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Journalism and Iran

June 2, 2009

In the last few years, Iran has become the poster-child for all that is antithetical to a free and fair press. Reporters Without Borders ranks Iran 166th out of 173 countries in it’s 2008 Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Only China, Vietnam, Cuba, Burma, Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea have more repressive policies towards the press. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has placed Iran on it’s “Ten Worst Countries to be a Blogger” list and, as of 2008, counted five journalists imprisoned by Iran.

The recent coverage on the plight of Roxana Saberi, released from an Iranian prison on May 11, 2009 after spending 100 days behind bars, brought renewed attention to Iran’s often repressive policies towards journalists. Azar Nafisi captivated readers, and propelled herself to the top of the New York Times Best Seller’s List, with her memoir “Reading Lolita in Tehran”. In her book, Afisi paints a poignant portait of women attempting to express themselves in a society which continuously represses their individuality.

Mohammad Hossein Fallahiyazadeh, Adnan Hassanpour, Mohammad Seddigh Kaboudvand, Massoud Kurdpour, and Mojtaba Lotfi currently remain imprisoned because of their reporting on issues that were deemed contrary to Iran’s interests. Hassanpour was arrested for publishing a Kurdish-Persian weekly newspaper. Kaboudvand, Lotfi, and Fallahiyazadeh publicly denounced the Iranian government’s harsh treatment of others. Kurdpour and Lotfi worked with other news outlets, including the BBC and Voice of America (VOA) and were thus charged with spreading propoganda against the regime and the spread of anti-state information respectively.

However, there are others who believe that reality is not as simple as the black-and-white picture painted by the majority of news outlets. Some argue that Iran’s repressive policies are a manifestation of it’s leaders’ tight-rope walk between their extremist and more liberal sides.

Azadeh Moaveni recently wrote a column for in which she explains the requirements she has had to go through to be able to report in Iran. Moaveni acknowledges that “Iran’s record of dealing with journalists is certainly stained.” She also notes, with seeming regret, that she has had to give up many things in order to continue having access and her all-important press credentials. For example, after traveling to Iran to pursue a story she had promised an editor, she was told only after her arrival that she would not be allowed to write it. She has also been forced to give up travel to other regions she wishes to visit, such as Israel, in order to continue working in Iran. However, Moaveni also seems to indicate that the restrictions, while regrettable, are acceptable to someone who wants to paint a more complete picture of Iran and it’s society today. She concludes by stating that ” Of course a journalist who flouts the rules in Washington will risk access rather than imprisonment, but that’s just one more benefit of living in a society with the luxury of nuance.”

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.