, rather than flattering oppressors and being silenced by force,” another user commented.

11th anniversary of Seda-ye Azadi weekly

Seda-ye Azadi weekly was granted a publishing license 11 years ago during the tenure of President Mohammad Khatami. The weekly claims that it is not affiliated with any party and is run independently.

The weekly headquarters is located in Kermanshah and is distributed across Western parts of the country. Some of the articles are republished on Balout, a cultural and artistic website for western Iran.

Jalil Ahangarnejad, the weekly’s owner and managing director, holds a doctorate degree in Persian language and literature, and is a cultural activist and has published several books on Kurdish literature.

Mansour Yaghouti, a staff writer, is also a reputed author of the province. Seda-ye Azadi also received a warning for its previous issue’s op-ed titled “A bundle empty of discernment.”

History of going blank in Iran

During the early days of Mohamamd Khatami’s presidency, reformist newspapers, including Salam daily, used to occasionally run blank columns in protest to wide censorship of the media. When part of an article was censored by security agents in the publishing house, newspaper seniors ran that column completely blank instead.

Etemad-e Melli daily, whose managing editor Mehdi Karoubi later became one of the two opposition Green Movement leaders, ran half of its front-page blank two days after the disputed 2009 presidential election. Kalameh-ye Sabz, whose managing editor was Mir Hossein Mousavi, also ran a few blank columns after the 2009 election. However, these newspapers, reportedly, immediately received warnings and were threatened to be banned by judicial bodies.

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