Officials' quick intervention has fueled suspicion that they simply won't tolerate a moderate voice on Iranian newsstands.
The ministry's warning came in a letter that said the "Ruzgar" license does not include political coverage and thus prohibits it from publishing political news.
In the face of that threat, its managers decided to suspend publication after just three issues.
Iran's ILNA news agency excerpted the ministry's letter on October 18 and reported that "Ruzgar" would begin appearing without political coverage. But ILNA soon removed the story from its website and said it should not be used.
A "Ruzgar" editor, Abdolreza Tajik, told AFP that the decision to suspend publication was made after warnings to avoid politics and to change the newspaper's format.
"Ruzgar" politics staffer Mohammad Atrianfar accused the Culture Ministry of "tightening the noose [on] reformists." He said that at least two other conservative papers with similar licenses, "Hamshahri" and "Jame Jam," cover political events.
More than 100 reformist and moderate publications have been shut down by Iranian authorities in recent years.
Atrianfar headed the policymaking committee of the now-defunct reformist daily "Sharq," and he noted that authorities still have not announced legal reasons for that newspaper's closure.
The "Ruzgar" launch had been characterized as the entry of a moderate daily to a market that has witnessed many closures. More than 100 reformist and moderate publications have been shut down by Iranian authorities in recent years.
"Sharq" was one of the most recent closures, and most of the "Ruzgar" staff comprises former "Sharq" contributors.
Mashalloah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent journalist and former editor of four banned dailies, is also a spokesman for the Society to Defend Press Freedom. He tells RFE/RL that the targeting of "Ruzgar" demonstrates that powerful conservatives will not tolerate criticism or dissent.
"Our friends should have come to the conclusion by now that [conservatives] are opposed to the intellectual current of 'Sharq' and 'Ruzgar' and not to their mastheads. Conservatives are only satisfied with a single-voice media that is led by the establishment, so they will fight any effort to bring different voices to the media. One example is the fact that they couldn't even tolerate the very moderate publications 'Sharq' and 'Ruzgar.'"
"Ruzgar" was launched as a 24-page color daily. Representatives had insisted it was not meant to be a substitute for "Sharq." But just weeks before its launch, a conservative daily reported that "Sharq" was returning to publication under the new title "Ruzgar."
A moderate news website, roozna.ir, has cast doubt on the ministry's claim, saying Iran's press law allows newspapers with cultural and social content to publish two pages of political news. Roozna.ir adds that "Ruzgar" appears to have been deprived of that right.
Reza Moini is an Iran specialist with French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF). He describes the Culture Ministry's order against "Ruzgar" as an excuse to prevent journalists from doing their work, and says it comes amid increasing pressure on reporters.
"[On October 18] we said in a statement about three other publications whose journalists have been harassed that the Islamic republic uses all the possibilities and tools at its disposal to prevent publications and journalists from expressing themselves freely," Moini says. The "Ruzgar" "case is the same. The excuse that the publication should not have political pages is really laughable."
RSF notes that six journalists have been arrested in Iran in recent weeks. It accuses Iranian authorities of shutting down media that "do not defend the government's vision of the Islamic revolution" and arresting journalists "without warrants and without reason."
Moini tells RFE/RL that state pressure on journalists is resulting in harassment and self-censorship.
"When they arrest a journalist and then put him under interrogation and then free him on a heavy bail -- but he can be sent back to prison at any time -- how can he work?" Moini asks. "There isn't only self-censorship -- this is imposed censorship."
Iran's government denies that it censors the media and says it welcomes criticism.
Officials have not yet reacted to the suspension of the "Ruzgar" print run, and the daily's managers have not said whether it will return.
The European Union roundly criticized Tehran as recently as October 5 for closing newspapers and harassing journalists.
Ramin Jahanbegloo speaking in Tehran in 2004 (AFP)
THE FOURTH WAVE: In late April, it was announced that the Iranian authorities had arrested noted intellectual RAMIN JAHANBEGLOO. Jahanbegloo is a professor of philosophy in Iran and Canada and is the author of more then 20 books, including "Moje Chaharom" ("The Fourth Wave"). In November 2004, Radio Farda correspondent Fatemeh Aman interviewed Jahanbegloo about the current generation of Iranian intellectuals and its distinctive features.
Radio Farda: It seems that in your book you see a unique status and mission for the fourth generation in the process of progress and democratization in Iran. Why is that and what are the most important characteristics of this generation of intellectuals?
Ramin Jahanbegloo: The fourth generation is distinct from former ones for several reasons. First this is a democratically minded generation that cares about democratic values. This generation has a political approach toward these values and, importantly, it is heavily colored by the active presence of women. The other distinct feature of this generation is its belief in modernity. This modernity is not an imitation one, but rather is based on discourse. If in the past many thought they can become modern by imitating the Western way of life, today's intellectuals know that the real route to modernity is by understanding the modern world in the West and channeling this thought process into social, cultural, and political institutions....(more)
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