Iranian Media Workers Warn of ‘Death of Independent Journalism’

Working as a professional journalist is subject to obtaining a journalist’s license from the Media Governance Organization [MGO] of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This sentence is part of Article 52 of the [MGO] Bill, which is currently being reviewed by the administration’s Cultural Commission. The bill, which has six chapters and 66 articles, was introduced and drafted in October 2013 by the press deputy of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which works under the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, Al-Monitor reports.

An independent journalist living in Iran and identifying herself only as Mina talked to Al-Monitor regarding this issue. She said:

“We can say that in all aspects, the [MGO] currently has all the power and can allow or deny journalists the possibility of doing their jobs. Any journalist who has not obtained a license from this organization will not be allowed to even cover regular news. This bill reminds me of what we have heard about the conditions surrounding the political factions, journalist committees and writers under the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union.”

She believes that the bill will result in more censorship and further elimination of independent journalism from the mainstream of Iranian media.

On Oct. 25, the administration’s official website reported that certain parts of the bill had been reviewed and approved at a meeting of its members, headed by Rouhani himself. Six days later, the full text of the bill was published on the same website. Much criticism followed as many Iranian journalists lamented that the passage of the measure will result in the “death of independent journalism” in Iran.

According to the MGO bill, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance will be in charge of electing the board of directors for this organization. Also, in each province, a committee made up of the director general of the provincial office of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the director general of the regional judicial administration, the director general of the provincial office of broadcasting, a representative from the province’s office of inspection as well as the representatives of the managing directors of the province’s publications are tasked with determining the qualifications of the candidates and monitoring the elections for the board of directors.

On Nov. 6, ILNA reported that according to a poll of 160 journalists conducted through its website, 81% opposed the bill. These criticisms finally resulted in the government backing off. On Nov. 5, Seyyed Abbas Salehi, the minister of culture and Islamic guidance, tweeted, “The Media Governance Bill has been returned to the Cultural Commission of the administration for review of certain articles.”

Media outlets have reacted to the bill by publishing articles, editorials, interviews and editorial cartoons. For example, Kambiz Norouzi, a journalist and lawyer, wrote in an editorial for the Reformist Shargh daily:

“This bill has at least 47 basic media and legal problems. These problems are indicative of the fact that this bill is widely dismissive of the basic rules of media and press, such as having a free press, security for media and independent journalism.”

Every year, Reporters Without Borders publishes an annual ranking of press freedom around the world. This year, Iran was ranked 165 among 180 countries in the world. This was an improvement by four points compared to the previous year. Yet, the organization noted, “this better ranking for Iran does not mean that the country has experienced any serious improvement when it comes to press freedom. Instead, it is the result of other countries degenerating. Iran has continued to be one of the world’s five biggest prisons for media activists.”

The promise of reopening the Press Association, a campaign pledge of Rouhani during his 2013 campaign, is yet to be realized. During the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election, on Aug. 3 that year, the association’s office was shut down by the orders of then-Tehran prosecutor general Saeed Mortazavi.