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.
Drawing Red Lines in Iranian Press Censorship, from choice of topic to publishing28 February 2012
Written by: Niki Azad
Translated by: Rose Arjmand
khabarnegaran.info-Independent journalists and media are under suffocating pressure from the government and tolerate sever supervision from the side of the government.
Human Rights organizations have broadly reported the sever pressure on Iranian independent newspapers and journalists lately. However, the government ignore such warnings and tightens the circle of control and censorship in the country.
A few reporters are working at a limited number of independent newspapers in the country, who suffer serious problem in producing and sending their reports and news. How do these independent journalist survive the suffocating atmosphere? How do they manage to continue their job under censoring eyes of the government? Many of critics of such situation are wondering if it is the time to go on a strike and stop writing under such tight censorship. Some are wondering if they should use any tribune to get their voice heard and never give up their position.
In this article we asked these questions from a number of journalists that are working Iranian independent newspaper or have lost their job because the newspaper they were working in was closed down. These journalists agreed to participate in interviews only under the condition of anonymity.
A journalist, who has been imprisoned frequency in the last two years, was working for a newspaper lately. That newspaper was closed down and he was left unemployed again. He says: "media and specially Iranian newspaper are experiencing severe pressure lately. I strong believe that Iranian press and media never experienced such pressure since the 1979 revolution in the country." He finds working in the field of journalism like walking on the edge of a blade. He think that it does not matter how careful you are; you will be hurt eventually.
I asked this journalist to talk about the dominant red lines in Iranian journalism at the moment. He said: "we do our best to obey rules and never overstep the red lines. But these days all the subjects have been turned into a kind of red line. Even when we write about subjects that conservative newspaper cover, Cutter and Islamic Guidance Ministry and the General Prosecutor send a warning to us. I find a double standard when the culture ministry shows different reactions to reformist and conservative newspapers about coverage of one subject."
This journalist says the working situation in Iranian press pretty tough. He insists that colleagues and he knew from the very first beginning knew that following journalism in Iran would not be an easy task. He state: "these days we always face various accusations from the National Security Council or the Intelligence Ministry for all of our reports and analysis. They even imposed boundaries for covering literature, cinema and culture news. The government has a problem with any kind of informative activities."
He went on to say: "The government wants to stop us from wringing and informing people. Putting our pens down is a synonym to fulfilling the wish of the government. I believe we must stand strong against so much pressure, prosecution and long interrogations. We should not leave the battlefield."
He concludes his comment saying: "we must remind ourselves that we are journalists and that we are ready to face any hard situation. In this case fighting censorship will be easier for us."
Censorship begins with choice of subjects
I interviewed another journalist who works for an independent newspaper in Iran. She has journalistic experience during the first tenure of Ahmadinejad’s presidency. She says: "censorship has got to a point that we cannot even describe the present situation. There are bans on some specific subjects. It has been years that I work for Iranian newspapers and never experienced such pressure before. Sometimes the censorship confuses me. However, I believe we should not let the light of journalism in Iran go off. We must tolerate all the pressure."
She tells us about her experience in the last few years: "a few years ago I covered news at the university desk. I always covered stories about student movements and the problems they tackled with. But now I cannot even write anything related to university students. Because it has become one of the political red lines. Syria has become another red line. Mostly independent newspapers cannot cover the unrest in Syria or even the number of people who were killed by Bashar Assad’s regime."
"At the beginning of Ahmadinejad’s presidency I assumed we were experience pressure. Still then we covered human rights news. I pursued the case of Zahra Bani-Yaghoub. She was a 27-year-old medical university graduate from Tehran who was killed in prison. She was arrested by the Islamic guidance police. In a matter of months we received a warning from the National Security Council that banned us from pursuing the case any longer. However, today things are more serious. We cannot even talk about human rights. It is a crime to cover human rights. At this point I say that censorship begins from the subject."
This journalist repeats herself that such stories do not reflect disappointment: "if we are not the journalists to question the government, who would criticize their act? Those who believe we should leave active newspapers inside the country have not thought about a day that no one would be left to question the government. We should not let the government achieve its goal. We must stay and fight."
One more interviewee said that he left journalism because he found himself bound to many censoring factors, so he decided to quit his job as journalist. This former journalist says: "I felt really anxious and baffled about writing my report so that it would be censored at the least levels. I was suffering from self-censorship. I rather to not work in such a system until we have a free judiciary system."
This ex-journalist state: "but leaving the newsroom of newspapers is not a sign of quitting journalism. I am still following my passion; journalism is not confined to newsrooms."
Under such tough situations that Iranian journalist are experiencing extra pressure, are wounded by the sharp blade of censorship, and are watching red line becoming bolder ever day, still some journalists believe that they should keep standing tall and use the narrow channels to broadcast news. However, there are some unanswered questions. How far the government will go to draw bolder red lines and how long will independent journalists tolerate the pressure?
Khabarnegaran.info-Niki Azad: How is life for Iranian journalists after prison? Does their attitude toward their journalism – the profession that put them in jail – change? Are they more conservative than before? Or bolder?
Khabarnegaran – Niki Azad: He has been put in jail three times for his journalist writing, though he says that jail has not made him feel disappointed with the profession of journalism.