Friday, October 18, 2013

Reasons for Optimism? Iran and the Media

With all the babble in the media over the P5+1 talks with Iran in Geneva, Switzerland, one very important event slipped through the cracks of most major papers. BBC Persian's Bahman Kalbasi noted that non-state-sponsored Iranian news organization's reporters had accompanied Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to the talks.
Suppression of free speech has been a cornerstone of the Ayatollah's domestic 'population management' program, and any loosening of this, is potentially a drastic shift. 

Recently Iran has been in the process of developing and implementing a 'Halal' intranet which would be a completely isolated internal network. Understandably, this plan has been heavily criticized by free speech and human rights activists. Major social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are blocked (even though major regime figures maintain a social media presence on these same sites), and access to this as well as other services such as those of Google, is often only available with VPN or other filter-breaking techniques. 

Iran has also maintained a tight grip over the print media, forcing liberal papers to close, and removing editors that allowed 'too much' to be printed. The forced closure of popular papers such as Zanan, the feminist women's production in 2008 is a prime example of this. 

During the campaign for President and immediately following his victory, Hassan Rouhani indicated that he wished to loosen these restrictions, in particular access to social media, and also releasing prisoners. With a few exceptions (perhaps accidental), this has not exactly been the case. Some political prisoners and activists languishing in Evin prison have been released, but others such as opposition figureheads Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have remained under house arrest for over 2 a half years despite health problems (reportedly conditions of their house arrest are 'improving', but I find this laughable, they are still under house arrest).

While only a small step, the inclusion of reformist reporters on the Geneva trip looks to be an encouraging sign. It remains to be seen if this continues, or if this is merely a means of appeasing a restive domestic population, and international human rights activist groups.

UPDATES 1 and 4: Neshat, a reformist paper banned in 1999 has evidently been allowed to publish once again. (This may have been cancelled).
UPDATE 2: Bahar (Spring), another reformist paper has been banned again.
UPDATE 3: Another reformist paper, Hammihan, has been banned according to the Iranian paper, Shargh. 

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