Thursday, February 7, 2013

Media Restrictions in Iran

Over the past two weeks fourteen news reporters have been detained by the Iranian government. Even though they were taken from seven different news sources, all of the reporters were seen by the government as reform minded news outlets, according to Al Jazeera. Most of the detainees also worked for foreign news sources, including the BBC Persia and Voice of America. All of these reporters wrote articles supporting opposition parties or criticizing government policies. The Iranian government defines these foreign news sources as anti-revolutionary.

It is election year in Iran, and historically the Iranian government has loosened its restrictions on the media in order to create a feeling of freedom and encourage its constituents to vote. However, this year the government has been placing restrictions on news sources. This year the regime is less tolerant towards the news sources that express any support to opposing parties or anti sentiments to the current regime.  The government is afraid that these types of reporters will advocate overthrowing the regime.

These ideas that the media is conspiring to overthrow the government are not completely irrational given Iran’s history with the foreign media. During the 1950’s, the Iranian people were able to dethrone the Shah and instate a new leader. However, a military coup staged by the CIA removed the new leader from power and reinstated the Shah as the Iranian leader. The events and reports of the coup were reported by the BBC to the Americans. This was reaffirmed in documents released by the CIA in the early 1990’s. Acts like this are reasons as to why Iran does not trust Western news stations.

This article is important for several reasons. The first being that restrictions on media are signs of repressive and authoritarian regimes. Iran repressing its media coverage is a step towards a repressive society. Revolutions are more likely in repressive societies, if and only if the citizens believe that the government is the cause of the repression. In the case of the Iranian government arresting reporters it is fairly obvious that they are the cause of the repression.

Also, Iran has a history of successful non violent revolutions. Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan outline the Iranian revolution in the 1970’s in their book “Why Civil Resistance Works.” They argue that the large number of citizens that turned out to protest caused the Shah to fall from power. What this means is that historically Iran has had successful revolutions which makes them more likely to have revolutions in the future, with a higher rate of success than most.

 With it being an election year, much of the attention of the international community will be on Iran. The protests in 2009 are still fresh in the Iranian people’s minds, because it was never determined whether or not the election was conducted in a free and fair manner. If President Ahmadinejad is re elected then it is probable that a new set of protests will emerge in Iran. With the momentum of the Arab Spring there could potentially be a new Iranian revolution this summer.


  1. This is an interesting aspect of a potentially revolutionary Iran. As you said, increased media freedom was a staple of pre-election Iran that frequently provided a useful facade of freedom beyond what any regional state appeared to offer. The repression today, however, would seem to foreshadow another intervention by the Ayatollah. This time, it appears that he is attempting to circumvent the power free media gives to opposition leaders in hopes of making an intervention in the election less blatantly obvious.

    The potential development of a nuclear weapon before the election throws another interesting twist into the mix. Should Iran develop a bomb prior to the election, it would give the Ayatollah an increased capacity to tamper with the results. He would ostensibly have nuclear non-proliferation powers taking a desperate interest in the maintenance of the status quo to shield a nuclear bomb from the throes of domestic upheaval.

    Finally, a quick correction; Ahmadinejad cannot be elected again. Presidential term limits in Iran prevent anyone from winning three consecutive terms. Ahmadinejad can return for one more non-consecutive term in the future, though.

    I would agree with you that if the elections are tampered with again that the dormant Green Movement of 2009 will be reawakened. Their success, in my view, will hinge on the domestic perceptions regarding the US sanctions that have crushed the Iranian economy. If they view the US as the cause for their economic woes, it is less likely that the economic preconditions for revolution will be present. If they believe the Ayatollah and his regime are to blame, however, it would seem much more likely. Considering the vast spending the government continues to allocate to the nuclear program despite its people struggling under the crushing weight of a nearly worthless currency, the Ayatollah may be found wanting.


  2. I think you make an interesting point about Iran usually "easing up" on the media during election years in order so seem more democratic to the outside eye. But this year, with the Arab Spring, how they are taking no chances with their population and protests. Overall, it goes to show how much these revolutions have changed everyone's mindset and actions.