Thu, 27 Apr 2000

How Iran's press became pretext for power struggle

By Farshid Motahari

TEHERAN (DPA): The press has turned into a tool and an excuse for a renewed power struggle in Iran between reformists close to President Mohammad Khatami and the conservative opposition consisting mainly of traditional clerics.

"Freedom of expression and pluralism are the right of the people and constantly considered as great achievements of the Islamic revolution," said Khatami, who, together with his cabinet members, is an advocate of a free press.

Conservative opposition members in the judiciary closed down 13 pro-Khatami publications within 24 hours on charges of having insulted Islamic sanctities and jailed three journalists within the current month.

"This is a calculated scenario by the conservatives which opens a new and very serious chapter of the suppressing process," Hussein Yussefi Eshkevari, a reformist cleric and journalist said.

The conservatives, who just passed a new and restrictive press law, accuse the reformists and the liberal press to plan termination of Iran's ruling Islamic system a replacing it with a secular scheme in line with "enemies of the revolution".

Reformists believe that the latest developments are aimed at delaying the start of the next legislative period -- due on May 27 -- where reformists will have a two-thirds majority and which is widely expected to have a very significant impact on Iran's political course in the future.

Informed observers however believe that the press is just a tool to gain or control power in Iran's political scenery.

"The press in Iran is mainly dominated by political factions, not by independent journalists," a university professor in Teheran said.

Most of the pro-Khatami dailies in Teheran are run by renowned figures who are either directly involved in politics or members of pro-reformist parties or factions.

The daily Mosharekat is run by Khatami's brother Mohammad- Reza, who is Head of the social democratic party IIPP and will soon become an MP after his landslide victory in the parliamentary elections. Fath is run by former Vice-President and currently jailed Abdullah Nuri and Sobh'e Emruz by Teheran City council member Saaid Hajarian.

Even the two moderate pro-Khatami dailies Hamshahri, Ham-Mihan are run by suspended Teheran Mayor Gholam-Hussein Karbaschi and the banned women daily Zan by Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

"Whenever we read the newspapers, we just read factional disputes, nothing more," a female student told the state-run television.

"Also the conservative press is less journalistic oriented but just aimed to reply every day to accusations made by the reformists the day before," the professor said.

Insiders regard the landslide victory of reformists in the parliamentary elections to be related to the widespread reflection of the reformist press, whereas the conservatives failed in their press activities and just have the state-run television IRIB, watched as only TV network by almost all Iranians, as their only propaganda tool.

"After Khatami's presidency, the press has become a tool for justifying political tendencies and attacking the political opponent up to the extreme edge," one Western diplomat in Teheran said.

"The provocation by both sides led to closures, suspensions, arrests and even assassinations, but the conservatives have currently the upper hand as they control the judiciary," the diplomat added.

Even Khatami and his liberal Culture Minister Attaollah Mohajerani have realized the critical consequences of the current press system and called on both sides to remain calm.

"Under the status quo nothing can be more dangerous than unrest or pretension to unrest," Khatami warned.