Reporters Without Borders today said it was appalled by the Press Surveillance Commission's decision to ban the pro-reform newspaper Rouzegar (Time), which had just increased its print run and expressed a desire to cover political issues after being reinforced by an influx of journalists from the banned daily Shargh.
"The ban on Rouzegar is absurd," the press freedom organisation said. "Not content with censuring newspapers when they are slightly critical, the Iranian government has now established prior control. Rouzegar did not have a chance to upset the regime, but it is viewed as a potential threat, especially at election time."
A social and cultural daily with a small circulation, Rouzegar had shifted its editorial line in a pro-reform direction by including journalists from Shargh on its staff. After its 16 October issue included political articles, it was seen as a new moderate publication that could fill the gap left by the banning of Shargh in September.
But the culture ministry rounded on Rouzegar on 18 October, expressly banning it from covering politics on the grounds they did not come under the range of subjects it specified when it originally requested its licence from the Press Surveillance Commission.
Rouzegar's reaction was to provisionally suspend publication the same day. But it reappeared two days later, on 20 October, with an issue that had its political section replaced by general-interest and cultural articles.
Nonetheless, it was finally banned altogether on 23 October. Culture ministry spokesperson Alizera Mokhtapour said the decision was based on article 33 of the press law, which provides for "an immediate ban on the publication of a newspaper that replaces a banned newspaper with a name, logo and format that is similar." In other words, the Iranian authorities saw Rouzegar as Shargh in disguise.
But it was clearly Rouzegar's new editorial team, rather than its format or logo, that scared the authorities. In this case as in many others, the Press Surveillance Commission and the culture minister usurped the role of courts in controlling the media. In July 2004, the moderate dailies Vaghayeh Ettefaghieh and Jomhouriat were shut down in a similar fashion.
At the time, Vaghayeh Ettefaghieh was employing many journalists that had come from the daily Yas-e No, which had been banned at the start of that year. The order closing down Vaghayeh Ettefaghieh mentioned that fact that most of its editorial staff were from Yas-e No.
Before closing Jomhouriat, the authorities unsuccessfully pressured its publisher to fire the editor, Emadoldin Baghi, a figurehead of the Iranian pro-reform press and a keen defender of free expression. The daily was finally shut down on 18 July 2004.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are on the list of press freedom predators which Reporters Without Borders compiles each year.
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