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.