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Iran: Radio Farda -- On Journalists' Day, Little To Celebrate

By Saeedeh Hashemi and Azadeh Sharafshahi --> (RFE/RL) August 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran celebrated Journalists' Day last week, but many journalists believe there is little to celebrate.

On August 10, the front pages of many Iranian newspapers read "Journalists' Day -- Congratulations." The event, declared nine years ago by Iran's unofficial Journalists Union, commemorates the Taliban's killing of Mahmud Sarami, a reporter for the official Iranian news agency IRNA.

If you visit the offices of newspapers in Iran on that day, you will hear from journalists that there is a huge gap between what remains of their work and what they would really like to do.

Red Lines

A young Iranian journalist, Baran (not his real name), says he chose his profession in order to promote truth. But faced with self-censorship and "red lines," he has become so disillusioned that his only aspiration now is to make a living and get by.

Baran did not want to use his real name because he thinks that talking freely to foreign media could jeopardize his work.

The so-called red lines that should not be crossed by journalists in Iran include criticism of official nuclear and economic policies. Social topics like the demands of young people for more freedom or anti-discrimination demands from women are also among the red lines that journalists are not allowed to cross.

Former Iranian journalist Ruzbeh Mirebrahimi, who now lives in exile, says journalists in Iran face threats from the government. He tells Radio Farda that being a reporter in Iran is equivalent to walking over land mines. These "mines" could at any point explode and present serious dangers in the lives of Iranian journalists, he says.

...And 'Minefields'

Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, a spokesman for Iran's press freedom organization, says the threats and problems have hurt the process of free publishing in Iran. He says the "deadly mines" are behind journalists' job insecurity.

In an interview with Radio Farda, Shamsolvaezin says journalism is among the most perilous professions in Iran today, and offers no job security. He adds that while the government last year revoked bans on some Iranian publications, it is very reluctant to issue new licenses.

About 3,000 people are currently waiting for approval of their license applications. Moreover, the Judiciary Committee to Oversee Publications and Journals has shut down more than 12 publications in the past year.

Shamsolvaezin says that in the last Iranian year, 1,200 journalists lost their jobs, joining the ranks of 2,800 journalist unemployed since 2000. He says that during that same year, 20 journalists have been summoned to court and jailed on security charges.

Shamsolvaezin says many of the unemployed journalists have been forced to leave the country and live in exile. Others have switched to "a safer profession." He adds that some journalists also accept the "red lines and turn to self-censorship in order to be able to pursue their profession."

Official Scorn

Baran is working for a government newspaper and says that fact gives him a sense of job security. But he is not satisfied professionally and says working for a government mouthpiece causes him great frustration. Baran says he is limited in his choice of topics and is only able to criticize the government indirectly. He adds that when it comes to politics and economics, most journalists must share the view of upper management.

Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi claimed recently that there were signs of a "creeping coup" in the Iranian press. In early August, five Iranian journalists were arrested, and the daily "Sharq," one of the few remaining reformist newspapers, was shut down.

Since then, three detained journalists have been accused of publishing untruths about Iran's Islamic establishment.

Many press freedom organizations now speak of a new wave of suppression of journalists in Iran.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has called on Tehran to release the journalists and criticized the country for creating "the Middle East's biggest prison for the press."

Mirebrahimi, an Iranian journalist who now lives in exile, says living standards for journalists are so low that friends and former colleagues have had to take up second jobs, including working as part-time taxi drivers.

Mirebrahimi says he was tortured and imprisoned for months. Given the enormous pressures that journalists must endure, Mirebrahim says that it is only love for their profession that keeps journalists in their jobs.

RFE/RL Iran Report

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