Sunday, January 18, 2009

Statement Made by the Federation of Iranian Journalists in Protest of Actions Taken by the Press Supervisory Committee

The Federation of Iranian Journalists has issued a statement criticizing recent actions taken by the Press Supervisory Committee saying in it that the wave of suspensions against independent publications over the past three years by the Press Supervisory Committee has now reached a point well beyond the warning stage, while at the same time, this same Committee has been unfairly favoring applicants for a publication license.
Here follows the full text of this statement.
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, both in spirit and content, clearly stresses freedom of speech and the press as stated in Principle Nine:
"[…] no authority is entitled, even through enacting laws and regulations, to revoke legitimate freedoms in the name of protecting independence and territorial integrity."
Although conditions even stricter than those of the time of the Iran-Iraq war were set in the amendment of the Law of the Press passed in 1995 by the Fifth Majles, and although this amendment led to protest by many reporters and journalists, it was, and is, expected that this law be enforced free of restrictive interpretation and without any form of bias or discrimination. In this context, the importance of the role of the Press Supervisory Committee becomes clear. Unfortunately, instead of having a broad outlook and attempting to expand freedom of the press within the framework of the law, this Committee has acted in the opposite way ever since the Ninth administration—with the homogeneous political and mental make-up of its members—came to power.
Instead of expanding freedoms, restrictions are expanded and instead of interpreting the law in favor of society, citizens, and the press, the ruling power, by giving a certain rare and restrictive interpretation of the law, particularly in the case of handling press offenses, has been more inclined towards imposing stricter punishments. The order to suppress publications has been issued by this Committee so many times now that it has turned into a disagreeable and dangerous trend. Stopping a publication is the most severe punishment and effectively constitutes the publication’s death sentence. Therefore, it should be issued only rarely as a last resort and with the greatest reluctance. Unfortunately, this ruling is now issued very lightly and frequently with notification summarily served to the owner of the publication as a definitive ruling. Unfortunately, in this process the most essential rights of the accused—one’s right to legal defense, right to a hearing by the authority issuing the ruling, the right to a lawyer, and the right to have the opportunity for a rehearing—are ignored. The accused, for whom such heavy rulings are issued, come from the most respected sectors of society whose sympathy and goodwill towards improvement of the country cannot be doubted. On the other hand, when heavy rulings are issued for a publication, not just the manager of the publication and/or the writer of a specific piece but the entire staff of the publication and their families are made to suffer and this is patently unfair. While the Press Supervisory Committee justifies the measures it takes by referring to its strict adherence to the Law of the Press, this same Committee is not strict at all about enforcing upon itself Article 13 of the same Law which clearly specifies that:
"The Press Supervisory Committee is obliged to make the necessary inquiries, no later than three months after the application for a publication license is received, about the competence of the applicant and the chief editor according to the terms specified in this Law and send a report as to whether the application has been approved or rejected along with reasons and evidence to the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance is obliged to issue, within two months after the approval is given by the Press Supervisory Committee, the publication license to the applicant."
Instead, the Committee keeps the line of applicants waiting indefinitely for a response.
Although the Press Supervisory Committee is unrestrained in issuing the harshest rulings for the accused and without hearing their defense, it is, on the other hand, severely cautious when it comes to the issuing of licenses. This maniacal caution is particularly evident in the issuing of newspaper licenses. Over the past three years the Press Supervisory Committee has approved publishing of only four newspapers, one of which belongs to the Government and the others belong, without exception to a political and ideological persuasion in line with this Committee. During this time, the Committee has, in one way or another, annulled or suspended licenses of many publications and newspapers and this shows that the law is enforced in a completely biased manner. Newspapers are more important than other publications in that they create more job opportunities for journalists. Should this trend continue, the possibility for employment of journalists in publications, especially independent newspapers, will be reduced day by day until the apparatus of criticism, one of the most fundamental features of impartial, free, and independent journalism, suffers irreparable damage and the press will cease to carry out its function as the fourth pillar of democracy in maintaining a watchful eye on the government.
Just as the Federation of Iranian Journalists has warned many times before against strict and restrictive views of the press, it feels compelled to express its strong protest against the biased and strict actions taken by the Press Supervisory Committee. There is nothing in the country more beneficial than enforcing the law and the Constitution above all other laws. Given its provision for freedom of the press, the spirit of the Constitution of the country has been compromised somewhere along the tortuous turns of the disagreeable political maze and, if this trend continues, the essence of journalism and the ability of the profession to be exercised will be in serious jeopardy. The Federation of Iranian Journalists finds this trend of suspending and shutting down publications as a threat to the principle of job security and professional independence of journalists and vehemently demands that it end. At the same time, this Federation does not consider the present sluggish rate of granting publication licenses adequate to meeting the requirements for proper functionality of the press and believes that this trend is also in need of a complete review.
For the Federation of Iranian Journalists, there is no other principle higher than observing the law and, accordingly, providing fellow journalists with job security and professional independence. For the same reasons, making biased choices is not acceptable. As the standard for behavior, the law should be enforced fairly for all people. As a result of the present confusions, journalists are now among the most vulnerable groups in society.
We ask the Government, Majles, and all institutions involved in making decisions for the press to base their actions and decisions on the law in its entirety, and not just on fragments thereof. We hope that strict, restrictive and biased views are replaced by legal, expansive, and just views. When this happens, the press can be expected to act firmly and strongly in the country as the fourth pillar of democracy, and by observing and criticizing the three branches of the government and other ruling institutions, to contribute to the improvement and development of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Secretariat of the Federation of Iranian Journalists
January 9th, 2009
Gozaar, Freedom House