From what worldwide perceptions assume, media content and media operations could considerably impact countries vital aspects such as economy, culture, and political matters and importantly people’s opinions. Such as most of the media organisations around the world, Iran’s media and press organisations are regulated by law, but reverse the most of them, these regulations occurred through a specific Islamic Law, which managed by the government. The rules and regulations are strong power in the hand of the country authorities to influence and to shape decision-making process and outcomes in the country.
This matter shows that the Press Law of Iran1 – hereinafter (the Press Law) is one of the most considerable aspects across the country to be debate, argued and reconsidered in order to coordinate it with the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Freedom of Opinion and Expression, which Iran also has agreed with it the National Union. Just in parenthesis, it has been shown that, Freedom of Expression, which has been known as a universal right and has been ratified for all people of the world, is not an absolute fact in the most countries including Iran. Consequently, it has been considered that both global law and Iran’s law Constitutions recognise that the freedom of expression may be limited although any restriction must stay in strictly defined parameters.
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The rules and regulations of Iran Press Law, which has been ratified on March 19, 1986 and its executive by-law January 31, 19871, are evidently used as some strong social tools to prevent the private media organisations to involve the social or political issues in the country. The intended conditions and punishments exist in the Press Law has reversed the impression on the press owners, journalists, reporters and bloggers and stopped them of being involved in any social issue. Indeed, it has dramatically impacted these groups to stop disclosing or criticising religious, judicial or political leaders or authorities.
In this essay some of the particular layers and levels of the Articles of the Press Law such as Limitations and Authorisations1 will be discussed briefly. It will reveal that it is quite complicated to split up the Fundamental Regulations from the main body of the Press Law; the religious – political rules that are impacting not only the main body of the Press Law but also the abstracted content of the Article 19; Freedom of Expression. Also, it will identify that some dissonant parts of the Articles of the Press Law; Chapter 4, Articles 6 & 7 1 that are including several explanations, may suites the mentioned exact statements above. The Articles of the Regulation will be quantified variable from different angles and point of views, such as the media industry players’ perspective and / or from the country rulers and politicians’ point of view.
Eventually, it will discuss that the Press Law fails to amend key provisions in the original Law, which are at odds with international standards. For instance, according to the Press Law the government; the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance and the Press Supervisory Board, controls the Press Council but press and media has not efficient right to criticise the government authorities. More over, There will be some suggestions and recommendations on some of the existing fundamental rules of the Press Law with a sight to convey these laws into a way with the most up-to-date media development and global standards of Liberty of Expression; some international standards on freedom of press law regarding media regulation such as what is running in the UK and then suggesting them to Iran Press Law authorities for a slight reform.
Media and Press Law Background in Iran
Many People believe that writing about the Press Law of Iran (media Law in general) and its link with the freedom of expression is considerably a complex matter. It is somehow true. WhyBecause it is mainly, a closed limited restricted context. The digital media and broadcasting firms are in the monopoly of the government and far less susceptible to change. Television and radio are totally administrated and direct by the government and no one allowed establishing a private broadcasting company, television channel or radio station. It is difficult to access to the foreign sources of news from inside the country and people get their foreign news form satellite TV channels; in an illegal state, which banned by the government; satellite TV channels are shown in Iran since 1995. Previously, Iranians used to listen to the foreign news via radio, SW1 and SW2 views. There is a highly restriction to prevent people bring any foreign publications into the country. Reading, watching and listening to the foreign media contents are banned and illegal.
The Press Law is very restricted and the role of the media is limited within the society. Not every context can be published because of the high level of penalty and punishment such as custody, whipping, and banning of media outlets, which are typical sanctions for all type of crimes including press crimes. In fact, lack of objective criteria and clear definitions in the Press Law caused to applying individual action in the most of legal punishments by the governmental characters. There is an inappropriate use of the Revolutionary Court and the issuing of written orders by the Executive about what material can be discussed in the media in general. ”Iran: State Media Control Extends To Provinces, Airwaves”3.
On the other hand, it is not possible to publish an article that than immediately the situation does not change and leaving the writer in the undesirable state of being irrelevant. When printing article published on the topic years ago, footnotes should be added to describe the atmosphere of the past time being discussed. This unstable state of affairs is caused by a lack of democratic press law in Iran.
As this assignment is being written, the social situation in the country is transforming. Some believes it towards more restrictions status and some says it is going to be better and obtain more freedom. The Press Law of Iran specifies that government official who obstructs the freedom of the press in publishing articles beneficial to the public good would be liable to litigation. In this way, the issue is how to define, and who defines, public good.
In fact, Iran historically, has broken down on the press because of high speed and hard laws and decrees. “The media is accountable to Islamic Law and heavily censored by the ruling religious clerics. Conservative Iranians believe that Islam should be the rule of law in all of Iran: men and women cannot associate in public; the press cannot criticise government leaders who are also religious leaders; and other religious tenants must be upheld in social, cultural, and political arenas. Theoretically Iran offers constitutional protection for the press, but the lengthy Press Law outlining the purpose, licensing, and duties of the press shows the true limits placed on journalists. The Press Law details a long list of DON’Ts for journalists, preventing free publishing under threat of punishment, which is also detailed in the Law.”2
Nevertheless, there are several papers publishing in Iran every day. Currently, around 3.5%2 of Iranian has access to the Internet and online media, which are mostly the fastest and the most reliable services to connects, to the world and receive information and news (in case of availability and do not be block by the authorities). All the broadcast services are state, which are the most popular source of news in the country.
There are some considerable number of news agencies in Iran, such as The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Iran Labour News Agency (ILNA), Iranian Student’s News Agency (ISNA), Pars and Mehr, which mostly are independent but impacted buy the self-censorship or limitation of the legislations that is the largest concern in the media in the country. Many of international news agencies and media companies’ representative have been ban, without connected telecommunication, jailed and / or terminated during their regular job in Iran by the government authorities due to the fact that exactly is religious statements. “Over the past three years, Iran’s conservative judiciary has banned about 80 newspapers and magazines”. 12
It is believed that few journalists can see enough logic to take the Press Law of Iran genuinely. On the other hand, preoccupation with the law could linger and attempts to changed or amend it may repeat.
Politician’s interferences: Formerly, it has been mentioned that the government manages Iran’s media and press organisations, which are regulated by a specific Islamic Law. Due to this operation the government has an incredible control on all media segments. “Many pro-reform publications have been closed and reformist writers and editors jailed. The conservative judiciary has also campaigned against the liberal media. (BBC)” 9 This is absolutely a complex statement in Iran because media is an interesting object to control the society and remained as an authority in the country. For instance, there are numbers of reports that uploaded and broadcasted form Iran official press for Iranian and the world that has criticised the other governments’ policies negligent, while there are numerous issues in the country itself to be judged and criticised. ”The authorities in Iran are reportedly making new plans to disrupt broadcasts from abroad after earlier efforts failed to stem the tide sufficiently” (BBC) 10. Considerably, regulation of the media in Iran presents imparts particular issues known as Politician’s interferences that gradually caused to censorship and limitation for the Media organisations. “Government jamming of ‘phone systems and the web encouraged rumours to grow and left many Iranians feeling uncertain” (BBC). 8 Although officially, the Press Law contains express provisions forbidden censorship, executing the Right of Freedom of Expression in the country needs that the politicians refrain from interferences.
Plenty of obligations / illegal or impossible: One of the other issues through the Press Law is that the government keeps the media highly under controlled by either employing loyal / apathetic staffs or making the work of independent and oppositions journalists and publications illegal or impossible. “ILNA reports that Mohammad Ali Ramin, head of the Press Supervisory Board announced today that Bahar newspaper has been banned for “publishing items contrary to reality” and “creating doubt regarding major issues such as the elections. “He also added: “questioning principles of the Islamic Republic” and “slandering countries official bodies and organizations” amongst the other reasons for the closure of Bahar“ (Payvand.com). 11 Chapter 4 of the Press Law places plenty of obligations on the press and online medias to limit the press or online services on reporting current affairs or news: “Limits of the Press: Article 6: The print media are permitted to publish news items except in cases when they violate … codes and public rights as outlined in this chapter, Note 6: Disclosing and publishing classified documents, orders and issues or disclosing the secrets of …private proceedings of courts of justice and investigations conducted by judicial authorities without legal permit“4This means neither state nor private press and media are not allowed to discuss and / or open any case or report against judicial authorities to consider their activities. This is including political and religious authorities as well.
The State and private media: Regarding this issue as the discussion has been open in the previous paragraph it has been highly debated that there should be an article into the Law to give the right to the State Press and / or private media to enable them to consider the judicial, political or even religious authorities crimes, which all are highly restricted by the Law now. “Iran has tightened controls on the internet, ordering thousands of political and pornographic websites to be blocked…State domination of Iran’s media has been undermined in recent years as Iranians increasingly turn to the internet and satellite TV channels run by Iranians abroad.” (BBC News) 12 How ever giving the right to the private or the States media itself will be another issue in the country within the media decision makers that in what condition they are allowed to use this power and how can they inter to the details of a case. ”Iranian bloggers have reacted with anger and scorn to a new law requiring them to register their websites and blogsites with the authorities. It is being seen as the latest attempt by the Iranian government to control the media.” (BBC NEWS) 13 “Note 6: Disclosing and publishing classified documents, orders and issues, or, disclosing the secrets of …private proceedings of courts of justice and investigations conducted by judicial authorities without legal permit“4
Censorship: “The authorities exercise technical controls (filtering, limiting bandwidth) and implement legal and regulatory curbs. Censorship extends to political and human rights sites. Blocked sites include Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr and YouTube. Bloggers and online activists have been arrested.” (BBC NEWS) 14Due to a mass pressure put on the media and a long-term censorship, restrictions and limitations, it is now a big step to ensure the people of the country that the right of media, including Freedom of Expression is highly respected in the country and the people’s right would be implement. It should be pointed that the media are involving a self- censorship, which it might be a consequence of a long term and duration of violence and punishment to the media peoples such as journalists, editors, writers and reporters by the government in the country…Iranian authorities have arrested about 20 online journalists during the current crackdown.” Iranian authorities have recently clamped down on the growing popularity of weblogs, restricting access to major blogging sites from within Iran” (BBC NEWS). 15 Following these considerations it is now a new issue that how to suggest to a semi religious semi military government to apply some articles including freedom contents to the main Law.
Impact of the Articles
Impact on the Public Opinion: The Articles has a negative impact on the media sectors as well as an indirect impact on the public opinion. It has a significant impression on the authorities attitude as well, which makes them to feel and show up immaculate and extraordinary person. Keeping people apart from the facts, which is running underneath of the current affairs caused a large influence on public beliefs that leads them to absorb their original media contents form international broadcasting and press agency rather than local media. When public needs to be involved with the most crucial facts of the country they usually are not covered at all.
Media Independence: In order to promote multiculturalism (Iran has an ethnically diverse population) and supports the right of freedom of expression, even in a total religious multi ethnical country such as Iran, it is essential that the media be permitted to operate independently from government, which is not. Media became a tool in the politicians’ hand for stabling their statues and positions in the country. As they have legally the right: ”Article 29: The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance must avail of competent and qualified centers for examination of specialised publications.4” Deprivation of being permitted to operate independently suspected people that the media’s responsibility, which is to serve them and to protect their right is not operating. In this case public generally feels that they have not sufficient access to the right ideas and opinions therefore are not able to share their interest and decide with others for instance whether to say YES or NO to any assumption referendum or policy in the country. Especially, when a public matter such as making relationship or business with the other countries or more importantly an international issue such as energy consuming is debating.” Iran Press Law, Chapter 4, Articles 6, 6.Disclosing and publishing classified documents, orders and issues, or, disclosing the secrets of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic, military maps and fortifications, publishing closed-door deliberations of the Islamic Consultative Assembly or private proceedings of courts of justice and investigations conducted by judicial authorities without legal permit; Iran Press Law, Chapter 4, Articles 6, 7. Insulting Islam and its sanctities, or, offending the Leader of the Revolution and recognized religious authorities (senior Islamic jurisprudents);”6
Key Element: Independence and freedom roles as a key element, which can magnificently impacts the media managers’ perspective. When deprivation of freedom of expression happened it does not allow the media managers to implement their main duty in the society. For disclosing the private proceeding of the courts of justice and investigations conducted by judicial authorities without legal permit, they need authority and freedom otherwise they lose their sense of loyalty to the society and convert to some mechanical programmed machine that their main duty is to distribute some classified tabloid news for promoting an specific idea or individual, such as what exactly happening in the country. Deprivation of freedom for Media Managers, Journalists, Correspondents, Editors, and the other professionals in the media industry is such as cutting the verse of caring blood to the brain of a body. As the main duty of media is keeping the society informed of what is happening in the reality then it supposed to be executing in an international accepted procedure.
Strategic Implications and Recommendations
Implications of the self-regulation: The suggestion in general is an global supported proposal, which has been stated by several high commissions of deferent developed and developing countries such as the USA, the UK, Denmark and South Africa for the print and media. They all believe that self-regulation such as what is running in the BBC is one of the best structure for promoting well standards of consideration aspects in the media industry and could be a helpful implacable format for Iran media as well. ”President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made known his opposition to the use of “banal and Western” music and the need to promote Islamic values.” (BBC NEWS) 16
Public Authority: The other option, which may work for Iran as well, is the Public Media Authority. If self-regulation because of any foundation or problem does not work for the country a public authority may work perfectly for the country media law; the Press Law. It should be considered that changing a general idea or core culture of a society may not happening during a night or even an era so implying any new method needs basic social willingness and awareness about what is going to happened in the country. In fact, living in democracy needs practicing then applying the general concept of the idea. Having the freedom of expression and implicating authority in public media makes great evolution. This type of media rules enables the media executives in a public sector to act such as eye and ear for the people of the country and feeling always responsible about the impression steps or actions in the country. “Noting that the technical and economic developments, which lead to the expansion and the further complexity of the sector, will have an impact on the role of these authorities and may create a need for greater adaptability of regulation, over and above self-regulatory measures adopted by broadcasters themselves; -Recognising that according to their legal systems and democratic and cultural traditions, member states have established regulatory authorities in different ways, and that consequently there is diversity with regard to the means by which – and the extent to which – independence, effective powers and transparency are achieved; (Council of Europe)”5
Protection Against Interference: In case of implementing any case of the two above mentioned methods as a general content for the Press and Media Law in the country, it is essential that these public authorities to be protected. They are active as formal regulatory powers over the country media and need to be protected against interference; especially they should be protected of political or economical type problem and issues. “The European Court concluded that there had been an interference with the applicant company’s freedom to impart information and ideas and that this interference had not met the requirement of lawfulness under the European Convention. The Court noted in particular that a procedure, which did not require a licensing body to justify its decisions, did not provide adequate protection against arbitrary interference by a public authority with the fundamental right to freedom of expression. (Council of Europe) ” 15
Freedom for State Media / Protecting social profit: It is highly suggested – especially for the broadcasting sectors and online, which at the moment are totally state media – to format either rules and regulation based on the Article 19; Freedom of Expression, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which are implying in the plenty of developed or developing countries such as the UK (the BBC), or the USA (the CNN), Denmark, South Africa or France or format a specific authority for the State Media in general. An independent media regulatory structure enables the States Authorities to inter to the cases containing social benefits in other to protect the social right. It should be mentioned that people and authorities in such a system should be protected by the impact of the criminal characters.
Self – regulatory professional bodies: It is recommended that the Press Supervisory Board and the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance be replaced by an independent self – regulatory professional bodies free of State controls and in which membership is voluntary from a high level of academicals performance experience with educational achievements in law or journalism field. “Article 10: The Press Supervisory Board shall consist of devoted Muslims who possess the required scientific and moral competence and are committed to the Islamic Revolution as follows:”6 In particular the role of the Press Supervisory Board for the press legal affairs and examining application for press licenses and competency in relationship with media firms in Iran should be abolished. “Article 11: The Press Supervisory Board is responsible for examining applications for press licenses and the competency of the applicant and the managing dirctor.”6
Removing Articles, which makes confusion to implementing the law: Although this recommendation does not contain the meaning of removing the article, which is abolishing insulting, it is suggesting that articles 7 & 8 of Chapter 4 should be abolished to do not make confusion in order to leading and allowing press to criticise religious authorities (senior Islamic jurisprudents). “Chapter 4: Rights of the Press 7. Insulting Islam and its sanctities, or, offending the Leader of the Revolution and recognized religious authorities (senior Islamic jurisprudents); ?8. Publishing libel against officials, institutions, organizations and individuals in the country or insulting legal or real persons who are lawfully respected, even by means of pictures or acricatures;”6
Press communities voluntarily, rather than government control: Eventually, as it is mentioned Iran Press Law established the committee for Suspension of the Press within the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance to monitor the press and brings charges, it is recommended that any suspension or press council should be established by the media and press communities voluntarily, rather than by law and it should not be subject to government control. The scale and range of its duties and power should be explained and it should be requited to conduct its duties clearly. They way of choosing the member of this type of committees should be clearly emphasised.
It should be mentioned that all the analysis, argues and recommendations on the Articles of the Press Law that have been brought here, are concerned from this point of view that the human rights and democracy in general and the Liberty of Expression in particular are not just some Western concepts and are not incompatible with the Islam as a religion. In deed, it has concerned the possibility of executive activities for media industry players to work in the current atmosphere; meanwhile it offers a framework for outcomes and common objective to unify disparate areas of legal activity.
1- The Press Law of Iran, http://www.parstimes.com/law/press_law.html
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