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The Media Landscape in Iran

Introduction

Iranian authorities have reinforced controls on major domestic media following the upheaval over contested presidential election results in June 2009. One month after the disputed vote, nearly forty journalists remained in Iranian prisons. Yet Iran's media landscape, like many aspects of the theocratic regime, is riddled with contradictions. The flow of information into and within Iran has genuinely improved over the last decade; since 2000, Iran's leaders have oscillated between tightening and loosening restrictions on the country's domestic news media. While Iran's reformist (or liberal) news outlets have suffered funding cuts and closures, conservative newspapers now frequently criticize government policies. Some foreign journalists say they, too, have seen past restrictions ease, and despite recent Iranian attempts to jam signals and confiscate satellite dishes, the transmission of foreign-funded Persian news broadcasts are proliferating, giving Iranians greater access to British, French, and U.S. broadcasting inside Iran.

An Oscillating Press Policy

Even before the June 2009 crackdown, media in Iran was regulated by a series of laws governing print, online, and broadcast content. Article 24 of the Iranian constitution holds that while "publications and the press have freedom of expression," it is unlawful to express views that are "detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public." The press law of 1986 (updated in 2000) details specific red lines, like "promoting subjects which might damage the foundation of the Islamic Republic," "offending the Leader of the Revolution and recognized religious authorities," and "propagating luxury and extravagance." Violators face months of jail time, fines, even lashings, punishments deemed excessive by many Western observers. OpenNet Initiative, an academic research project that studies Internet filtering, says the Iranian press legislation is unusual (PDF) "in that it not only describes restricted speech...

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