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After a brief flourishing of the press following the Revolution, beginning in 1981 Iran’s leaders gradually closed down or took over all newspapers and magazines that expressed opposition to the Islamic regime. Consequently, during the early and mid-1980s, the Iranian news media reflected only a narrow range of views. Iran’s new leaders also inherited the monarchy’s state-controlled radio and television media and continued to exercise tight control over its content.
Restrictions on the press began to ease somewhat in the late 1980s, when Mohammad Khatami was minister of Islamic culture and guidance and permitted a limited degree of relaxation to occur. This trend accelerated considerably in the early 1990s, especially with the publication of the newspapers Salaam (Peace) and Asr-e Ma (Our Era) and the magazine Kiyan (Foundation), which played crucial roles in the emergence of the reformist faction. The press flourished again after Khatami was elected president in 1997, and many pro-reformist newspapers appeared. However, in 1999 the conservative-controlled judiciary began to close down these newspapers and arrest some journalists and editors. Thanks to new laws on slander and the overt support of Khamenei, these closures and arrests increased sharply in April 2000 (see Political Dynamics, this ch.). By early 2005, more than a hundred newspapers had been closed and scores of journalists and editors arrested. In its annual report for 2004, the press watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders summarized the mixed status of Iran’s news media, describing Iran as “the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East, with harsh censorship but also a prolific and vigorous written press that is clearly helping the growth of civil society.”
Of the major newspapers published in Iran, Kayhan (World), Ettela’at (Information), Resalat (Prophetic Mission), and Jomhuri-ye Islami (Islamic Republic) reflect the views of the conservative faction, while Hambastegi (Together) Mardom Salari (Free People), and Shargh (The East) have a reformist tone. The judiciary closed Salaam, Asr-e Ma, Kiyan, and many other major reformist newspapers and magazines. However, it generally allows some reformist publications to remain open at any given time, typically closing one after a few months but allowing new ones to open. In addition, four English-language newspapers are published in Iran: the conservative Kayhan International and Tehran Times and the reformist Iran News and Iran Daily. Newspapers opposing the Islamic regime or even reflecting the “loyal opposition” perspective of the religious-nationalist faction have not been granted publishing licenses.
All radio and television media inside Iran are under the control of a state agency, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. The head of this agency is appointed by the Leader, and the content of political programming reflects generally conservative views. In 2005 Iran had six national television channels and seven national radio stations, which offered programming on a wide range of topics. Iran also broadcast radio and television programs in Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, English, Hebrew, and other languages to nearby countries and, by satellite and the Internet, to a global audience.
Iranians who own shortwave radios seek access to foreign broadcast media. Persian-language radio broadcasts are beamed into Iran by many governments, including those of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Israel, China, and Japan. These broadcasts, especially those of the British Broadcasting Company and Voice of America, are popular among some Iranians. Exile opposition organizations also make radio broadcasts into Iran, usually with the help of foreign governments. However, in the early 2000s these broadcasts decreased considerably as the organizations grew weaker and the United States reduced or ended funding. In 2003 the overthrow of the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, which had hosted some opposition broadcasts, further reduced the range of available broadcasting. Several evangelical Christian stations and a Baha’i station also broadcast into Iran. The Iranian government jams some but not all of these foreign transmissions.
Foreign satellite television broadcasts also are watched by Iranians who have the means to purchase satellite dishes. The estimated 1.5 million satellite television receivers in Iran can pick up a wide range of foreign programming, including many commercial and government-owned news channels and a broad variety of entertainment programs in various languages. In the early 2000s, many Persian-language stations were established outside Iran to broadcast into Iran and to the Iranian diaspora. Mainly located in Los Angeles, many of these stations have a strong monarchist orientation. The U.S. government’s Voice of America also broadcasts Persian-language television programs into Iran. The Iranian government tried to curb access by outlawing satellite dishes and antennas in 1995, but enforcement stopped in 1997. Thus, in 2005 satellite receivers remain ubiquitous in wealthy urban neighborhoods. At that time, surveys indicated that as many as 12 percent of Iranian adults had access to satellite television.
The Internet has become another important means of access to foreign media for many Iranians. A 2005 study estimated that as many as 7.5 million Iranians had access to the Internet at that time. Most heavy Internet users are below age 35. Most of these users patronize Internet cafés, which became common in Tehran and other large cities in the early 2000s. Iranians use the Internet to gain access to the many Persian-language news and cultural sites and chat rooms that emerged in the early 2000s and to exchange e-mail and make inexpensive telephone calls to friends and relatives abroad. Many Iranian political organizations and activists have established Web sites or blogs, which often contain highly informative and sharply critical material. The Iranian government has arrested some Internet commentators and blocked some of their Web sites. It also has attempted to block some foreign-based Persian-language Web sites and pornographic sites, with limited success.
Iran’s writers, filmmakers, and other artists also face limits on freedom of expression. Publishers are not required to submit book manuscripts to the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance for prepublication approval, but they risk prosecution and heavy fines if the ministry revokes distribution of a book after its publication. A considerable amount of critical material was published in Iran in the early 2000s, including some incisive works by investigative journalists. About 35,000 new titles were published annually in that period. In contrast to book publishers, filmmakers, most of whom depend heavily on government subsidies for their work, are obliged to submit scripts and film proposals to the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance for review. Nevertheless, Iran has an internationally acclaimed film industry. Iranian filmmakers produce subtle films that are often implicitly critical of the regime. Some of these films have been banned in Iran but granted licenses for distribution abroad. Iran also has a vibrant community of painters and other visual artists, with many galleries and an excellent contemporary art museum in Tehran. Some of their work also has a critical tone, although most of Iran’s visual artists avoid politically sensitive topics.
Data as of 2008
Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.
Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iran was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.
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